by Sandra Saenz
When my son Lot was born, he was diagnosed with Campomelic Dysplasia, a rare and often lethal genetic disorder. He was very fragile when he finally came home on a ventilator, oxygen and a tracheostomy. Because of my son’s serious medical condition, I decided to quit my job as a special education teacher and stay home to take care of my boy. I really loved my job but I don’t regret my decision. However, there are times when I stop and think about all the things I miss about being a special education teacher. I miss my student’s smiling faces and helping them learn in spite of their severe learning disabilities. I also miss my teacher friends. They made my job so much more enjoyable.
Believe it or not, there are some aspects of my job that I do not miss: the paperwork and the IEP meetings. In my ten years of teaching, I have experienced short and pleasant meetings, and some long and difficult ones. I really dislike the tough ones because sitting across the table from irate parents or sobbing mothers just is not my cup of tea!
As a special education teacher, I was a part of an IEP committee. The committee is also made up of other educators, administrators and therapists. As an IEP committee, we would meet ahead of time to discuss the issue and come to a decision. So when we met with the parents, we were all on the same page and showed a unified front. This would usually leave little room for discussion. This was an organized and highly efficient way of dealing with difficult issues and parents. It was a way that I embraced and felt comfortable with, until I had a child with special needs of my own and it was my turn to sit at the table and advocate for my child.
As I was having my own long and difficult IEP meetings, I was able to draw from my experience. I remembered those parents that the IEP committee absolutely dreaded. I also recalled how those parents sent chills down our spines and turned our blood cold with nervousness and insecurity. I have learned a few tips from these intelligent and focused individuals that I would like to share with you:
- Be assertive. Be bold and secure when making your argument or demands.
- Be prepared. Always show up with all relevant paperwork, such as current IEP goals, research, and statistics.
- Never show up alone. We draw strength from each other. Bring along a friend, your husband, wife, a therapist, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher. You can even find parent advocates that attend IEP meetings for free. Bring along anyone who can help support your argument.
- Be informed. Do your research and know the facts. It is really difficult to argue with an informed parent.
- Do not get emotional. This one is hard for me because I cry sometimes when I’m angry. Be focused and assertive. Try very hard not to cry. You will only lose your focus and might not be taken seriously.
- Bring a recorder. This might sound strange but it works! Next time you go to an IEP meeting, pull out your recording device and place it on the table in front of you and press record. Watch how fast the tone of the meeting changes. People are very careful with what they say and how they say it when they think they are being recorded. I’ve tried this even when I had forgotten the batteries.
- Never sign the paperwork if you are not completely happy with the decision. You do not have to sign the paperwork if you do not agree with the goals or the decisions. The IEP committee will reconvene at a later date, and hopefully they will be willing to negotiate with you then.
I cannot say that I get what I want every time I use these seven tips, but it does give me a great psychological advantage. So next time you are dreading attending an IEP meeting, do your homework. Put on your poker face and grab your recorder. I guarantee you will definitely make a statement when you walk into the room with your entourage!