I have sat on both sides of the table.
When I attended my son's initial IEP meeting, I thought that the fact that I was a teacher myself, would help me to be easy to work with, able to speak rationally about my son's needs and help the entire process would go smoothly.
I was wrong on all counts.
During the first year, I focused on being "One of the staff" at my son's school and my requests for service for my son were semi-dismissed, my concerns were minimalized, and I spent the year feeling confused, frustrated and angry that I had somehow failed my child.
The second year, I came in with a vengeance. I was determined to win the war. Using my experience as a teacher to brush away the confusing educational jargon that only serves to confuse parents and consistently cut through the school's vague generalizations, erroneous reports and lack of relevant data about my son. I took no prisoners, and forced my agenda.
I won the battle but I lost the war, so to speak.
That year, teachers that might have been supporters of my son were afraid to get involved due to their concerns that they might be criticized or attacked at one of my son's IEP meetings. The administration grew guarded, tired and defensive about my constant barrage and the machinations to help my son moved a lot slower due to the fact that everyone was very concerned about covering their "educational rear ends".
So I went back to the drawing board.
The most important thing for any parent - and educator to realize - and respect - is that the wants, needs and perspectives for both sides of the IEP meeting can be vastly different. On the parents side, there is only one concern: What can you do to help my child? On the educator's side, their are many concerns must be responsive to child, parent, school, district and state expectations, concerns and guidelines.
Where these two meet will determine the services and support your child receives.
Over the course of that year, I gained some practical insight on how to prepare, approach and conduct myself at my son's IEP Meeting to best serve him.
1. BE FRIENDLY, BUT DON'T WORRY ABOUT MAKING FRIENDS
Everything works better when people get along but don't ever forget that creating your child's IEP is a negotiation where your wants and needs will often be in direct conflict with your child's school. They are concerned with the many, you are concerned with the one - your child.
Keeping a friendly but businesslike approach will help to remind both you and them that you are all here for important matters.
2. TAKE NOTES AND HAVE ALL DATA ORGANIZED AND AVAILABLE
My son's school wanted to exit him out of his IEP, they stated he had met his IEP goals until I provided my notes from school nurses reports that clearly contradicted what the special education teacher reported. Eventually, his IEP continued with more expansive services and an apology from the school principal.
3. HAVE A CLEAR PICTURE OF YOUR CHILD'S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
You can't determine what services you want for your child until you create a clear picture of your child's strengths and weaknesses as a student. Although it is not imperative that both you and the school completely agree on the same picture, and a child can behave differently at school than at home, know that ultimately, you know your child best and the more the two pictures of your child overlap, the more effective their plan will be.
4. KNOW WHAT SERVICES YOU WANT TO ASK FOR
The simple truth is that the school's interests are dictated by policy, budget and personnel concerns, yours are not. You may not get every service you want for your child but your requests should not be dictated by the same concerns as the schools. Know that they are legally mandated to provide services that allow your child to access the educational experience.
5. RELATE EVERYTHING TO ACADEMICS
Unfortunately, social, organization, and other "non-academic" skills are less likely to necessitate support services from your child's school. Make sure to frame each and every request as to how it will better address your child's academic needs. One example: my son was getting lost on the yard and not returning to class with the rest of his classroom. My concerns were for his safety but the school consistently pointed out that he was safe and returning to class eventually. When I talked about loss of instructional time, I was able to get my son the yard assistance he needed to help him return to class with the rest of his classroom.
Remember, you are your child's advocate and like all advocates, you must be prepared to argue, fight and plead for your cause ( your child). Being prepared, friendly and having a clear picture of what you want will help your cause immensely.
Alan Aymie is a nationally produced, award-winning playwright, performer and educational activist. His most current play, A CHILD LEFT BEHIND was seen in theaters in Los Angeles, Manhattan and various health and educational centers across the country.