IEP’s, Schools and Our Children

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by Ellen Doman

kids_readingI am going to start this off by asking you to think of your child first. That precious child of yours who needs and deserves every opportunity to advance and grow is what this is all about first and foremost. It is the job of the parent to ensure that their child gets the best opportunities and assistance in improving their ability to think and learn and to improve their love of learning and to improve their behavior and citizenship and to improve their fund of information. We must agree that this is correct and at the very heart of the matter as we discuss these other issues and entities.

As a parent, I want you to view all of the institutions and formalities and structures of education as irrelevant and be clear-minded in what your goal is. Your goal is what was stated above for your child who is your responsibility. Efficient, productive, exciting, progressive and unique to your child is what we want your child’s education to be. We want great outcomes. You want great outcomes such as progress, enthusiasm and overall improvement in knowledge and thinking and functioning skills. I repeat this as it is easy to lose sight of it.

If your child attends school, you are dealing with not just your aspirations and intentions for your child, but the institutions expectations, realities and structures as well as the opinions, prejudices and overall expectations of the teachers, aides, supervisors, therapists and administrators of your school. You are dealing with state standards. The curriculum is a manual laid out before the school personnel as a roadmap for students to be led down. It can be slowed down, of course. Alternative curricula can be brought in to supplement it. It is, however, the map by which the school is run. It is the scope of its course and sets the sequence of events.

Your individual child had nothing to do with the development of that curriculum. State standards and standardized testing have determined that curriculum. It is the job of the school staff to cover it quickly and efficiently. It is the job of the IEP committee to determine if your child can handle that curriculum. If not, they will seek ways to slow it down. They will seek ways to supplement it with additional materials OR they will take your child off the course all together and seek to do functional tasks instead.

Being a part of this process as an educator is much like being an air traffic controller. You don’t determine what kind of planes come in and out of the airport. You don’t run the airport. You just try to help every plane come in, out and through the airport with no disasters. It is not about the quality of the flight, the individual passengers, or the destinations ultimately at all. You are moving the passenger through and the planes in and out as they move on their predetermined course. You may be pleasant about it and take an interest and pride in some specifics of it but it is a large operation.

An IEP is a dream that says that the passenger counts and that this huge mechanism that is our education system will actually bend and alter itself to ensure that maximum progress of this student/passenger is achieved. I must tell you that only a parent can ensure that their child gets the educational experience that is best for him or her. The way you see your child and I see mine is this unique individual with such specific areas of excellence and difficulty. We could talk for hours about all of these specific and individual details about our child. Our dream is for success educationally and in every other way for this precious child.

As the child changes, so the educational strategies must change. If the child isn’t progressing, the educational strategies must change. Processing must be a part of the education for it determines the educational material that the child can handle. Instruction needs to be at the proper processing level with a short duration to maximize the child’s ability to learn and attend. The process, the materials and the rate at which the child moves forward in the material, is individual to the child. An IEP is a dream presented by institutions that implies that this will happen. It implies that the child will be handled as the unique individual that you know your child to be. It implies that your child’s needs will really be met and that your child will progress, catch up and succeed.

Progress, catch up and succeed that is your goal. How that is to be accomplished is the problem along with whether or not everyone at that IEP table year in and year out thinks that it is even a possibility. What does each individual person working with your child think the destination is? Is there intended destination a minimum wage job for your child, a sheltered workshop for your child? Do you know? If we are taking our passenger to different destinations we can have a lot of meetings about the flight but where is the passenger going? Your bottom line is your child’s success. That is your intended destination. Is it shared by the team? How is it defined? Do you know? If you are not moving objectively forward, then what else matters?

Your child is a passenger unable to get themselves to their destination on their own. Your wings are needed to get them there. It would be easier if it was not on you and you could just drop them off and have someone else do it, but the truth is that they just won’t arrive at that hoped-for destination. As passengers, they are just not typical. Maybe there are no typical passengers but that is an issue for another day. Your little passenger needs to get going. So what are you waiting for?

Ellen Doman
NACD

Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 21 No. 13, 2008 ©NACD