Rose Tanner | St. Louis ‘07
Briana just underwent her 3rd evaluation since Kindergarten, only to find the same results. She doesn’t meet eligibility criteria for any educational identification other than speech impairment. She has a low average IQ, not low enough to be identified as Intellectually Disabled, but not high enough to have a Specific Learning Disability.
Keith is a sixth grade student reading and writing at a Kindergarten level, but no IEP. He knows about 20 sight words and cannot spell any word other than his name. Teachers and counselors have been trying to evaluate him for years, but his parents do not come to meetings. Without parental consent, no testing can be done.
After 7 years as a special education teacher for St. Louis Public Schools, I have met quite a few students just like Briana and Keith. We all know they need extra help to access general education curriculum, but they do not qualify for services. Like many of our students, they do not have parents at home helping with homework, providing extra support, or enrolling the child in tutoring programs outside school. They attend a public urban middle school that does not have the programs and layers of support that other districts may provide.
The Spring 2014 “One Day” magazine articles focusing on special education left me more inspired to continue in the field of special education, yet also left me thinking about all those Brianas and Keiths. What can, and must, we do to ensure they can be successful, without all the support and programs special education would provide?
Here are a few strategies that I have seen teachers use that have been successful, and it doesn’t entail much extra time or money on the teacher’s part.
- Ask a SPED teacher for resources– I love when I (a SPED teacher) am asked to share supplies and I am always more than happy to share workbooks, flashcards, games, books that I have that are on a lower level.
- Student practice during other content classes– If it’s reading that the child really needs to work on, why not have them work on reading during science, social studies, or related arts? If the child really wants to improve their reading, they will be happy to do this. It can be as easy as having the student on a computer program or working out of their own workbook. You may want to make sure your principal is on board with this plan.
- Accommodations and modifications for all– Look at an accommodations page from an IEP for ideas and ask yourself, “Which of these would help my non-IEP students?” If you do it for your students with IEPs (which you legally must), why not just do it for other students needing those supports?
- Differentiate, for real- I know we hear this all the time, and every teacher claims to do it, but I rarely see it done to the extent that it should, or could be done. Seek out training, ask another teacher for ideas, and challenge yourself to incorporate even more differentiation in your lesson plans.
- Be relentless with parents and other staff- After you refer a student to the counselor for the IEP process to begin, be sure to keep following up, many times. When SIT (student intervention team) meetings are scheduled, take it upon yourself to call and remind parents the day before. If a translator is needed for the meeting, make sure one is scheduled. If you cannot reach the parents, work with the social worker to get a good number, send letters home, do a home visit, whatever it takes. Not all members of the Intervention team are as concerned about this student as you are, so be proud of your efforts and do not give up, for the sake of the student. You be the advocate.
I urge all teachers to not give up on the child or the system, even when you think there is nothing you can do. Do not wait for special education to ‘save’ the child. Getting an IEP is a long process, and as in the case of Briana, the testing may not even result in services. Do not pass the buck. Do not waste time. If you can find a way to help that child, why not?
*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality of students.