This week, my husband and I had an IEP meeting for K at the school. In attendance was the usual team - the classroom teacher, the resource specialist, the principal, the speech therapist, me and my husband. The program specialist - our assigned representative from the district - was not there due to illness. He did, however, lament the fact that not only was he missing the meeting, but he'd be missing out on my cookies. Hooray for Suck-Up Cookies!
We were well prepared for this meeting. I had completely reviewed our most current IEP, made notes, made a list of questions, documented our evidence to support any requests we wanted to make. We felt confident of K's progress over the last year, but we always know there will be some sort of bump in the road, if for no other reason than no matter how well prepared we are, we never have any idea exactly what the school team will be bringing to the table.
The meeting starts with the usual formalities - introductions that we don't need, perfunctory offering of the Parent's Rights that we already have, signing of the attendance sheet. Then we get into the meat of the meeting. It starts with us listing K's strengths and our concerns. We tend to keep our list of strengths brief and only applicable to the school setting. This time, when we were done with our list, I asked the team to offer their list of K's strengths. Their list included primarily non-academic things. "K has such a great personality!" "K is always happy!" "K is such a love, she never complains." "K is always appreciative when her peers help her and she is kind and considerate to her peers."
Yes! Those are wonderful things that every parent wants to hear! We couldn't agree more with every single thing that was said. However, the problem with those statements is that it tends to give the parents a false sense of security. You begin to believe that they are seeing the same child that you see. Even with the best of intentions, it does not prepare you well for what is to come.
Then we list our concerns. My list is long and detailed. It must be in order to keep everyone on the team accountable to K and to ensure that we are writing a document that meets her individual needs. I used to be brief, "Our concerns are speech/language, reading comprehension, writing and math reasoning." Now, those are merely the headings for my list. You'd think that if I can come up with a comprehensive, detailed list there could be nothing that the team might bring up that will be a surprise. I thought that, too. We'd both be wrong.
When it was time for the teacher to give her report on K's progress, she had absolutely nothing positive to say. I'm not being dramatic and I'm not exaggerating. Every single sentence she uttered was like a punch in the gut. For that, we were completely unprepared. This is so common and I often wonder how parents who are just beginning this journey handle it. For me, even after all this time, I am shell-shocked. Are we talking about the same girl? Can't you see, Mrs. Classroom Teacher, how much progress she has made? It is painful to listen to a teacher describe in detail everything negative she can muster up. That is my child you are talking about. It is not possible that it could be that bad, even if I am biased. I know my child and I can see the progress she has made. I wouldn't do myself any favors or K any service by burying my head in the sand. I have to see her weaknesses, but I also see her strengths.
It is not only painful, it is infuriating. I'm listening to the teacher talk and thinking about all the things that she was supposed to be doing to help K this year and knowing, without a doubt, that she hasn't done most of them. In fact, when questioned, she had to admit that she "didn't see that on the IEP." It takes a great deal of control not to jump across the table, wring her neck and scream, "That puts you in VIOLATION of her IEP, which is grounds for legal action!" That, believe it or not, would be the nice, diplomatic response, even if I did yell and crawl across the table. In my heart of hearts, I want to sit quietly and ask her how she can live with herself, knowing that she is letting down my K. She is letting down the very child who "is always happy," who "is very appreciative of her peers," and who "always wants to give a hug." How do you do that, Mrs. Classroom Teacher? How can you tell me how terrible my child is doing and not even think to apologize for the role you have played in that failure? How can you look me in the eye with justification for saying nothing positive about all the hard work my girl has been doing in an effort to follow your rules, do what you ask, and make you proud of her?
I'm listening to her, watching her, noticing that she won't make eye contact with me. I ask what else we can do to support K at home. I ask to be more informed so that we can help K and be consistent with what is going on in school. Could we have a copy of the book she is reading so we can share it with her at home as well as at school? I am dismissed. My requests are brushed off by Mrs. Classroom Teacher. As I continue to listen, I come to an important realization: she likes K, she thinks K is sweet, but she does not think that K belongs her in her classroom.
Whether or not an argument could made to support the teacher's belief about K is irrelevant at this point. The fact remains that K is a student in her classroom. She is a hard working, eager to learn, student with special needs and a legal document to ensure that her needs are met. Mrs. Classroom Teacher sees her as someone who doesn't belong there - as though K doesn't even have the potential to rise to the level of other students.
We came home; I was exhausted. I felt completely defeated. For all of our work, we are still in essentially the same place - fighting for K's right to an education. The next morning, it was horrible to drop her off at school, knowing she was spending the morning in a room with a teacher that sees her as a burden; wishing she could spend her whole day with the resource specialist and the speech therapist - two people who genuinely care for her, believe in her abilities and have worked tirelessly to help her make diligent progress. Liking her is not enough; the teacher needs to want her there, believe in her, be willing to teach her. I'd like to think that the teacher might make a little extra effort for a student like K, but I've given up that hope. Now, I just want her to follow the damn IEP. I dropped K off, came home and cried buckets of tears. That is MY girl and I feel like I just fed her to the lion.
And that is sad, too. I understand and appreciate the demands placed on teachers in this day and age. I understand and because of that, I am available and willing to do whatever we need to in order to support K so she can be successful in school. We want to work collaboratively with the team. To have to lower our expectations to simply, "just follow the damn IEP," is sad.
I know that no one will love her like we do. I know that no one will work harder than we do to help K succeed. If I am completely clueless about her potential, then someone needs to tell me. If I am wrong in thinking that she will be able to have a future full of choices, then someone needs to tell me. I don't believe that. I see her. I know her. I can see what she is capable of doing, given the proper support and time. I'm not stupid. I know there will be things that will always be a challenge for her, but I also know that in time, she will be able to access strategies to work around those challenges.
Thirty-six hours after the meeting (and a good night's sleep), I am less defeated. All this has done, in the long run, is make me more determined to do whatever it takes to give K the same thing that every other child deserves: an education. As wonderful as the school team is, they need to remember that I have not ever and I will not ever back down if something needs to be done to give K her education. How this is resolved remains to be seen. I, of course, have started making plans and started researching ideas. We meet again in 2 weeks. I will regroup, prepare our ideas and evidence for them, and sit at the table with renewed resolve. Mrs. Classroom Teacher has said her piece; now it's my turn.