Every year, I get the memo: "Annuals", no matter what date and how many student dates are attached to it, I cringe and whine a little! I'm not sure why I whine because in writing an IEP, I actually become at peace. I cringe because they take me no less than four hours each to write and that's not counting all of the hours of monitoring, testing, gathering data, interviewing students, parents, and other school personnel.
So, I've begun the process of writing them for the 2015-2016 school year. I spent both Saturday and Sunday compiling all of my data and writing six IEP's. I should transform my thinking when writing IEP's because they actually do amazing things for the special education teacher writing them!
They invite me to take time out of my very busy day, and plan to test each student individually for several hours. What a gift! How often is a teacher allowed that one-on-one time with a student that allows them to really get to know them! I love testing my kids on a personal level because after working with them all year I know what they can do. So as they work their little heats out trying to their best, I sit their silently cheering for them in my head because I know what champions they are! Then the best part is, I get to compare last years scores to this years scores and see all of the progress we have made! Yes WE! Since opening day in September, we have been a team! I used this child's former IEP as a roadmap to plan out what this child needed to learn this year and it worked!!!! Trust me, the moment of knowing what we did as a team work really is as exciting as winning the superbowl or an academy award! It's on a smaller scale and the whole world doesn't know but it sure is equally as exciting!
When writing IEP's I take the time to think back on all of the lessons I've made and taught and how they've impacted each individual student! I see the progress that each child has made up close and personal! Until this point, I don't see all of the work that we've done this year! All of the planning! All of the doing! and...All of the progress!! Trust me, this aha moment is amazing! It's my personal, secret prize, knowing that a job was well done.
I love writing IEP's because in the hours it takes to write them, that child unbeknownst to him or her becomes the complete focus of my attention, during those four hours, I think of no one else! Sometimes students don't make the progress that we have hoped, so throughout the year, I tweak my plans for this child and tweak them again and call the parents, and the guidance counselor, and the psychologist in trying to figure out what is going on that is making this child behave the way s/he is which is stopped him/her from making adequate progress. In writing this child's IEP, I put in extra thought to think about the child's skill level, personality, friends, homelife, growth changes, maturity level, and health. Then I write an IEP that I think may benefit this child for the following school year so that s/he makes positive academic gains.
This year in writing my IEP's, I had an epiphany of sorts! I realized that I know all twelve of my students very well. I know their favorite colors, their pets names, their favorite foods, their favorite school subjects. I know what's going to make them happy or angry. I know their hopes, dreams, and fears. I sometimes know what they are going to say or do before they do it! I know their reactions to various stimuli! Ask me a question about any of these kids, and I probably know the answer, right down to their favorite song , game, or sports team!
So, why can't I be rated on their growth according to their IEP's? I use standardized testing to rate their progress in reading and math. I have portfolios of work from years past until now. I have kids in my room who could barely read when they first became my students who are now reading short novels fluently!
In a sad sense the APPR rating seem laughable to me! 60% of my teacher evaluation comes from being observed twice by my supervisor, 20% comes from state tests, and 20% comes from my districts standardized testing. My first observation is announced. Let me just say, in special education with a mix of students with emotional disturbance, health issues, and intellectual delays, one never knows what a day may bring! Every moment of every day has the potential to change! I of course have a behavior program set in place in my classroom which helps, but it is certainly not a panacea for every situation. I can write the most perfect lesson plan in which all of the students are working, engaged if you will, and then, my one student who likes to upset others may whisper to the sensitive kid next to him, "I heard nobody likes you." Then that kid runs to the back of the room in a puddle on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably, and talking incoherently, while the other kid stands there with a smirk stating that he did or said nothing wrong"! Trust me, on a daily basis, I try to keep kids
apart who may bother each other, and I stress the importance of respect and kindness, but even with many rules and behavior plans in place, it only takes a moment to unravel the best made plans. So, does this mean my observation is poor? Should I be rated ineffective?
Then there are the state tests! Oh my! My kids are several years below grade level but they take the grade level state test. Hard as I try, I can't expect kids who can barely add and subtract to do linear equations and proportions! Do we practice all of the ELA and math standards, absolutely, but this does not mean we will do well on the state tests? In my dreams, all of my kids do well on their state tests and on my district's standardized testing but in reality, my main goal is to keep their self-esteem high during difficult testing situations!
So....my epiphany was, please rate me on my IEP's and on my observations! I'm not really worried about my observations because I do take my time making lesson plans. I do take into account that Christopher might whisper something horrible into Michael's ear! I do have a response for that! So, if I'm observed and my IEP's are read and compared to last years IEP's you will see that my students overall have made growth! You will see that I not only know my students, but I care about them too. You will see that sound lessons usually do keep kids meaningfully engaged. You will then know that I am a effective teacher, maybe even highly effective! IEP's work and so do the people who write them always with the best interests of their students in mind.