What do general education teachers need to know about special education? Years ago, a teacher may have been able to get by with knowing very little about special education. However, in an age of standardized testing, inclusion classes, and disability awareness, times have changed. Almost all classrooms have at least one student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Self contained special education classes are not nearly as prevalent as they were even five years ago. These days there are many schools that do not even have one special education classroom. That means that children with disabilities are primarily being educated with their peers in general education classrooms with special education supports. General education teachers are not only teaching general education students, but all students. All teachers need to have knowledge of special education laws, the special education process, and disabilities. Most importantly, all teachers need to be up to date on IEPs.
A regular education teacher is required by law to follow a student’s IEP. If a student’s IEP is not followed, there can be serious sanctions for the school district. Therefore there is a lot of pressure on School Administrators to make sure IEPs are being followed. You do not want to be the teacher that gets the administrator and school system in trouble for not following an IEP. If an IEP is not followed and the school system gets blasted, many people suffer. Knowing this, it is not optional to read the IEPs and follow them, or just a good idea, it is imperative. The IEP is written to protect the student, but they do not work if they are not being followed, and it’s against school law to not follow the IEP for any reason. Ignorance of the law is no defense, or ignorance of what is in an IEP that isn’t being followed is no defense when it isn’t followed. If you are a teacher, it is your responsibility to look through every file of every student in your class or classes. For, every student with an IEP, it is your responsibility to ensure that all aspects of the IEP are being followed in your class, particularly the accommodations.
What to look for in an IEP
I would recommend taking notes and focusing on these areas for each student.
1. What is the student’s disability? -Make sure you know the basics of what it means to have this disability and how it will affect the student.
2. Who is the case manager? -This person will be in charge of making sure the IEP is followed and should be working with you closely regarding the student.
3. What accommodations am I to provide? KNOW YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES!!!
4. What services are they getting? Even if you are not providing the services, it’s helpful to know what services he or she receives.
5. Were there any recommendations in previous reports that I could utilize to better assist this child?
Additionally, general education teachers are usually at the forefront of suspecting that a student has a disability. It is usually the teacher or the parent that begins to notice that the student is not performing at the same level of the other students. Teachers need to be current and know the basics of common disabilities in the classroom. They also need to understand the process or know who to go to with questions. Teachers are not able to diagnose, but they should know when to go to the School Psychologist or refer to the Child Study Committee.
Teachers should also have a basic understanding of the Special Education Process. When a student is going through special education testing, teachers are involved throughout this process. They may or may not have been the referring source, but they provide information to the committee making the referral. Teachers may be asked to complete rating scales or allow a Psychologist to observe the student in the classroom. Teachers can provide valuable information as they are aware of the expectations for the class and what is age appropriate. Teachers should come to the eligibility meeting with current information regarding grades, performance, and behavior. General education teachers will also be an integral part of the IEP committee.
For student teachers, or students in an Education program, it would be helpful to observe an IEP meeting and Eligibility meeting to help you understand the special education process. Doing these observations helps you to grasp the process and your role as a teacher following an IEP.
General education teachers are an important influence in the lives of a student. Now, it’s not just general education students that they impact, they impact the lives of all students. It’s a huge responsibility being a teacher, and I have nothing but respect for teachers. While some teachers may feel that adding IEPs to their job is just one more thing…. it’s one huge thing in the life of the student with an IEP.