I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, read, or said it: the “I” in IEP stands for individualized. Indeed, the goal of special education is to come together as a team to create an appropriate learning environment that meets the individualized needs of our exceptional students. In a larger sense, the aim of all education is to recognize every student’s needs and differentiate within the classroom to see to it that all their individual needs are met.
Hmmm. Everybody say it with me, “Easier said than done.”
Let me explain my work environment:
My district serves a small student population. It is so small that we do not receive funding to hire a teacher for every grade level. Rather, we have three multi-grade classrooms to serve grades K–8 and the general education teachers must figure out a way to teach the state standards to three or four different grade levels at the same time. Don’t forget your classroom dynamic being affected by the maturity disparity you might imagine between, say, your most immature third grader and most mature fifth grader, being taught in the same classroom. Multi-grade classrooms, in and of themselves, necessitate differentiation within the classroom for academic, social, emotional, and behavioral reasons, based on standards-based and age-based needs. Add to this differentiation the typical learning discrepancies between language learners, students with special needs, and students of varying levels of performance, and you will wind up with a classroom of students differing in age from 1–4 years who need 20 different forms of differentiation. Do you recall me mentioning that we’re rural? This means that we have a limited amount of community resource and our students come to us with a limited amount of life experience.
Is this tough? Yes. Impossible? It feels that way sometimes. But every day, my colleagues and I go in and work together as a team and somehow get it done. Some of us show up early every day, some of us stay late every day, and all of us take work home and come in on our days off. Also, once a week, someone brings in homemade snacks at lunchtime. J
This is all to say that I do not know what I would do without my team, nor do I know what they would do without me. We are a team, and only together can we help our students. It is ironic to me how often I meet other educators and learn about inner turmoil at work between general education and special education, or even between colleagues in the same department. Sure, my workplace has its share of minor complaints and times when someone says something that someone takes the wrong way and whatnot, but overall, we help each other out as needed, share ideas and advice, and above all, we have each others’ backs – and offer mutual respect. Without this, we’d be lost.
While the “I” in IEP may represent the needs of the individual, it is only through the work of a unified team that an individual’s needs will be met – yet there is no “I” in TEAM. Oh, the irony.