Talking to General Educators About IEPs

Begin talking to a general educator about a student’s IEP, and you will usually get one of four different responses: 1. complete enthusiasm, 2. some enthusiasm and some confusion, 3. complete confusion, and 4. annoyance and denial. I’m hoping to help with responses 2-4 with this post.

The Legal Aspect

It’s federal law all students receive a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. This translates to teaching as many students as we can in the general education setting by providing them any necessary accommodations and modifications needed to allow students with disabilities to successfully attend class with their peers.

This law not new. What is new is the number of students who are labeled as learning disabled and are attending general education classes. I remember when I was in high school in the late nineties – there was a special education class and anyone in it spent a majority of their day learning life skills such as counting money and restaurant etiquette.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of students with IEPs spending 80% or more of the school day in a general education setting has doubled from 1990-2014.

Why is This an Issue Now?

There are many variables to take into consideration as to why this has changed. Some say more students are being correctly identified as learning disabled (meaning more and more students are experiencing some sort of learning disability). Some say more students are being incorrectly identified as learning disabled.

Whatever the cause, the result is more students with IEPs in general education classrooms. Unfortunately, these general educators are often uncomfortable/unfamiliar with what to do with them.

The Wrong Way to Approach Gen Ed Teachers

I recently had a conversation with a general educator after getting complaints from my students that she was not meeting their IEP accommodations. Here’s how my conversation with the teacher went:

  • I confronted
  • Teacher felt attacked
  • I pushed
  • Teacher complained about “too many students and IEPs to keep track of who gets what” and “not enough time to differentiate for each student.”
  • I complained I’m busy, too

Long story short, we resolved nothing and we both felt indignant.

The Right Way to Talk to General Educators about IEPs

My approach was all wrong and truly I do feel the frustration from their end. Some people have been teaching for decades without ever reading an IEP. This is a big change for them and it seems like a lot of work. We all feel overworked and overwhelmed sometimes. We are all trying to do what is best for the student.

With this in mind, my second attempt went much better. The biggest change being that I actually brought a solution to the table to help ease the workload and confusion associated with IEPs.

I gave the general educator a blank copy of the worksheet above and offered to help her fill it out. I also gave a few general suggestions to ease the work load. My best advice for general educators? Unless it is something truly drastic, just give everyone the accommodated test. If one student has an accommodation of having no more than 10 items on a matching list, just give that version to all your students. Why not? It’s not dumbing it down or watering it down. The same material is tested, just in a different way.

One comparison I’ve found works well with education in general is the idea of how we treat the driver’s test. Some people need to wear glasses to see the road, use a cushion to see above the steering wheel (my short mother), or complete silence when attempting the dreaded parallel parking section of the test. These are all examples of accommodations and not something that would cause us to question their ability to drive a car.


The Condition of Education – Participation in Education – Elementary/Secondary – Children and Youth With Disabilities – Indicator May (2016)

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