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Advice: What to do When a Student with an IEP Enters your Class!

It’s the middle of the year and now you’re getting a student with an IEP in your class

I think as teachers, we all have the same response when it’s the middle of a semester, or year, and a new student appears on your roster.  Oh great! They’re not going to know what is happening in the class. Awesome! They’re going to completely destroy my perfect groupings. Typical, right when the class has a rhythm, where am I going to sit them? Admitting you have these same thoughts is ok! We all do! Maybe I’m completely missing the mark, but I feel these thoughts can be amplified once you discover this new student also has an IEP. So, what can you do to make the transition into your class easier for the student with the IEP?

  • Don’t panic!

    • Students are students. They are just as nervous entering a new class in the middle of a semester! Recognize that the students have many of the same fears that the teachers have when it comes to being in a new environment.
  • Know his/her name & say it with a smile
    • I think all students want to be seen and recognized. One thing we forget in our busy moments as teachers is that a simple smile goes a long way in the life of a student.
  • Have a safe seat ready for the student
    • When a student with an IEP, or any new student enters your class, it is of great importance where you sit that student.  Choose to sit the new student next to a student who is nice, and focused; a student who will be friendly and say hello, but also who will model preferred student skills. While as a teacher, we may not always consider the social aspect of a student’s life, a new student may be ONLY focused on that because they want to feel socially safe in class.
  • Preferential Seating does NOT mean the front row!
    • Most students with an IEP have an accommodation that says: “preferential seating,” and most teachers interpret this to mean seated in the front row.  Preferential seating simply means seating the student where s/he will learn the best.  For many students, the front row will be awkward and the student might feel they are being put in a spotlight.  Once you have a relationship with the student, you can simply ask, “Where do you think you’ll learn and perform the best in this class?”
  • Consider NOT grading the first two weeks!
    • When I say don’t grade the first two weeks, know that FEEDBACK is extremely important during this time period. Students with IEPs typically take a little bit longer to transition and get accustomed to new settings.  If the student is dropped into the middle of a unit, not only is the student already feeling behind, but the student is also trying to learn the language of the class and the teacher.  How do I go to the bathroom? How do I label my classwork? Where do I turn it in? Do I raise my hand, or does this class not raise hands? When are tests? How am I graded?
    • While many teachers will argue that not grading the first two weeks is not ‘real world,’ I would agree, but at the same time, remind everyone that we are teaching and preparing kids how to operate in the real world.  The educational setting is NOT real world.  I have never been tested on my job and said I had to complete something in 55 minutes without using any resources.  Allow the student to adjust to routines and begin doing assignments before you attach a grade that sticks to them.
  • Build relationships!
    • Obviously, as teachers, we want to build relationships with every student. For the student with the IEP, the teacher may be their only social contact in class.  If this is a positive contact everyday, the student will actually begin to look forward to the class, even if the content is challenging.
  • Parents are your allies!
    • Parents know their child better than anyone.  I always utilize the parents when a student is struggling in my class. It’s important to note that parents of students with IEPs get a barrage of emails about what their child did or didn’t do in class and this can be overwhelming.  Keeping this in mind, when a student is close to failing, or not producing growth, I email the parents and ask for their suggestions and let them know I’m available to meet with them if desired.  This usually enables parents to communicate openly with me and helps produce the best results for the student.
  • Enjoy
    • Students with IEPs are amazing people. It is not uncommon for the student to have Ds and Fs in most classes, and still come to school each day and try.  Celebrate the small successes and let these students inspire you.  Let them know you are there to support them, just like every other student in your class.

How do you welcome new students to your class?

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