IEPs for New Teachers: A Guide

A teacher’s first year in the classroom is a challenge like no other. There’s lesson planning, classroom management, grading and what seems like a billion other responsibilities all rolled into one. Then one day early in the year, a sealed envelope labeled CONFIDENTIAL arrives in your inbox. No, this folder is not an invitation to join a spy mission, but students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).  

For first year teachers, IEPs can be some of the most confusing documents he or she reads. There’s also the complicated task of implementing IEPs in the classroom. To help first-year teachers, this article covers IEP basics, implementing IEPs, and essentials to keep in mind throughout the year.   

What Are IEPs?

Believe it or not, before 1975, public schools could turn away students with disabilities. To remedy this injustice, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Since then, all students have a right to a public school education. If a student has a disability, he or she receives an IEP.

An IEP is a legal document that outlines a student’s disability, academic goals for the year, and modifications to instruction/assessment he or she will receive in class. Modifications give the disabled student the chance to work to his or her true potential.

Once a student has an IEP, there is an annual IEP meeting where the student, parents, classroom teachers and special education teacher meet to discuss the student’s progress. The goal of the meeting is to modify the IEP for the following year, or determine if the student still needs an IEP.   

Implementing IEPs

Implementing IEPs in the classroom can feel like juggling. It’s easy for different students’ modifications to become jumbled in a new teacher’s mind. Below is a step-by-step guide to simplifying the process.

  1. Take out all the IEPs for a single period and turn them to the modifications pages.
  2. Highlight identical modifications in one color. Identical modifications are those that apply to two or more students.
  3. Highlight students’ unique modifications in a different color. These are modifications that apply only to one student.
  4. Determine which modifications you can give the entire class. For example, if one student’s IEP requires that printed materials must be in a certain font, use that font for every student. Not only will you save time, but the student with the IEP will not feel singled out by his or her disability.  

Essentials to Keep in Mind

  • Keep your IEPs in a locked drawer or cabinet. They are confidential!
  • Students have the right to turn down IEP services.

For example, if a student’s IEP states that he or she can take a test in a small group setting, he or she can choose to take the test with the class. In these cases, it never hurts to have the student write ‘I want to take the test in class’ on the test. This is the teacher’s ‘insurance policy’ in case the student should perform below his or her academic potential.  

  • Not all of the modifications will apply to your class. If you teach English, for example, you can ignore the Math modifications.
  • Being prepared for an IEP meeting means having examples of the student’s work that shows progress, or lack thereof. Keep these work examples with the student’s IEP.
  • Communicate with parents of IEP students on a regular basis. In fact, go ahead and make a special inbox for these parents in your email client.
  • If you have questions, remember that your school’s special education teacher is your best resource.  

Thomas Broderick lives in Northern California. After spending four years teaching at an alternative high school, he now works full-time as a freelance writer in the educational field.