***This post was written by Joe Palladino, Legislative Chair and Central Region Representative for WSPA***
When I got out of graduate school in the late seventies I worked a year in West Virginia. The testing I did was Binet after Binet after WISC-R after WISC-R All my referrals we expected to be the old term for Cognitive Disability. IEP meetings were short with little discussion of the disability condition, certainly no argument or much difference of opinion was in evidence. That all changed with my move to Wyoming.
Early during my first fall I recall walking into an IEP meeting a bit early, putting my test protocols on the table and saying to the two people present, (including the referring teacher), “well this should be a fast meeting, not much going on with this kid” and probably added “nothing wrong with this one” Just off the top of my head what I thought to be friendly remarks. Well the meeting started and seemed to be going well. The teacher was pretty quiet but at the end of the meeting there was no placement or classification and I though all is well.
Well I could not have been more wrong. The next day I am called into the principal’s office to meet with the teacher who goes up one side of me and down the other. Who was I to say there was nothing wrong with the student. She had referred him so there must certainly be something wrong. I wiggled the best I could but walked out of the principal’s office wondering how someone could be so mad that a student didn’t qualify.
Which brings me to the great revelation. Teachers that make a referral almost always want a classification. They have already decided that something is “wrong” and that would like special education for the student. Anything less than classification and placement will not satisfy.
Now here I am forty years later still practicing and still having IEP meeting with teachers that don’t want to take no for an answer when it come to qualification.
I like to think I have gotten better at explaining data, classification, and giving advice and recommendations, but to be honest I have not seen much change in the attitude of the teachers. I spend a lot more time explaining classification than I ever did, and have almost all IEP meetings where no one ever is the dissenting opinion, yet I will have remarks reported to me that such and such a teacher is not happy. As we all know that teacher talks to another teacher who talks to another and so on. Next thing you know someone stands up at an in service and says “what do we do when our school psychologist will not classify any student ED?”. As you might have guessed this happened to me last week.
Now I have no great solution to this issue. I doubt that how a teacher should act when there is no classification after a referral ever comes up in teacher education programs. I also know that I am not the only one with this issue on and off during my career. I guess my only solution is to continue to try to remember to be aware of the disappointment teachers feel when their suspicions are not verified.
It just seems to me that the one part of education and school psychology that doesn’t change it the human interaction. Better relationships with teachers might be the key, but with the modern school design and the modern teacher any chance for interaction with a teacher in a lounge might be something that is gone forever. I do believe that being “liked” is probably more useful than being “right”.
One small footnote to this tale. The original teacher that was upset with my “nothing wrong with this one remark” and I ended up becoming good friends and that friendship has remained forty years later.