By Teresa Siegrist
IEP. Individualized Education Plan. Teachers and clinicians create this legal document for students with special learning needs, detailing specially designed instruction, testing accommodations, and goals. What is delineated in the paperwork determines the parameters of support for each student–the how, when, and where of what will be done to meet the student’s needs. The IEP is the ‘bible’ as I do my work as a paraprofessional in Special Education.
Test times are particularly difficult for my students and uncomfortable for me as their primary support person. I am present with the student, yet I am not. I can help … sort of. The support they relied heavily on during instruction feels very different during a test. On the sidelines, I watch them struggle to interpret and answer the test questions on their own; I might only be allowed to give them encouragement to keep trying and remember what they’ve been taught. I often wonder if they feel that I have abandoned them. Then I begin to fret, Did I implement the IEP effectively, providing the necessary framework for success in their testing?
Well, the coronavirus pandemic has me wishing for my own IEP! I’m now apprehensive of missing important content about survival because the very language of life has become foreign. Normal school has disoriented. Expectations for teachers are transient, varying by the week, if not daily. Where is my support? Isn’t there someone assigned to help me navigate the way? Not only for me, but everyone enrolled in this new world classroom. Corona has shoved us off our teacher stools. We now sit behind student desks. As much as we have begged and cried, God has not rushed in to issue Covid-19 an expulsion.
But God has indeed written out an Individual Education Plan for every one of us. Trusting God is the key that helps offset the mental angst of Covid. When we are feeling abandoned during this test, we must remember His promise to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He has set the perfect accommodations in place, and he is active to implement these IEPs. Unlike what’s done on earth, God’s IEPs are not filed away out of sight in a locked filing cabinet.
In God’s IEP, all of us have preferential seating near the point of instruction; in fact, we can sit at the feet of our teacher, Jesus. We are allowed to have directions repeated or rephrased as often as needed to supplement understanding. The Holy Spirit is an ever-present quiet, yet insistent, voice that prompts us to stay on task. A kind whisper over the shoulder comes to ignite us when lethargy sets in. ‘Wait time’ is written into our IEPs, as He allows us more than adequate time to process and organize our incoherent thoughts. With abundant grace and compassion, the Lord recognizes our struggles to maintain grips on this new reality of social distancing and the like.
Unlimited access to His written textbook is a sweet privilege and not one to ignore. Our task is to immerse ourselves in His Word, while He chunks the assignments that are due. It’s okay to not see far ahead while visibility is poor. Even though the steps on this never-before-traversed path are rough, they are kindly lit. We can proceed without falling or losing the way. “Your word is a lamp to my feet. And a light for my path,” says Psalm 119:105.
How is it that I understand my role in my students’ lives so clearly now that I miss them so much?
I’m learning that God’s support is perfect, though I’m all over the charts. He remains close enough to give reassurance, but far enough out that I have to persevere. He’s proving that I’m stronger than I think I am. Relying on the supports given, taking them to heart, and applying His truths to the situation in front of me is how I learn resilience.
These are also the life lessons I’ve endeavored to teach my students. Now it’s my turn to take the test.
Teresa Siegrist is employed by the Manheim Central School District in Manheim, Pennsylvania. She believes partnering with the Holy Spirit by utilizing ‘behind-the-scenes’ prayer is a powerful way to impact students for life change. She is also collaborating with God in writing a devotional to encourage teachers tentatively entitled, A-Z Devotional Classroom Vignettes for Teachers.
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