I have been a middle-school teacher for more than 14 years. In those 14 years, I have sat in on hundreds of special education meetings, including both individualized education plans and 504 meetings. It was not until I attended an early intervention meeting and a 504 meeting as a parent that I realized just how intimidating those meetings can be.

The experience of sitting on the other side of the table taught me how I could improve the special education meeting for the families of my students. I hope my fellow teachers will consider the lessons I learned from the other side.

1. Have patience.

From the teacher’s perspective, they’re pulled out of the classroom to attend the meeting. This requires them to leave lesson plans for 30 children with someone else. Teachers often feel anxious to get back to the classroom and continue teaching.

From the family’s perspective, we value the time of everyone in the room, but we also need enough time to ask and answer an abundance of questions. We’re there to advocate for our child, to understand his/her present level of performance, to discuss annual goals and to understand the support services provided. We need the team to have patience with us as we absorb the information presented.

Teachers, please understand that we, too, have other obligations. We’re taking time out of our day to best meet the needs of our child.

2. Have empathy.

For teachers, these meetings are just one part of a work day and not something that involves much of an emotional investment. But understanding what a parent might be feeling at these meetings can be helpful. As a teacher, I always sat comfortably and confidently in special education meetings. As a mother, I felt intimidated, overwhelmed, confused and even slightly powerless.

Teachers, when going into a special education meeting, please think about the family’s feelings first. Think about the pressure on the parent. Think about the gamut of emotions they might feel as they enter the meeting.

3. Stop staring.

When early interventions evaluated my son, they brought a team of five people to the meeting. While I was grateful for all the support, I instantly felt outnumbered. It seemed as if all eyes were on me throughout the entire evaluation. At times I wasn’t even sure who I should be looking at. I found myself looking at my son while I still felt eyes on me.

At our meetings, we typically have a special education team, including the facilitator, social worker, special education teacher, general education teacher, school psychologists, specialists and often the nurse as well. To help the parent with the amount of eyes in the room, it might be helpful to look at the person speaking and not always at the parent. It’s OK to stop and ask the parent if they are feeling overwhelmed or if they have any questions. While eye contact is great, be mindful not to stare.

4. Give them time to process.

There is an abundance of information given at these meetings, and parents are sent home with a giant packet of data, notes, facts and figures. As a parent, I found myself nodding and agreeing to everything said even though some of the medical jargon was confusing. This made me think about my meetings as a teacher and how we use educational jargon common to us, but it’s uncommon to the parent.

Teachers, please make sure someone on the special education team follows up with the parent in a few days to see if they have any questions now that they had time to look back at the paperwork, talk about the meeting with a friend and process the overload of information. What seems straightforward to a teacher can be complicated to the family and may require additional explanation.