Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How Distruptive Students Escalate Disorder...

I think I just read the best article so far in my graduate career. I have to admit that the classes I am taking through the Teaching Fellows program are pretty basic and filled with busy work…but “How Disruptive Students Escalate Hostility and Disorder—And How Teachers Can Avoid it” is a great article that really gives insight on how tough it is to manage the behavior of Special Education students. If you are starting a job with emotionally disturbed students...it's is essential reading because you cannot treat ED kids like you would general ed without getting into trouble. I suggest you google it, or if you can get your hands on the Winter 2003/04 copy of American Educator, seek it there.

If you want a taste of the graduate work expected of Teaching Fellows, read the following personal article response, handed in today for a grade.

The article “How Disruptive Students Escalate Hostility and Disorder--and How Teachers can Avoid it” by Walker, Ramsey and Gresham is the strongest I’ve read in regards to behavior management in a 12:1:1 Ed classroom of high school students. The majority of my students are labeled as disruptive, and sometimes a good day is when all the desks stay upright and no one gets hurt—let alone I get through an entire lesson! The article addressed the biggest problem I have, one student’s disruptive behavior spreading throughout the class, creating a cacophony of chaos that makes teaching impossible. One student is causing a ruckus, repetitively slamming a book on a desk…I feel like I have a timer on that students, because if I don’t get him to stop his behavior in a few minutes it is only a matter of time before the rest of the crew get sidetracked into the disturbance. And that amount of time changes at whim.

But, you can’t treat these students like general ed, or even like ED fourth graders, because they “carry residual anger” and they are mostly bigger than me. Asking that a student who is slamming the book on the desk to “please stop so the rest of the class can learn” would more likely than not fuel that student to not only continue hitting the desk, but faster and louder as well. The “seemingly innocuous request” is just enough attention focused on the students to feed their behavior. That is what makes teaching ED students such a challenge: “The Teacher’s direct effort to stop the students from engaging in acting-out behavior is the very thing that strengthens and maintains it.” Walker, Ramsey and Gresham hit the nail on the head with that one statement! The more I ask that student to stop disrupting the class, the longer and louder and more distracting it’s going to be!

So how do you handle young human beings who don’t react well to requests and commands? The article is right, that you can’t “handle them with kid gloves.” Try to ignore it when you can, when they aren’t killing anybody else, and don’t let the students see that they are getting to you! Oh boy, and definitely don’t get into an argument with the student. I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in the first year of teaching, and it’s hard, being able to let go of control of the class or the student. Nagging the student makes things a lot worse, and draws the attention of the other students away from their work. With the help of an experienced paraprofessional I have a rule of thumb when a student is being a disturbance: I ask once, and only once, for the student to stop. I then try as hard as I can to ignore that student. Cool as cucumber, thinking to myself “I don’t hear you, you don’t bother me.” It’s tough because my first response is to shut that kid up as quick as possible before I lose the attention of the rest of the class. But, I had to change my way of thinking: My stopping the lesson in order to shush up a student is sometimes even more distracting than pen-tapping, or book slamming, or rapping lyrics in class.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And, I’ll admit, it doesn’t really help keep the rest of the students on track. (Teachers might be able to ignore distracting behavior, but other students won’t) I’ll often gather the attentive students to the table in the back of the room, away from the distracting student, and maintain the lesson there. Sometimes that’s the best I can do. Sometimes I just give up on the lesson for that period, rather than fight the class or shout.

The only issue I had with the article is that it assumes I have great administrative back-up and students who care about their Power of Choice. I’m not in a school where I can send students out of the class if they are acting-out, we don’t have a crisis center, and most classrooms are islands as long as the student isn’t hurting anyone. So, then what?


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