The Challenges of Working With Children With Serious Issues

That title is a mouthful, but I couldn’t figure out how to shorten it.  There was a sad and thought-provoking story published in the Baltimore Sun about a child with behavioral issues who died in Baltimore last week.  It raises questions about–as the title of this post states–the challenges of working with children with serious issues.  The story is about the aids and the bus driver whose jobs are in limbo, but I felt a definite connection with my own experiences teaching, and the difficulty of preventing challenging students from taking actions that harm themselves.  The original story is here:

Questions raised as family prepares to lay student to rest

My reaction:

The issue of trying to control multiple students with severe behavioral and/or emotional issues is very fundamental to what is challenging about urban education, and it’s something that doesn’t get enough press.  The mere act of discussing the fact that kids from low-income settings tend to have a higher incidence of these sorts of issues brings up feelings of classism and racism.  Yet, the truth of the matter is these issues have a huge impact on a teacher’s ability to do their job.  I’m going to get politically incorrect now and get into my thoughts on this hot-button issue.

If severe emotional/behavioral issues are prominent enough and go unchecked by the management systems a school has in place, they start to affect the entire climate of the school and the behavior of students that don’t even have the same sorts of issues.  Actions and behaviors that should seem really out of place become commonplace and you start seeing a lot of copy-cat behavior.  I’ve experienced situations as a teacher where a class that seems out of control returns to order with the removal of a single student.  Once, a girl I taught actually remarked, “there goes our ring-leader”.

The fact is, classroom teachers not equipped to deal with some of the issues that the children can bring in the door.  Public education with low-income populations can work, but there needs to be an understanding that the needs of the students as a whole are greater and consequently, there need to be more resources allocated.  Children with emotional/behavioral issues that cause disruption to the general ed setting need very small settings and interventions, and they can be gradually be integrated into larger settings as their issues are resolved.  In most cases, they can and should probably be integrated with general ed students, as long as the group size is kept very small.  And obviously, they need the highest quality teachers.

Just imagine how much Baltimore City life could be changed if the most difficult students could be effectively educated?  It can be done, but not without the resources.  The question is, do we have the fortitude to make the necessary investment?

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