Prove Them Wrong: Be There for Secondary Students with an Emotional or Behavioral Disability

By Solar, Ernest | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 2011 | Go to article overview

Prove Them Wrong: Be There for Secondary Students with an Emotional or Behavioral Disability


Solar, Ernest, Teaching Exceptional Children


An 18-year-old senior in high school walks into the classroom with a hood pulled over his eyes, his ear buds screaming heavy metal music, carrying no textbooks, and acknowledging no one in the classroom. The teacher speaks up and says, "What's up, Andy?" Andy picL· up a binder that was left in the classroom the previous day and before he walks out of the class quietly says, "The ceiling." Is this an example of defiant behavior or would it be considered a form of disruptive behavior? Or is this just Andy's way of saying hello?

Students with an emotional or behavioral disability (EBD) are sometimes judged and feared based on their label before teachers even meet them. These students axe different than other students that walk into a classroom, but they should never be feared. They have had more "loops" in. their rollercoaster ride of adolescent life than the average teenager. For example, Travis, an 18year-old senior at a therapeutic day school for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, was given up by his mother at the age of 4, lived with 19 foster families, and attended 14 different schools. Kurt, a 16-year-old junior, was already a seasoned member of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous when he entered high school, and he spent a year in juvenile detention. Chris, a 17-year-old senior with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) had stabbed a teacher with a knife. Last, Erica was raised by her grandmother when her father and mother were killed in a house fire after a night of binge drinking and drug use.

These are the extreme cases of students with EBD that pass through the hallways in public and private schools. Looking at these adolescents, many people would not realize the traumas these individuals have faced and will continue to face as they get older. But as these students walk into the classroom, they are craving attention and acceptance from their teachers, fust like every other student. Throughout their lives, some students with EBD have had few, if any, consistent, appropriate adult relationships in their Uves (Mihalas, Morse, Allsopp, & Alvarez McHatton, 2009). For example, Travis was physically, mentally, sexually, and emotionally abused by several foster families throughout his life. When he acted out at school and received a negative consequence from male teachers, he was often afraid that the male teachers would hit him or belittle him for his actions. Luckily for Travis, one male teacher, Mr. Barnett, reviewed his confidential school file and learned what Travis had experienced throughout his life. Mr. Barnett consulted the school counselor and special education teacher to learn the best possible approach when he interacted with Travis. Once Travis developed an appropriate adult relationship with Mr. Barnett, he realized he was not going to be abused, and he flourished in school.

This article shares advice with secondary school teachers about classroom practices that may help to build and develop trusting relationships with students with EBD. These ideas include classroom techniques for collaborating with the student and his or her parents. Even if a student with EBD walks into a classroom and greets the teacher for the first time by saying, "I hate you because you are a teacher. Leave me alone," it is still possible to prove the student wrong and develop a relationship that may change his or her life forever.

The Student With EBD

Kauffman (2005) points out that it is often difficult to determine a reliable definition of an emotional or behavioral disability because it is "a thing that exists outside a social context but is a label assigned according to cultural rules ... an emotional or behavioral disability is whatever behavior a culture's chosen authority figures designate as intolerable" (p. 11). With that thought in niind, for the purpose of this article, we shall use the definition provided by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which defines an emotional or behavioral disorder (disability) as at least one defined characteristic exhibited over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child's educational performance. …

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