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In disciplining a disruptive student, making matters worse

Ms. T. is blogging about her experience working in a Collaborative Team Teaching classroom. CTT classes have a mix of students in general education and special education, and each class has two teachers, one with special education certification. Ms. T is the general education teacher in her classroom.

I made a mistake recently.

Before I go on, I must go back. Meet my student: a young man, low tolerance to frustration, impatient when not given the attention he craves (which is more attention than a teacher can possibly give), funny, smart, an enjoyable student (despite all of the negatives), labeled special education for his emotional/behavioral disorder, and disruptive. His disruptions usually stem from the noises he is constantly making in our classroom. From the moment he walks in at the start of the day to the moment we send him off at the end of the day, he is talking. Sometimes he’s talking to others; most of the time, he’s talking to himself. Almost all the time, he is talking in a voice loud enough to disrupt and distract student learning.

The first week back after the winter vacation was worse than usual for a child who doesn’t deal well with inconsistencies in schedules and is sure to take a few weeks to get back in the swing of things. He talked nonstop, offering a constant play-by-play or yelling out answers during class discussions. By Friday, my patience was running out. Something had to change.

I decided a visit and discussion with the principal was in order. This was my mistake. My student doesn’t deal well with confrontation. He becomes defiant and shuts down when a voice is raised at him. My team teacher and I have figured out a better, less confrontation way to address issues with him. But it takes a lot of patience on our part, and like I said, we were running low on patience by the end of the week.

Unfortunately, the discussion didn’t happen in a manner that my student could handle. He was confronted, his mother called, and then removed and placed in a classroom in the lower grades for the rest of the day. When I walked him into that office, I realized I was relinquishing all control of a situation that I barely controlled in the first place. My classroom was a good learning environment for the rest of my students for the rest of the day, but I couldn’t help but worry about this young man and what would happen when we returned to school on Monday.

I was especially frustrated because even after I informed the principal that the student was mastering the standards we were working on, she didn’t place him in a more advanced class so he could have at least learned while in a different classroom. Instead, he spent the day a few grades below, suffering through embarrassment and wasting the chance of learning for the day. Plus, the principal does not know how to handle students individually. She does not take the time to figure out what works best or even understand the students with special needs. I am sad to think that I cannot rely on her for support, especially with a classroom full of situations in need of it. At the very least, she could ask us, the classroom teachers, for advice on what works or what specific help we need in dealing with the situation we present.

We have already started working out a plan for our student for days when he’s gone too far or driven us too crazy. After the way this situation was handled, we will not be taking our student to the principal anymore. Instead, we’ll seek support from another teacher who has more advanced students. We are hoping an academic challenge and another setting might help our student pull together while giving the classroom a little break.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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