When my oldest son was in elementary school, he came home with wild tales of a new boy who was turning desks and the class upside down. Other parents reported to me that their children were afraid of this child.
I had a hard time understanding how one little boy could create such pandemonium — until I met him one afternoon. Home on maternity leave with my newborn twins, I would walk them past the playground where we would sometimes run into my son’s class at recess. The double stroller always drew a crowd of children.
On this afternoon, the new boy pushed himself into the center of the throng, grabbed hold of the stroller and tore off down the sidewalk. He was jostling the carriage so much that it nearly toppled. I was able to catch up to him and yank the stroller out of his hands. He seemed unaware of how dangerous and reckless his actions were, and I understood better how he could commandeer a classroom and put everyone on edge.
It wasn’t long before this child had a full-time aid assigned to him, and the stories of his outbursts in class became fewer. Then, the boy moved.
I bring up this story because of two recent conversations with teachers about the impact of such students on a class. One educator was a fellow parent from my son’s class, and her child had also come home with stories about his scary classmate.
“Imagine having five of those kids in your class at one time,” she said, describing what sounded like a year from hell. She made repeated attempts to get the five children into special ed so they could get the help that she felt they needed. In some cases, it took almost the entire year to make it happen.
Another teacher described her experiences with a child whose disorder led to vile outbursts and terrible conduct in class. While the child was ultimately moved into a program for students with emotional and behavior disorders, he was in class long enough to impede the performance of other classmates.
What is the right balance in these situations?
On one hand, schools have to exercise caution before labeling students. I have interviewed experts who warn that we are too quick to apply labels to boys in particular. (Here is one of those interviews.)
On the other hand, I have interviewed frustrated parents who felt that schools were unwilling to learn about the complexities of their child’s disorder or work with them to develop coping strategies that would help both the child and the teacher.
Many teachers complain that their classrooms are held hostage to kids with serious behavioral challenges while the paperwork wends its way through the bureaucracy.
Do any school systems do this right?
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog