When is a Behavior Problem a SPED Referral?

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

principal sign

One of the many challenges a classroom teacher faces in her daily classroom routine is the presence of one (or two or three) students with challenging behaviors. They take so much time from instruction for “regular” students that it has become a real problem for many teachers. They did not learn in their degree program how to deal with Joey who is throwing books out the window, or Freddy who trips little Miranda every time she walks by.

This may bring a smile to your face, but you know what I’m talking about. You’ve practiced techniques for classroom management that work 90% of the time, but those students are still a real issue for you. You’ve read books, you’ve reported it all to your principal and school counselor and at the end of each meeting, you still leave scratching your head.

There is a moment in many behavior problem situations, where a teacher reaches critical mass and sits down to refer the child for a special education evaluation. When does a behavior become so troubling that it qualifies for special education services? The behavior that is bugging you may be completely under control in other classrooms, what is the chemistry that exists between a teacher and students that reaches stalemate?

This is a tough question. In general, any behavior that gets under your skin is worthy of correction and intervention within your own domain. Something you notice and become concerned about may go right over another teacher’s head and radar but if it’s interfering with your routine, you need to address it.

I used a word above that can help you develop an accurate barometer, “troubling”. Like so many things in education, it is not black and white. However, if a child’s behavior is troubling you and it is pretty clear that unless there is resolution, this child will continue to use the behavior to manipulate his environment and you, it’s time for an intervention. In the lower grades, he/she is doing these things because he is afraid, afraid of being noticed as the failure he thinks he is, afraid of being called on and showing his ignorance. This is usually corrected by providing him with a way to be successful, give him a task at which he will shine and the behavior may disappear.

But as he grows, and the behavior escalates to include things that are hurtful to others or himself, it is definitely time for an evaluation. Your principal and special education coordinator will discourage you from filing, they are buried in referrals for similar problems and the system simply cannot absorb all these kids.

Your job is to document everything the child does, and document your interventions. It must be clear that you have “tried everything” and yet the situation has grown and become more troubling. The child is actively making everyone miserable, not just you. It’s not about your threshold of pain; it has more to do with the rest of your students. His behavior may be pulling so much of your attention that the rest of your students are questioning your authority or ability to cope. Time to bring in the troops and don’t be shy. There are intractable problems and you should not feel guilty or wimpy about bringing them to the attention of people who can help.

I also used the word “chemistry”. Sometimes there is a dynamic between a teacher and student that is simply toxic. There is no mutual respect to build on and it’s clear that another placement would benefit both student, teacher, and class. Be sure you completely and thoroughly understand the special education referral process and that your documentation is impeccable and thorough. Where possible, make sure you’ve brought the parents in for multiple conferences to try to organize a concerted effort at both school and home to alter the behavior. Sometimes in those meetings an explanation will emerge and a solution may become evident. There are students however, who do not have a supportive environment at home from which to draw solutions. These are the cases that will sap the strength of the system, this child is really in trouble and you will all need to work together to help him out. There may be a contract you can draw up with the child and other teachers that he will sign and live up to. The other teachers (and physical education teachers are especially helpful here), who can monitor behavior when you’re not there, and come up with a plan of intervention.

Books have been written about this subject, this blog is just a sample of impressions I have made over the years. I hope something has resonated with you, and don’t hesitate to comment on this blog and add to the discussion. My sense is this won’t be my last article on this subject, I know you have much to add to the conversation.

A couple of resources for you:

Seven Rules

Dealing with Difficult Students

Management Techniques – Relationship Building

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Grant Name: Teacher Grants

Funded By: The Kids In Need Foundation

Description: Kids In Need Teacher Grants provide K-12 educators with funding to provide innovative learning opportunities for their students. The Kids In Need Foundation helps to engage students in the learning process by supporting our most creative and important educational resource our nation’s teachers. All certified K-12 teachers in the U.S. are eligible.

Program Areas: Arts, ESL/Bilingual/Foreign Language, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology

Eligibility: Public School, Private School

Proposal Deadline: 9/30/2014

Average Amount: $100.00 – $500.00

Address: 3055 Kettering Boulevard, Suite 119, Dayton, OH 45439

Telephone: 877-296-1231

E-mail: pennyh@kinf.org

Website: The Kids in Need Foundation

Availability: All States

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s