Lauren Ebel - Mentor Teacher
By: Lauren Ebel
Lauren Ebel is a Special Education Teacher with the Fairfax County Public School in Fairfax, Virginia. She has taught in both public and private settings. She designed, wrote, and implemented "The Developmental Classroom", a speech and language-based primary program. She has worked with children who have learning disabilities and/or emotional problems, stating that many children with LD often experience emotional and behavioral outbursts. Two important classroom strategies she stresses are: (1) Laying ground rules for students and (2) Reinforcement of good behaviors. Her teaching involves much more as you will see as you learn about Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Monsters.
Q. Do students with learning disabilities experience emotional difficulties?
A. Yes, many do. Students with LD often demonstrate low frustration tolerance and often "act out" from fear of academic failure. It's important for all teachers to implement strategies that help students with learning and emotional difficulties succeed.
Q. Why was "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" by author Betty MacDonald a good story for children with emotional and behavioral disabilities?
A. When the main character, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, was a child she used to lie in bed at night, stare up at the ceiling, and dream of owning an upside-down house. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle eventually built that upside-down house. She even married a pirate and buried treasure in her backyard. Many of my fourth grade students have had negative experiences with school, especially in the subjects of reading and writing. This book says right from the very beginning: "We are going to laugh, we are going to act absurd."
In each chapter there is a child who misbehaves and drives his or her parents wild. The parents are desperate for a cure, which eventually leads them to the sensible Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Some of the children need a "Never-Want-to-Pick-Up-Toys Cure", some a "Never-Want-to-Go-to-Bedders Cure". Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle gives matter-of-fact, edgy, and humorous advice to parents. No, she doesn't recommend time-out chairs or restriction but natural consequences- the kind of advice that counts. The children don't lose their dignity as they are "cured." Don't feel like cleaning up your room? Wait until your little boy's pile of toys prevents him from leaving his room, then send up his dinner on a pitchfork. Don't feel like going to bed? Stay up all night and roller-skate in the dark, but you'll miss the trip to the beach on Saturday because you were too tired to go. Our classroom's favorite cure was the "Radish Cure." Don't feel like taking a bath? Let your little girl stay dirty and keep her away from strangers. When a nice, thick layer of dirt forms, plant some radish seeds on her forehead and arms.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has a habit of putting on a witch hat, a fake nose and "scaring" children into making their beds-sheets smooth and tight. My students started saying, "An alien would scare me into doing my homework,"or "A fiery tornado would swoop my toys away if I didn't clean up each night." These musings gave me the idea for having my students write a cure story using their nemesis. We enlarged the monster pictures for each cover.
Q. What do educators need to know about instructing and managing students with emotional disabilities?
A. They need to know how to juggle! It is essential that special educators working with emotionally disabled students learn to prioritize each child's personality, history, and potential every day. Academic expectations and behavioral expectations do not always run neck and neck sometimes the social studies textbook must be book-marked, closed and we must ask, "Are we bickering? It's important to address this now," or "OK, you are unhappy about something. Is this is a good time to talk about it?"
Some of the procedures at the school where I work are markedly different from those in general education. For example, in my county special education teachers who work with emotionally disabled students are professionally trained to escort and/or restrain children to prevent them from injuring themselves and others. In addition to being prepared to teach a wide range of academic levels, teachers who instruct children with emotional disorders must have a great deal of background knowledge regarding mental health issues and medications.
Some tips on how to include children with emotional disabilities in general education:
- Teachers need to establish a bond with each student. These bonds need to have boundaries.
This important tip is first on my list, but it certainly doesn't happen right away. Teachers sometimes form opinions of students they have never met after reading their files or talking with previous teachers. Like most kids, children with emotional disabilities love pizza, play too many video games, and wonder if people like them. Keep your voice low, pat an arm, and nod your head. Give them the right to their emotions by saying, "Yes, you are mad, I might be too if that happened to me. It's amazing how you handle these things." Praise and encourage your class members when they are understanding and supportive.
- Teachers need to model acceptable behavior during cooperative learning activities.
Sit with a small group of five at a table and ask, "I purposely gave this team two bottles of glue. Can anyone tell me why? What if you had this feeling that you just had to have the glue right now?" Children with learning disabilities, just as students with emotionally disabilities often experience interpersonal problems and need to anticipate and practice appropriate voice volume, facial and body gestures, and verbal responses.
- Carefully consider the physical environment of your classroom throughout the year.
Sit in each seat. What or who can the student see? Hear? Who is he sitting next to? Do you want him to be able to have a sweeping view of the classroom or do you want him to have a seat that limits where he can look?
- Do you plan to offer tangible reinforcements, such as stickers, pencils, or candy?
Although consequences should generally be delivered without delay, rewards can be immediate, short-term, and long-term depending on the age level and dynamics of your classroom. For example: Place an index card on each desk and offer an immediate reward. (e.g. "Great job not calling out, Diane and Joseph! Put two stickers on your index card. Finish the rest of the lesson and you can have five minutes at the Talk Table!"). Make room for some extra time on Friday and offer a short-term reward. (e.g. "Those of you who earned 60 bonus marks by keeping their desks organized may have 10 minutes to play outside.") Talk with other teachers and plan some long-term rewards. (e.g. "Class, our pizza party is next week. Students who have turned in 35 out of 42 assignments may attend.") Be sure to model how to handle both success and disappointment. Hold morning or afternoon classroom meetings that praise behavior and remind your students of upcoming events.
- Did your class have a horrible day on Monday? On Tuesday, greet your students at the door with open palms and a smile.
The student who was banging his chair, crumpling his classwork, crying, and calling his classmates bad names on Monday is really hoping that you can find it in your heart to start over Tuesday morning. However, do follow through on your consequences, even at the risk of more upset. Your students will appreciate and find comfort in your strong guidance.
Q. Why do you teach students who experience emotional and behavioral disorders?
A. My principal told me that on her first day of college, the professor asked his eager students why they chose to teach children with emotional disabilities. Before they could answer, he asked them to imagine going into a clothing store. Would they look for a glamorous dress, one that was perfectly slimming to the waist and was easy to launder? Or would they look for the difficult dress, one with scratchy seams and tricky buttons? The professor suggested that they compare this analogy to choosing a career in educating students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
There are personal reasons, of course. I do feel that every teacher in my center, including myself, has had experiences in their lives that lead them to guide the academic and social lives of frustrated, often angry children. Perhaps my colleagues and myself were able to learn to overcome situations, and want to teach others to compensate and triumph.
Peggy, for the last three years of school, came home crying. Getting homework done was a nightmare, especially for Peggy's parents. Numerous notes from the teacher, suspensions, and poor grades seemed to be Peggy's school future. This year, Peggy started fourth grade in a center program for students with emotional and behavior disorders. She has ten kids in her classroom and brings home a point sheet to be signed each night. During mid-year school conferences. I ask, "So, what does Peggy say about her school day?" Mother responds, "I always ask Peggy how her school day went after she finishes her homework. Lately, Peggy says, Fine, then goes out to play."
Why do I teach students with emotional and behavioral disorders? Peggy's love of school is the very dress I was looking for.
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Lauren Ebel (2001)