Teaching Students with SEBD

As any teacher is aware, there are many tiers of student groups in education. In most schools, students are separated by grade levels. In classrooms, they may be grouped by academic ability. In many special education classrooms, they are categorized by need. Special education teachers are familiar with the spectrum of needs for their students. One particular category is students with severe emotional behavior disorders. This type of disorder can manifest in many different forms. One student may be a loner and below typical academic ability. Another student may have multiple outbursts in a day, but be of average or above academic ability. The behaviors may be extreme. Behavior is not always indicative of ability though. Severe emotional behavior disorder can affect a student’s academic progress, interpersonal relationships, classroom behavior, and self-care. So, what happens when you are responsible for this type of student in your classroom? Ideally, you would want the support of guardians, administration, and co-workers. That does not always happen as we think it should. Here are some ways that you alone can make a difference in the student’s life.

  1. Remember that the student is an individual with feelings and may not always have control of his/her emotions. Any extreme behavior may not have anything to do with you, so do not take it personally. Learn to let go. Take a quick restroom break if coverage is available and you need a moment to recharge.
  2. Maintain a safe environment. If you notice an explosion building, take precautions. Allow the student to go to a separate area of the classroom or to another adult in the building. If it explodes quickly, usher your other students and yourself out of the room. Keep an eye on the student until help arrives. Sometimes, a student’s escalating behavior will recede without an audience.
  3. Take care to find out information about the student’s interest and life. Ask questions and make conversation. Try to inject social skills into the conversations if needed. Forearmed is forewarned. This knowledge can be beneficial at a later time.
  4. Keep a routine. I cannot stress this enough. Students need to know what’s going on and what consequences they will face from the choices they make. Every individual that I know, regardless of their productivity, has a routine. It may be to wake up, use the restroom, and watch TV for four hours. That’s still a routine. A routine allows for clear expectations. You can maintain the same routine and still vary the activities.
  5. If you meet with resistance for an assigned task or direction, give two choices that are acceptable to you. This gives the student a degree of ownership in his/her actions while still maintaining your level of control.
  6. All choices have consequences. They may be positive or negative. Offer positive behavior support, but don’t neglect the consequences for negative behavior. The reality is that we are preparing the students to be members of society where they will not be rewarded for their positive behavior at all times, but undoubtedly, they will always the suffer the consequences of negative behavior. For example, I teach my students that they will not be stopped and told that they are doing a fantastic job of driving, but if speeding, the officer will surely address that with a possible ticket and fine.


Have you ever worked with students that had extreme behavior? How did you help the student to cope?


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