Last week, the Center for American Progress and the Hope Street Group held a forum to discuss the future of teacher preparation following the recent repeal of regulations which required states to rate their programs.
During this event, panelists repeatedly argued that teacher training should include a behavior management component. One panelist shared that she felt she was not adequately prepared to teach children with social and emotional problems when she began teaching. Another stressed the importance of training new teachers to understand and respond to the social, behavioral matters of children.
There are good reasons for this. As CPE found in its report on teacher shortages, good working conditions and support play a large role in teachers’ decisions about where to work. If student outbursts impede a teacher’s ability to manage the classroom, that says a lot about the working conditions. Accordingly, another panelist spoke about the need for teachers-in-training to have a “back-up” for assistance with behavioral management situations when they arise, which speaks to support. CPE also reports that student discipline problems are another factor in low teacher retention, more so than even salary.
Up to 30 percent of children and adolescents have mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, and as many as 1 in 10 students have disorders severe enough to interfere with their ability to function properly in class, including exhibiting proper classroom behavior.
Research shows that the achievement levels of students who have behavior problems are significantly lower than students who do not. In addition, while the dropout rate for all public-school students is 7 percent, among students with behavior problems, the dropout rate is even higher, 38.7 percent, higher than most categories of disabilities (Porowski, A., et al., 2014).
Being equipped to provide behavior management isn’t a new concern; a 2011 study showed that teachers surveyed reported a lack of experience and training for supporting children’s mental health needs (Reinke, W. et al., 2011).
Some families are able to access behavioral health services for their students on their own, but an almost equal amount rely on schools to provide those services for them. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, in 2007, 3.1 million youth (12.7 percent) received treatment or counseling for emotional or behavior problems outside of school, where an additional 11.8 percent of youth received mental health services inside school facilities. This may be why teachers report that they believe they hold the primary responsibility of implementing behavioral interventions in the classroom.
According a report by the Hope Street Group, teachers should be trained to become aware of students’ emotional triggers. Since many students exhibit signs prior to a sudden outburst, knowing these signs could be helpful in preventing them. Teachers can further be better positioned to refer students to necessary treatment, whether through community mental health providers, family organizations outside of the school, or school-based services.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has provided a list of warning signs for mental health problems, among other advice for consulting a school counselor, nurse, administrator or the student’s parents if certain behaviors are observed. HHS also has provided a list of actions teacher can take in their classrooms to promote the mental health of students.
Research shows that parents want to be involved and prefer to seek advice or referrals from teachers, but they might not know how to communicate with professionals regarding their child’s behavioral needs. If teachers initiate communication, facilitating parental engagement, that’s a positive step towards solving the problem. Training teachers in parent engagement strategies focused on expressing support and establishing partnership with parents is therefore another important piece.
Teacher training also needs district support, as research shows that even when teachers receive effective training, certain programs tend to dissolve when they aren’t supported by school districts.
Behavioral healthcare has its place in the classroom. Given the educational impact emotional disturbances hold on students with special needs, behavioral health should be part of their educational experience, which means teachers must be supported and trained to facilitate it. Teachers, however, are not mental health professionals. Nor are they case managers. Training teachers to recognize signs of potential behavioral outbursts; making sure teachers are familiar with the community in which they are teaching so that they can more easily identify resources for referrals to trained behavioral health specialists; and providing them with support and guidance when they may enable them to feel better prepared to manage student behavior.