The Dynamic Classroom

On May 5th, a 13 year-old middle school student named Veronique Mintz wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “Why I’m Learning More With Distance Learning Than I Do in School”. The subtitle is: “I’m 13 years old. I don’t miss the other kids who talk out of turn, disrespect teachers and hit one another.”

I pride myself on the fact that I have worked in a number of different classroom settings. I have stood in front of a roomful of 13 developmentally disabled students, where 4 were completely non-verbal. I have been in front of classrooms where the entire class is at various points on the autistic spectrum. I have had students with ankle bracelets on because they’re under house/school arrest. I have had students who came to me after class because they were upset they didn’t make their high school golf team. I had a fourth grade boy in my classroom one Monday morning telling me how he’d witnessed his uncle get shot and killed over the weekend.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding children’s mental health — right now amongst American kids ages 3–17 years old:

  • 7.4% have a diagnosed behavior problem (about 4.5 million)
  • 7.1% have diagnosed anxiety (about 4.4 million)
  • 3.2% have diagnosed depression (about 1.9 million)

This is the American classroom.

If you were to ask any American public school district how they’ve been impacted by these dynamic students, they would tell you “significantly”. Mind you, I do not mean this in a disparaging way, I mean this as a fact. Kids are coming to school with a lot of neurological and emotional based classifications. There are many theories as to why (childhood poverty, lack of outdoor play, social media, pressure to succeed academically), but the affects on classroom learning are significant.

Ms. Mintz begins her Times piece with the following:

“Talking out of turn. Destroying classroom materials. Disrespecting teachers. Blurting out answers during tests. Students pushing, kicking, hitting one another and even rolling on the ground. This is what happens in my school every single day.
“You may think I’m joking, but I swear I’m not.”

Any teacher is going to tell you one of the most significant issues affecting classroom learning today is student behavior. As the CDC data notes, students with behavioral problems are amongst the most significant populations of classified students within school-aged kids. I know for a fact that most public school districts — in addition to self contained classrooms for autistic students — now have self contained classrooms for students with behavioral and emotional classifications. These students, more than any other population, can upend the dynamic and learning environment of not just a classroom, but an entire school building (I say this because I’ve seen it happen).

Mintz goes on:

Students unable or unwilling to control themselves steal valuable class time, often preventing their classmates from being prepared for tests and assessments. I have taken tests that included entire topics we never mastered, either because we were not able to get through the lesson or we couldn’t sufficiently focus.

She is obviously a very bright student and is able to articulate the problems that behaviorally challenged students create. Imagine trying to teach a class a subject, or topic, and there are multiple 13 or 14 year old young adults intentionally crawling around on the floor? Imagine asking students to calm down or stop talking and one — or more — tells you to “shut up”, or maybe curse you out?

Teaching has always been creative, complex, and dyanamic work. Today, because of increased diagnoses of social and emotionally based classifications, it is more so. Imagine how these classified students are going to fare in the midst of schools being shutdown? What is going to happen to kids who are not — and will not — be getting social skills classes, one on one behavioral counseling, or other crucial services? How are they going to be when they return to school?

Many of the pre-COVID strategies and programs our public schools had in place for behaviorally challenged kids were not very efficient. This is a problem because, I believe, when schools re-open, these populations are only going to increase. Many kids — especially those in poor communities — are going to emerge from this crisis with emotional damage, and are going to come to school in various emotional states. Will we begin to get plans and programming in place to help them?

I don’t have hope.

The $2 trillion dollar Coronavirus Stabilization Bill gives Education Secretary, Betsy Devos, the ability to lobby congress to cut special education programming. I also worry because as state tax revenue declines, school budgets are going to be slashed. Often times this means programming like special services for behaviorally challenged kids are the first to get cut.

When this pandemic ends, I hope one of the many things addressed regarding our schools are behaviorally classified students and how they impact the education of all children. If state and federal departments are lost as to what to do, and how to do that, they should seek the words of a 13 year-old middle school student:

I have a few suggestions. First, teachers should send recorded video lessons to all students after class (through email or online platforms like Google Classroom). Second, teachers should offer students consistent, weekly office hours of ample time for 1-to-1 or small group meetings. Third, teachers who are highly skilled in classroom management should be paid more to lead required trainings for teachers, plus reinforcement sessions as needed.”

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Patrick Cerria

Patrick Cerria

Husband-Father-Musician-Educator-Dalcroze Eurhythmics Teacher-Author-Yoga Practitioner-Crohn’s Warrior-Teaches Disabled & At-Risk Children-Believes In Humanity.