Is Your Child’s Teacher Adequately Prepared?

Aug 13, 2014 by

Transforming Student Behavior

An Interview with Charisse Beach: “Is Your Child’s Teacher Adequately Prepared?”

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Charisse, first of all, can you tell us about yourself, your education, experience etc?

I am an author, educator, Illinois State Board of Education Certified and national presenter. I served as Principal of Premier Academy- Joliet, a Regional Safe School Program designed to provide alternative education for at-risk middle and high school students from Grundy, Kendall, and Will Counties. Under my leadership, an average, 83% of students transitioned back to their home schools with grade-level or above credits and a renewed desire to continue their education.

My most significant professional accomplishment was the development and implementation of a comprehensive behavior system, detailing a 3-Prong Behavior Map which became the instrument attributed for reducing out-of-school suspensions by 79%. In addition, a Student Advocacy Support (SAS) system was designed to motivate students to participate in programs related specifically to their needs, such as substance abuse, violence awareness, truancy, etc.

I hold a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration, a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, minor in Psychology, and a teaching certificate in secondary education. She maintains national memberships in Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

My first book, At-Risk Students Transforming Student Behavior, details the warning signs of disturbing behaviors, which are often overlooked by educators and/or misdiagnosed by mental health professionals. I provide strategies to identify and address them.

2) Now what prompted you to write this book?

The impetus for this book stems from my personal journey with my youngest son, Oliver. I have the unique circumstance of being both an educator and the parent of an at-risk student, my son Oliver. I wrote At-Risk Students Transforming Student Behavior as a result of the frustration I experienced as parent and educator while Oliver progressed through the education system. Unfortunately, Oliver’s at-risk behaviors landed me in the hospital near death and landed him in an Illinois state penitentiary.

It was not until Oliver entered high school that I quickly learned that conventional consequences often fail to correct or eliminate undesirable behaviors in at-risk youth. Little did I know that my battles with the education system and with my own son would prepare me for writing a book to provide educators with research and proven strategies that have helped me to educate at-risk students.

My journey while writing this book has been very cathartic. I was compelled to write a book that offered alternative strategies that successfully dealt with the behaviors our at-risk youth exhibit. My hope is that the strategies I’ve developed will help to fill the gap that currently exists within the education system by helping other educators to transform the lives of at-risk students using my methods.

3) Let’s start with general questions, then move to specifics. In your experience, how well prepared is the AVERAGE college graduate to work with nice, normal, average students?

I believe the average college graduate is only marginally prepared to work with average students. Higher education fails to prepare graduates for life’s adversities. Students may appear to be nice and normal but that can change in an instant, requiring additional support that the new graduate is unprepared to provide.

4) Now, how well prepared is the average teacher to work with kids with severe emotional disturbances and behavior problems?

Most students with severe emotional needs receive Special Education services from a special education team of professionals. Therefore, a general education teacher would have minimal dealings with students with severe emotional problems.

5) Burning question—Are WAY too many kids with severe mental health, psychological and psychiatric problems being mainstreamed?

YES! More specifically, school districts fail to timely evaluate and provide appropriate services to students who have a mental health disorder. The primary reason given is lack of funding. Undiagnosed/untreated mental health disorders have been the triggers for school-related acts of violence for decades.

6) Now, your typical “Special Ed” class in college spends a week on kids with intellectual disabilities, a week on kids with learning disabilities, a week on kids with physical handicaps, a week on kids with vision and hearing problems, a week on kids with speech/language problems, a week on kids with autism, a week on kids with medical/health issues, and a week on gifted/talented/and creative, and somewhere in there, they get a week on kids with emotional disturbances. What is wrong with this picture?

How to effectively educate emotional disturbed students should be an entire course! The ideal course would contain:

* current case studies with various outcomes

* applicable special education law

* how to enlist community wraparound resources

7) Let’s talk serious- you have some kids who are suicidal, or who bring weapons to school. Is the average regular education teacher prepared to work with these kids? Is the average special education teacher even prepared to work with these kids?

Usually, teachers are first responders and are trained in both the early and late suicidal warning signs. Typically, if a student announces he/she is contemplating suicide or hurting others, there is a building procedure for teachers to follow. For example, teachers must notify an administrator, school nurse, social worker/guidance counselor or psychologist as soon as possible. These individuals will handle the situation from that point, so that the teacher can continue working with his/her class.

8) We have your aggressive, assaultive, destructive kids, and your biters, spitters, kickers. Should these students be allowed in a regular education classroom?

With appropriate support (social worker, school psychologist, behavior interventionist, one-on-one paraprofessional), the least restrictive placement is typically the first step. The problem is, if a student’s behavior escalates beyond the supports in place, teachers and students are held hostage for sixty days because of IEP time allowance. Again, the delay in evaluating and appropriately placing students often compromises school-safety.

9) Let’s face it. Teachers are NOT psychologists nor are they psychiatrists. Are the expectations unrealistic?

Teachers are NOT equipped to handle students with intermittent dangerous behaviors. It is absolutely unrealistic to expect teachers to effectively educate, discipline and monitor twenty-five to thirty students along with students demonstrating high-risk behaviors. This is a formula for failure.

10) Let’s take it one step further-how well prepared is your average guidance counselor to work with kids who are ADD ( Attention Deficit Disorder) ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder ) OCD ( Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ) and the new ” Disruptive Disorder ” In DSM-V?

Auxiliary professionals are better equipped to address mental health disorders than teachers. For me, one valid observation is that their (the support staff) guidance rarely carries over to the classroom. For example, the school social worker pulls an autistic third grader out of class for thirty minutes weekly. The social worker teaches strategic board-game moves to the student. After the student states he’s ready to play, they play the game. Afterwards, the social worker reviews a checklist of expectations with the student and escorts him back to class. Within the hour, the student is in the office with a discipline referral. In my book, At-Risk Students, I provide a tool that helps to reduce symptoms caused by mental health disorders in youth.

11) Blunt question—are the IEP Teams making some very big mistakes trying to place certain violent explosive kids in the regular education classroom?

Initially, IEP’s require least restrictive placement with the necessary supports. If a student is responding well to therapy and/or medication and the home-school connection is strong, there is no reason why the student can’t be placed in a general education classroom.

12) There are kids in the schools that are on major psychiatric medications-Is the regular education classroom the most appropriate placement for kids who are on major tranquilizers?

Mental health disorders may interfere with a student’s ability to function at school. If a student has a psychiatric disability, he or she may have trouble staying on task and following procedures as directed. Placing students in special education is not the answer to all mental health issues.

Some students diagnosed with a mental health disorder such as attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder show limited to no signs of struggling in school. Others may require medication or specific accommodations to be carried out within the general education classroom. In this instance, parents should consider a 504 plan, part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon disability. Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met.

13) What are the top ten points you are trying to make in your book?

1. Closing the achievement gaps and promoting learning for all students in a democratic society is critical.

2. Schools or programs working with at-risk youth should specifically address the at-risk behaviors exhibited by them in both the home and in school.

3. At-risk behaviors frequently become triggers to violence.

4. A system that helps to prevent violence and ensure safety, including cyber safety, for all youth must be in place through behavior management.

5. This delay invites the potential for school violence and puts communities in crisis.

6. Students who chronically misbehave may not respond to traditional discipline procedures and going through numerous steps or levels of misconduct prolongs the call for support and interventions needed to address the behaviors.

7. To achieve an effective intervention, the school, home, and the community must work together and invest in helping at-risk students to overcome their obstacles.

8. Educators will be provided with the tools to: expeditiously identify at-risk characteristics; incorporate policies that support and monitor their achievement; implement research-based strategies designed to create a positive school culture that promotes teaching and learning.

9. In an effort to create a positive school culture that promotes learning and achievement for all students, a comprehensive behavior system for the continuum of student growth and development must be successfully implemented.

10. Barriers to student learning need to be quickly identified and addressed to help educators effectively monitor student misconduct in order to improve teaching and learning.

14) Where can people get a copy?

At-Risk Students Transforming Student Behavior can be purchased at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and rowman.com.

15) What have I neglected to ask?

My next project is the prequel to At-Risk Students, which is the backstory detailing our struggles as a family, unknowingly in crisis. The purpose of the untitled book is to prepare families in crisis in order to combat the results of misdiagnosed and/or mistreated mental health behaviors in youth. The goal is to provide families with practical strategies to help during those challenging times and to ultimately reduce the onset of violence.

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