Friday, October 05, 2007

Don't Believe the Hype

Students with a history of behavior problems seem to be preceded by a great deal of hype. Previous case managers and teachers often report an extensive list of difficult and out of control behaviors and folks on the receiving end always seem to believe it. I'm trying to remember to disregard these histrionics.

For example, I've gotten two new students in the past couple of weeks with extensive case histories that include residential settings with extreme behavior. They are fine: no behavior incidents so far. A change in environment coupled with whatever progress they made in their previous setting can often spell success. We're talk about case histories which means stuff that happened in the past.

More examples: at the end of last year a 5th grade student with some behavior issues was brought to our attention and his future case manager was all in a tizzy about him. He was supposed to be so difficult and so needy and clearly a candidate for the behavior program or even outside placement. This continued for the first two weeks of this school year with stories about his outrageous antics whenever the new case manager could get someone to listen. However, the other day she told me in passing, "I've got him under control." [Note: Though I object to the language and idea of controlling students, I appreciate that the case manager felt like she was able to work with the student successfully.] It's like he was never on the radar screen.

Now this same case manager is bringing me in to consult on two more students. The first of which clearly has some unmet needs but is very likable and fun. The case manager has already given up on him as beyond reach. The kid loves playing saxophone in the school band. This is not an unreachable, hardened kid. The other student is transferring here from another district. His old teachers are calling us daily with reports of how difficult and needy this new student is going to be...

And he could be. I don't want to suggest that none of the students coming my way are not significantly needy or that their case histories are irrelevant. What seems to worry folks is that these students could potentially demonstrate that they need help by acting out immediately. They might not wait for us as we learn about them. And this makes some folks make conclusions about just what kind of student they're working with - the kind they can't work with. Most of the time though, in my experience, if you can get keep moving forward with learning about a student and then work toward meeting the student's needs, the difficult behavior will decrease. It does take patience on everyone's part and it helps to remember that most students don't live up to the hype that precedes them.

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