Meeting Student Needs

meeting-students-needsYou know it’s interesting that as teachers we generally assume students know what they want or need, when the reality is in many cases they have absolutely no idea what they actually need. I’m providing a somewhat extreme example to support this statement.

During my work at a child and adolescent day treatment center I had the pleasure of working with a high school age student with a psychotic disorder. She was a very pleasant young lady who with proper medication barely kept her psychosis in check.

One January afternoon there was a power outage due to a heavy snowfall and the students needed to be sent home early. Carrie’s mother was not able to pick her up right away so she had to sit in the classroom for about an hour.
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Now this was an older building and although it had been remodeled nothing had been done with the insulation so all rooms were getting extremely cold on this winter afternoon.

After about 45 minutes I went into my classroom and saw Carrie was still sitting at her desk staring at the blank wall ahead of her, which was common when she was lost in psychotic thought. I asked, “Carrie, aren’t you cold sitting there without a coat?” She turned toward me, coming out of her psychotic fog and said, “No, I feel fine.”

She was in a short sleeve tee shirt so I gently touched her arm and it was absolutely freezing. I asked her to really focus on how her body was feeling and if she was truly fine. She thought for a moment then said she thought she was.

I retrieved her coat from the closet and placed it over her shoulders then asked if that felt better and she responded somewhat surprised that it felt much better.

I realize this is not a typical scenario in a general education over event resource setting, but it typifies in overt fashion what happens with many students of all ages in all settings. They may not have a clue what is in their best interest.

Many times students will say one thing, but their behavior does not support their words. Most of us have experienced similar behaviors with our spouses or significant others: Words that don’t match behavior. This is not an uncommon event in the classroom or in society.

The vast majority of communication is non-verbal and although our students may not always know what they need if we are trained and watch their behavior carefully we can figure that out. Knowing how to interpret behavior can go a long way to heading off serious outbursts or behavioral problems in the classroom. Also understanding and being able to help students meet their emotional and behavioral needs will lessen their overall stress, making it much easier to learn.

This is not to say we should all become junior psychologists, but there is a distinct advantage to being able to understand and interpret behavior accurately. I have seen many problems arise in classrooms where a teacher was unable to read behavior. These classrooms tend to have far more issues and outbursts that disrupt the learning process for all. Learning to read behavior can go a long way in helping achieve a calm, stress-free learning environment for both our students and us.