Hannah’s QuestionRE: Working with EBD Students
I worked for 2 years for a “live in/work tons of hours” wilderness camp for EBD boys. I loved working with them, they were such interesting and spirited people. Now I am looking at special ed graduate schools, but I’m not sure if its exactly suited to what I want. I want to work with this type of population, but is the public school system the way to go? With all of your experience do you think this is the best route?
There are many routes for working with the EBD population. Those with Emotional Behavior Disorders (EBD) are actually a very diverse group. “Interesting and Spirited” is a fairly accurate description!LOL! Since they are so diverse, they often require a diverse range of services from mental health to juvenile justice to educational and vocational services. I would rate humor and patience as the cardinal virtues for working with this group. These traits are needed for any teaching position, but you’ll need an especially generous helping for working with these youngsters.
I’ve had 3 different types of experiences working with this population: Public school (high school and middle school self-contained), psychoed (part of the public schools, but a specialized school) and a mental health facility for children and adolescents. In the latter position, I was part of a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists and sometimes even juvenile justice personnel such as probation officers and teachers.
In my case, I needed a lot more structure and support for working with this population. For me, there is no worse den of horrors than a self-contained EBD classroom in a regular school. But administrative support is the key here. If the administration just wants you out of their way, you’re on your own. Not many teachers do well in this type of isolation and the average rate of burn out is hideous at something less than 3 years on average. I know some who have been doing it much longer and some who didn’t last more than a few months. Tough job, but opportunities abound. There are loads of jobs out there for the taking.
In Georgia, we have a psychoed network, which serves students with severe emotional disabilities who are too severe to be in a regular education setting. This is a more restrictive setting and the disabilities are much more severe but administrative support isn’t quite as much of an issue. The program coordinator is most definitely on the same side and everyone is pulling in the same direction.
The state hospital was the most restrictive setting of all. It was a locked facility, and we had teams of people working with relatively small numbers of clients with very severe problems. Our clients ranged from the normally intelligent who happened to be suicidal or homicidal to those with significant cognitive impairments. While the severity was worse in many ways, the level of support was actually higher. I didn’t have to deal with the worst of the behaviors as a teacher because there was a medical and behavioral team standing by and they could use more interventions like seclusion and medications. Generally, I found that more restrictive settings translated into more support but it also means more severe behavior issues.
It takes a special temperament to work with those who are, by definition, difficult to get along with. When I told an old teacher of mine that I was going to be teaching those with EBD, she half-jokingly said, “It’s nice to know someone is getting in the business who knows something about it!” I wouldn’t say my temperament is the best, though. While I am extremely calm on the outside, inside I tend to be a roiling bucket of nerves. My tolerance hasn’t improved much with age! I can work well with this population in limited doses, meaning not all day, every day. Being a consultant, psychologist, counselor or some other service provider that works 1:1 wouldn’t be quite as bad as teachers who typically have several EBD students at a time who tend to feed off of each other and escalate every little situation. They quickly become proficient little button-pushers as they can often be quicker and more streetwise than students with other disabilities. They can also be very creative, so any person dealing with groups of this population should be equally nimble mentally in order to keep ahead.
The rewards can be rich, but sometimes require much effort and patience compared to working with other kids. They aren’t always appreciative of your efforts and frequently sabotage their own success which can be very frustrating. They can be enormously charming and then enormously vicious in the space of seconds. I knew many who seemed to have interests in psychology and law, which also made things quite challenging as they were constantly gaming the system. They usually also come from very rough environments which can also be heart breaking.
I’m not telling anyone what to do, because only you know what your own temperament and tolerance is. There’s a reason why there are always EBD positions open in school systems. If a person has the skills, talents and temperament, they can enjoy their success and reap the admiration of everyone. Seriously, tell someone you’re an EBD teacher, and most people will bless you while genuflecting. Many of those attracted to EBD teaching aren’t exactly saint material, themselves, which helps them identify with the kids sometimes. My background, as tough as it was, has served me well where I am now and I have no regrets although I wouldn’t care to go through some of it again. That’s one of the good things about special education is that there is considerable room for movement between areas, subjects and grades.