On Being an EBD Teacher

16 Jan

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.


Good luck!



12 Responses to “On Being an EBD Teacher”

  1. hannah January 16, 2007 at 6:10 pm #

    thanks for the response. i can relate to a lot of the things that you are saying even after being in the field for only 2 years. its most definitly a lot of work for a small or very “special” amount of rewards. thanks for the commentary and advise, I have enjoyed reading about your experiences and viewpoints and will continue to read your blog.

  2. Dick Dalton January 18, 2007 at 7:49 am #

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Eileen February 4, 2007 at 3:27 pm #

    Thank you so much for you informative website. I work in the public school setting and I am continually amazed and appreciative of the efforts of our educators to successfully integrate children with disabilities into the general population. I am also the parent, in another district, of a 14 year old with ADHD, OCD tendencies, anxiety, and depression. I applaud your interpretation of the EBD student as “Interesting and Spirited”. Since my son’s ten-day hospitalization for suicidal ideation in early October, he entered an IDT program, and after two days of being noncompliant, was referred back to his school district, his primary stressor. I kept him home on medical leave and after 6 weeks, home instruction was provided. The school district has been insisting that he be tested for services it had been my hope to have him successfully regulated on meds before this to ensure the least restrictive environment be his placement. It is unfortunate that the new medication provided little benefit, his anxiety about returning to school has increased, and his home instruction has become less successful. My concerns about an alternative EBD program are the other behaviors he will be exposed to, yet the success of a program within the regular public school setting seems to be limited due to the administration, therefore, the result of such placement maybe devastating to my sons emotional well being. I am curious as to which tests should be administered. Your own experience and suggestion to have the results prior to the IEP is excellent advice. Thanks again, this has helped me keep perspective during an emotional time. Eileen

  4. Tsmeds July 17, 2007 at 6:42 pm #


    I have a second grade boy that was previously in a small group autism – LD class with much success. The class is being eliminated this year and the school wants to place him in an EBD class. Any comments?

  5. Dick July 18, 2007 at 8:54 pm #

    Egad! I would seriously NOT put a kid with autism in a self-contained EBD setting in a regular school under ANY circumstances. Nope. This is a change of placement which amounts to putting the student in a more restrictive setting and I’d be all over the school to justify that with some data. Depending on the level of severity, he’d be better served in an LD or MID class. Even though his problems might be behavioral, they don’t compare to the sort of behaviors in a typical EBD class with kids who have near-normal cognitive abilities and are otherwise very street-wise. He’ll pick up some new behaviors and maladaptive social behaviors you don’t want and risk being a victim.


  6. g February 22, 2008 at 11:03 pm #

    I agree with Dick on this. I work at a special school that is all EBD self-contained rooms. We have many ASD kids, and it is definitely not in their best interest for them to be there. They often become puppets for very masterful puppeteers.

  7. me March 15, 2008 at 9:10 pm #

    i am having the same problem (in GA), my son was labeled with ebd in a different state because at the time there Aspergers was not a disability. Here they moved him from 1.5 hours resource to an all day self-contained psycho ed setting. They disregard his 6 Aspergers dx (even a county school one done last year), and I’m just looking for help since I know this setting is not appropriate *he’s been in it for a couple of years now.

    any advice?

  8. me March 15, 2008 at 10:52 pm #

    specifically something concrete that supports that AS kids (even ones with negative emotions and behaviors) should not be in this setting?

  9. deb April 19, 2008 at 4:42 am #

    I am in the same situation too,my 10 year old son dx with asd,ld,and epilepsy is at an EBD school we are fighting to get him out its heartbreaking i am probably going to end up teaching him at home.

  10. Patience Sibanda June 20, 2008 at 5:51 am #

    I am interested in getting a qualification to teach EBD or BESD pupils. I have completed a PGCE in English and hold an overseas degree in teaching English as an additional language. I have just finished an MA in Educational studies with specific reference to SEN. I want to study more on a focused diploma or certificate to equip me with relevant skills for classroom practice or individual learning please assist.

  11. Daniel Dage June 25, 2008 at 10:17 am #

    I’m a bit lost, as I think you have some different requirements in the UK than we do in the U.S. Speaking with someone who already has the credentials you want should help point you in the right direction as well as give you additional info if you still want to do it!

  12. Unconditional mom August 14, 2008 at 2:59 pm #

    Thank you EBD teachers and professionals!

    I am a parent of a 16 yo girl w/anxiety/ADHD/NVLD/bipolar disorders. Her illnesses became severe in 8th grade. In 9th grade, she attended public high school, and despite accommodations, could only manage school half day and had home&hospital teaching. After she was hospitalized and her coding was changed from OHI to ED, the district recommended a cluster-based program in another very large school, w/only 10 hours of related services. We felt this would be inadequate and wanted a more restrictive/therapeutic setting, but also knew that due process lawsuits in our district fail in most cases (including those with expensive lawyers).

    So, we enrolled her in a private school w/65 kids and very small classes, hoping things would improve. But her illness worsened and two months later she had another crisis was hospitalized twice more. We returned to public schools and by January, she was placed in the very program her (private) treatment team had recommended. To be clear, we’ve had to fight for her services every step of the way, and being her “case manager” is a fulltime job, and emotionally exhausting. But it has been worth it.

    In 7 months, she has had an amazing recovery, primarily because clinical experts could provide ongoing feedback to her psydoc to adjust meds until symptoms abated; PLUS complexity of academic work was reduced until she could manage more; intensive group, individual and family therapy helped her to progress w/goals and address problematic behaviors; skilled teachers shared info and supported her no matter what; the environment was incredibly calm and soothing.

    Seeing my daughter smile, have fun and enjoy life is such an amazing gift. Tomorrow, we will learn whether our district will allow her to return to her home school on a partial basis, hopefully for the year. She has lost teen years, academic credit and standing, but she is stronger every day. Thanks to all the parents who support their EBD kids no matter what, and to the teachers and other professionals who hang in there with our kids, even when things are most difficult!

    In my district of almost 140,000 kids, very few receive the services that my child did, though the need is certainly there. We realize that she (and we) are incredibly fortunate. A year ago, if you had asked me whether she would even be alive in another year, I might have started to cry, because I knew there was a possibility that she might not make it if we couldn’t find a way to manage her illness better.

    I’m not sure what it woill take to make the changes for all kids, but I am committed to do what I can to create positive changes in my own community, so that other kids can also have the same chance my daughter has had. Wish us luck!.

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