Originally posted Feb. 29, 2008
By Carol Eisenbise
Special education teacher, Gilbert, AZ
CEC Treasurer, 2008
I have been a member of CEC since 1987 when I was a “mid-career” student at East Stroudsburg University. I then worked in eastern Pennsylvania in the Learning Support, Autistic Support, Physical Disabilities Support, and Multiple Disabilities Support areas as a supervisor, teacher, and liaison for Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School. When my husband retired, we moved to Arizona, where I currently teach students with emotional disabilities, grades 9 through 12, and all four core subjects. I’m proud to say that I am “highly qualified” in all four areas.
I thought I’d share with you the rewards and challenges of teaching such a group of students. The Gilbert Unified School District does a very nice job of separating the “ED” population from the “BD” population.In my mind, the ED population wants to do well (“Yes, I promise, Mrs. Eisenbise, I’ll get it done right away. . . .”), but they just cannot (the head goes down on the desk). These students have a medical diagnosis of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and/or obsessive compulsive disorder (to name just a few). The BD population, on the other hand, is very deliberate with their actions; they are choosing to be oppositional.
This week’s topic is compliance — student compliance, that is, not legal compliance. I attended the TECBD Conference in November 2007 in Tempe, where I heard Dr. John Maag speak. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, please do so. You won’t be disappointed.
In a nutshell, Dr. Maag makes the point that we are all oppositionally defiant at some time or another, the extent to which determines whether one receives the diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. I had been keenly aware prior to this conference that every time I make a request (or a demand) of a student, I give that student the opportunity to defy me, because “no” is always an option. If the teacher admits to the students, “I can’t make you do anything” (which is SO true), then you gain some credibility with them because they already know that!
Dr. Maag asks the question, do we want compliant students or do we want to develop students who are independent thinkers? If the answer is the latter, then perhaps we can rephrase our demands as questions (e.g., “What do we do next?”). Doing so puts the student in a position of power, which, by the way, does NOT diminish the teacher’s power. They will only respect you for that.
One more point that he makes: Compliance in one area leads to compliance in another area. If you can get the student to agree with you on ANYTHING, such as the fact that you’ve never been able to get him or her to complete any work, then at least you’ve made some progress.