When The Breakdown Happens

As a teacher you encounter a number of students throughout your career. Some students enter and depart from memory, while others leave an impression that is lasting for a lifetime. You run into some students who exhibit great coping skills when they are faced with adversity. Then there are other students who don’t cope quite as well when approached by a challenge. Sometimes, those students don’t have the best coping skills when it comes to dealing with their peers, or their teachers. Students who do not have the tools to process through their anger and frustration are the most vulnerable because they can’t always telegraph their next response. One isolated word or one action from anyone can trigger a level of pain, anxiety, or fear that manifest itself in a defensive reaction that could pose a safety threat to the teacher and to the students in the classroom. You can’t always call an administrator to handle something that requires an immediate response. Students who have behavioral breakdowns, that are confrontational and potentially violent, require the utmost care, compassion, and attention. However you have a classroom to maintain and a lesson to teach. So what do you do if a kid has a breakdown that totally derails your classroom?  What do you do when you cannot immediately call in administrator, a social worker, a caseworker, or any other support person who is trained to properly deal with the student? The following are some steps that you can take to help you defuse any angry outburst that could pose a safety hazard:


  1. Request that a student either go to the main office and retrieve and administrator or send them to the classroom next-door to request that that classroom teacher call for an administrator to come to your room. This action frees you to complete action step number two…
  2. Remove the disgruntled student from the classroom. Be sure not to touch the student but use your body as a shield to guide the student towards the door and out of the room. With 1 foot inside the class and 1 foot outside of the class simultaneously direct your students to engage in an activity, to remain quiet, or complete some work that you’ve given them while you address the student one-on-one outside the classroom.
  3. When talking to the student, your number one goal is to calm them down and hear them. Whether or not that student was in the wrong or if they’re yelling and causing a commotion in the hallway, your priority is to calm them down and hear what it is that they have to say. You’re not going to be able to fix whatever is wrong if they are not in a state of calm. Once they are calm, you or whoever is in charge at the moment can begin to address the trigger that set the student off.
  4. Document what happened. Either you document what happened on a school incident report or if the school does not have the proper form, you can write an email to your direct report and/or the case manager if the student has one. Whether you file an incident report or send an email make sure that you get that document in the right hands and that you also keep a copy for yourself.
  5. Call the parent. In any situation, you want to make sure that you call the parent and inform them about what happened. They may receive a call from administration, they may receive a call from the school social worker but they should also receive a call from you. You should explain to them the steps that you took to de-escalate whatever was happening in the classroom at that time. You also need to give them the steps that you took to calm their child. This phone call is very important because you are continuing to build trust between yourself and that parent as you’ve been doing throughout the school year. Your phone called reminds that parent that you are on their side to make sure that that student gets all of the support that they need to be successful in the classroom.

There are a number of things that you should do after the day is over, however those things won’t help you in the immediate circumstances of a child having a breakdown. They are still important to. Here are some things that you should do the very next day or after school if time permits:

  1. If you haven’t already done so find out if the student has an IEP or a 504 plan.
  2. Find out if the student is taking any medication.
  3. Request that the social worker or a case worker within your school observe that student in your classroom.
  4. Schedule a parent teacher conference with the student’s parent(s) to discuss your concerns about the student, how they are interacting with their classmates. Work with administration, the student’s parent(s), the school social worker or case worker, and the student on a plan that will help the student manage their anger and anxiety.
  5. Request from administration a plan of action in case said student reacts in the same way again.

The two most important people in this circumstance are you in the student. It is your priority to make sure that the student is in the best position to be successful. But it is also your priority to make sure that you have the tools necessary and the support to do your best work as a teacher for that child and the other students in the classroom. Such breakdowns can rattle you and can really rock you off your game. But if you have a plan in place to deal with the possibility of this happening, you can offset some of the hurdles that may pose a challenge to your vocation on any given day. Adjust and amend.

Let’s continue to push towards the mark!


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