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Fear & Loathing in Special Education

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The Strain of Restraint

Posted 12-12-2010 at 04:45 PM by Speced9

When it comes to the little things involved in running a classroom, there are certain activities I'd rather just handle myself. You'll never catch me calling the custodian to open a window, or submitting a work order to put up a projector screen. It just isn't done. Heck, I'll even borrow the dolly and move file cabinets around if I have to. Chalk it up to the monster we call male pride. Still, there's a lot of assumption when you're the token male in the building.

That fact is most evident when it comes to the CRISIS PLAN. In the days following Columbine, like many schools across the country, my principal drafted such a plan in case a crazed, gun-toting meth head found his way into our hallways. Everyone else had jobs like "Public Relations Contact" and "Authority Notification". My job was to "secure classroom doors and locate the intruder". I know it sounds incredible, but it's the honest truth. My job was to leave my classroom in the hands of my less than stellar aide and roam the same halls that the assassin had infiltrated. I guess they figured I had super human speed and could dodge bullets. Thank God that that plan was short lived. Now all I have to do is lock my classroom door, get the children into the coat closets and throw a color-coded room number under my door to let the authorities know that all is safe and secure in my room.

On a softer note, we also have our own crisis plan when it comes to physically aggressive students. It goes something like this:

1. Student has a melt down in someone's classroom.
2. Principal goes to the classroom to remove student.
3. Principal tries to get the student down to the office fearing some kind of media frenzied news report of kids out of control.
4. Principal exhausts the options of idle threats and decides to actually try to move the upset child.
5. Principal gets OWNED. Teacher calls back down to the office frantically. Secretary runs out of the office and gets me out of my room.
6. Token male goes up to the crisis area and cleans up the mess.

This, of course, makes me the bouncer of the school. It's my job to say, "Alrighty there kid, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." and then physically prevent the adrenalin-infused child from causing any more damage to the principal, himself and school property.

So, to say the least, I've grown tired of this unspoken arrangement based on my gender. I hate being THE HEAVY. Sometimes I feel like more of a thug than the thugs I'm dealing with. When they say that any crisis can be traumatizing for a child, they forgot that some of that trauma goes the adult's way too.

It's amazing what a person will do just because the boss is asking you to. This crisis plan had law suit written all over it. Can you imagine anyone being so stupid? Well, yeah, that was me. I was blindly helping my superior literally carry children to the office, and at times even getting on the floor to hold these kids down. At some point though, I came to the realization that despite my principal's authority, I wasn't going to set myself up for disaster any more. No offense, but the computer that that kid could possibly destroy isn't worth the possibility of a death from respiratory failure, or my livelihood as an educator.

So, I decided this; If I was going to be THE CRISIS TEAM, I was going to do it right. I enrolled in a 12-hour CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute) workshop. What I found out was scary. The first thing my instructor pointed out was that the only time restraint should be used was as a last resort. Who cares what gets destroyed? Who cares what parents see in the hallway? As long as the situation hasn't come to the point where a student is endangering themselves or others, you wait it out. Notice that property isn't included in that Mr. Administrator? That's right. Endangering school property didn't make the list.

The second thing my instructor pointed out were photos in our textbook of restraints that were dangerous. The page of photos looked like a scrapbook page from the Ghost of Crisis Past. All of them were there. Then there was the long lecture about how we as adults bait these children into a melt down by yelling, getting in their face and touching them unnecessarily. Wow. That was an eye opener too. Though I didn't admit it, I felt very ashamed and downright ignorant at that point.

There I was handling situations a certain way not because I cared about diminishing a child's anxiety, but because I didn't want to be there and wanted to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. I seriously felt like contacting every child I had ever had to deal with in this way and apologize. I also said a little prayer and thanked God for blessing me with an injury and litigation free career so far.

The day following the workshop, I went back to school with my own plan of action. First, I would talk with my principal and fill her in on everything we're doing wrong. Second, I would explain to her that there is no such thing as a one person crisis team. The only time that would happen is if it's a child much smaller than you, and then only until another team member can join you. If not, then you stay where you are until the child is calm enough to walk where you want him to go. Interestingly enough, I never got that chance to talk with my superiors before the first crisis happened. Yep, that's right. The very first day back and I had some action to deal with.

It all happened like this- First off, the special education class across the hall from me had not one, but two subs that day. I'm pretty sure that's the first sign of the apocalypse isn't it? Nevertheless, my sure-thinking administrator was up to her usual solutions for behavior problems. After a 4th grade student is sent to the office, she makes him return to class almost immediately to….get this….sit in the hallway and do his work! Yeah, that's gonna work. So, the first indication of trouble was the tap, tap, tap of this student kicking the table in the hallway. I knew right then I was in for trouble. When I was taking my class to the restroom, I very nicely told the student that he was disturbing my class and that I would like him to start doing his work. I had a rapport with this student, so I expected him to comply. Unfortunately, I think the stress of being in his zoo, er….. I mean classroom all day had taken its toll. So, I ended up going out a second time and giving him the choice of getting quiet, or going back down to the office. The third visit came almost immediately because then he decided that running up and down the hall in front of my class throwing his assignment (now a crumpled paper wad) to and fro. As they say in the CPI workshop, this guy had lost all sense of rationality at this point. Of course, he chose not to go down to the office like I had asked so I had to follow through.

Now, here's the point where my actions are different. Pre-workshop I would have physically moved him down to the office. Seriously. Post-workshop me didn't operate that way. I gave him a choice of going to the office, or the office was going to come to him. He chose the latter. So, off I went down the hall to get my trusty administrator. I told her the situation and she just stared at me like I had lobsters coming out of my ears. It was that kind of look where you were sure that the synapses were firing, but they were somehow unconnected. So, I said, "Do you think you could do that now so I could save face and follow through with my consequences?" I think that statement kind of pissed her off, but hey, they don't say anything in the CPI manual about baited statements to other adults. I was still playing by the rules. I then went back to my classroom.

I could hear my principal in the hallway with this child. She made about every threat you can imagine. The problem is that she had made those same threats countless times to this child before, so he knew she wasn't going to follow through. Something about my previous statement to her must have told her that I wasn't on the team anymore because I heard her utter this line- "If you don't walk down to the office, I'm going to carry you down there!"

This. I had. To see.

Sure enough, she attempted to pick this kid up. Now, don't get me wrong, he is very small for his age, but this kid is a fourth grader! Who in the hell picks up a fourth grader? The student then goes berserk on the administrator. Well, I had to act then. First off, he was pummeling this lady, and second, I was afraid he'd run out of the school and into the busy streets that surround us.

It was then that I knew why we practiced holds in the workshop. I knew that he was small and that I could use a single person restraint on him to gain control. It's funny how my mind was working differently than before. "Who does this kid think he is? I'm taken' him down!" was replaced with, "Okay, gain control of those wrists. Not too tight! Okay, now make sure you're clearing the airway. Put those hands under his arms! Easy now, lean back easy." At this point my concentration is broke by the principal trying to grab his legs. I quickly said, "NO! DON'T!" to which she says, "DO YOU WANT TO CARRY HIM ALONE?" to which I replied back, "We're not carrying him. We're staying right here until he is calm enough to walk on his own." That little fact didn't take very long either I might add. It was two minutes tops before this child regained his senses and was calm. The best part was the look on my principal's face as a parent and two students walked by while I'm standing there holding this child. They must have assumed I was applying the Heimlich Maneuver.

You might have guessed that this particular administrator is on everyone's poo-poo list as one who doesn't follow though with any kind of discipline and you'd be right. So, I hope you understand my need for heavy, HEAVY sarcasm when I delivered this student to the office and said, "By the way, special needs student having a bad day working by himself in the hallway? BAD IDEA." Boy, that felt good. I bet you're asking yourself if I'm scared of the ramifications of my deliberate defiance and sarcasm towards my superior. The answer is no. If her track record of following through with student behavior is taken into account, I'd say I'm quite safe. Plus, I'm too big to carry.
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  1. Old Comment
    starfish92's Avatar

    brought back

    memories! I was the "CrisisTeam" in my school for years--only I was called the Crisis Intervention Teacher. Thing was I never got a chance to intervene--it was usually after someone had made a bigger mess out of the situation that I was called. CPI is great took their workshop about 20 years ago and still use it everyday!
    Posted 12-19-2010 at 10:38 AM by starfish92 starfish92 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    cntryheart's Avatar


    This is too funny. I am lucky as an ED teacher I guess because right near me there are 9 of us CPI trained! Remember that while CPI does not have prone restraints there are other methods that do. PCM is one. You may find with larger, stronger students that even a two person standing restraint is impossible. You really need to get more people CPI trained so that you have a "partner in crime."
    Posted 12-31-2010 at 09:03 AM by cntryheart cntryheart is offline

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