When it comes to getting academic or behavioral help for students, nearly all schools have academic policies and guidelines for obtaining assistance beyond the classroom. However, teachers are often unaware of the help that's available, or they may feel as though they should be meeting all their students' needs themselves. If you've ever found yourself wondering when or how to escalate an issue, here's some advice to follow.
When You Can't Help Struggling Students
The truth of the matter is that there are some students who will need more help than you're able to provide within the regular classroom. Perhaps you don't have the proper training, or maybe the child's behavior is too discomforting to others. In these instances, you may have to look for resources outside your classroom.
Luckily, as a classroom teacher, you don't have to decide whether a student qualifies for outside help. Instead, you can take advantage of proper channels for exploring the possibility of student assistance, and then a school committee will have the responsibility to decide what happens next.
"Have You Tried...?"
In many schools, if a teacher refers a student for academic help outside of her classroom, the first question they'll be asked is, "What strategies have you tried so far to help this student learn?" It's important that you've done your best for the student before bringing in help. So, consider whether you've tried any or all of these strategies:
- Have you tried moving them either closer to the front of the room or away from outside distractions?
- Have you talked to them one-on-one about your concerns?
- Have you asked the student to come in after school for extra help?
- Have you tried to differentiate instruction to their interests?
- Have you talked to their other teachers to see if they're experiencing the same difficulty in other classes?
- Most importantly, have you talked with their parents to enlist their help or determine if there's something going on at home that's influencing their school work—like a new baby, a divorce, a family, illness, or a parent suddenly deployed?
If you've tried all of these strategies and the student is still struggling, then it may be time for an additional intervention.
The same process applies if you have a student whose behavior is challenging. Some of the strategies that are useful for academic issues (like moving a child away from distractions) are also helpful for behavioral issues. You may also have tried to put together a behavioral plan for the student. Still, if your student remains disruptive, defiant, or disengaged, you may want to consider resources outside your regular classroom.
What Outside Resources Can You Tap Into?
All schools should have academic policies for referring kids for academic interventions. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates the progress of a referral for special help, including time lines, meetings, and key individuals to involve. If parents approve, a student can be tested by the school psychologist to determine any learning difficulties, and a program will be designed for them. The student may remain in your class but receive additional, specific support.
All this may sound tricky and complicated, but it's not. There are teachers who know this process like the back of their hand. Find a special education teacher who can walk you through the process.
If you have a student whose behavioral issues continue to disrupt the learning of other students in the class, it's time to talk to your assistant principal or principal to develop a behavior plan. Depending on the circumstances, your administrator may also consider a referral for student testing to get more information about the student and their behavior.
Working to Get All Students the Help They Need
When it's clear that a student needs more assistance than you can provide, it's time to explore what other options are available. In my experience, it's your responsibility to do what you can so your student has a good learning experience, even if it means stepping back. And think of it this way: If it turns out your student needs to spend part of the day with you and part of it with a resource teacher, then at least you'll have a dedicated partner in helping the child learn.
It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the alternative paths that are available to assist students before a crisis in your classroom arises. Remember that your responsibility is to raise the question of whether struggling students need extra help, not to make the final decision as to what will be most effective their learning.