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Teachers Look for Solutions to Classroom Disruptions

More students have mental-health needs and face issues such as homelessness than in the past, the Oregon Education Association says. (laterjay/Pixabay)
More students have mental-health needs and face issues such as homelessness than in the past, the Oregon Education Association says. (laterjay/Pixabay)
March 29, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – It might start with pencil tapping and end with an outburst that forces teachers to clear the classroom. Educators say disruptions have become a big challenge to their jobs.

In this year's legislative session, teachers from around Oregon shared stories of disrupted learning with lawmakers. Oregon Education Association President John Larson says the issue is getting worse, as more students come to class with unmet needs that affect their learning.

One teacher who shared her story is Aimee Viramontes, an elementary special-education teacher in Corvallis. She says extreme outbursts have a lasting effect on the entire class.

"You don't know if a pair of scissors is going to come flying across the room, you don't know if you're going to get berated with foul language, you don't know if a teacher's going to get hit," she says. "It takes a toll on everybody in the classroom."

The Oregon Education Association recently scored a win from Gov. Kate Brown's office on this issue. Brown has appointed the Advisory Committee on Safe and Effective Schools for All Students, which will have its second meeting in April.

OEA says more students have mental-health needs and face such serious issues as potential homelessness, and that Oregon class sizes, which are larger than in most other states, compound the problem.

Teresa Martin, a sixth-grade teacher with more than 20 years of experience, says she doesn't have the training to help kids who face abuse or trauma at home.

"I'm not sure what has happened that morning or the night before, or if they even slept in a bed," Martin laments. "I'm not sure what they witnessed. That sometimes is transparent with kids; you can see there's something going on. And other times, they're really good at disguising that, especially when they get to the middle school level."

Martin says she has many students who would benefit if her school had a behavioral specialist on campus to speak with.

"It would be an investment in our future if we took the time, because between middle school and high school, you can see the writing on the wall sometimes," she adds. "These kids are not going to make it, and I don't want that. I want them to be successful."

OEA will hold town-hall meetings across Oregon on disrupted learning beginning in April.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR