The Langley School District board offices. (Langley Advance Times files)

The Langley School District board offices. (Langley Advance Times files)

Room clears, hitting, bottle throwing: Langley teacher talks stress of disruptive students

Teacher says there’s not enough support for troubled kids or staff

A longtime Langley teacher says more needs to be done to support students who act out in class, as well as the staff who have to deal with them.

“Today I had a water bottle hucked at my face,” said the teacher, who asked that her name not be published.

A teacher in a primary class in Langley, she’s been spat on and seen a student punch his classmates in the head.

A few times a week she has to clear the room while one student acts out. That means she has to usher all the other students out of the room and away from that child.

“It’s difficult, because I sound panicked,” she said. “It’s creating trauma for these kids.”

The student who is the cause of the disruptions needs more help than he can get in a conventional classroom, she said.

“He needs to be here, but he needs a lot more support.”

She believes not many parents are aware that these types of situations take place in some classrooms, or how it affects all the students.

“It’s definitely affecting the quality of education they’re getting,” she said. It’s hard to teach when one child is throwing things, she said.

The teacher’s current class has several students with some kind of special needs, but just one educational assistant (EA).

That’s a common situation across the district, according to the president of the Langley Teachers Association.

“We have decent class size and composition language [in the contract] in Langley,” Tanya Kerr said.

But she said that the district isn’t always sticking to that, because there aren’t enough classroom teachers, or teachers on call, to go around.

Teachers for English Language Learners are often being pulled out of their work to cover classes where there are no substitutes. Education Assistants (EAs) are in short supply, and resource teachers find themselves covering for EAs.

“Even the deaf and hard of hearing teacher is being pulled to cover classes,” Kerr said.

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That’s impacting students.

“It’s not just a teacher workload issue, it’s a learning issue,” Kerr said.

The stress on teachers is not helping keep them, she added.

“We, I’m sure, are losing some teachers to other industries where they do feel supported,” she said.

A lack of support is a key issue for the teacher dealing with a disruptive student this year.

“I have a big heart for these kids, but we’re just getting burned out,” she said.

Across Langley, and in most districts, inclusion is a key policy. That means keeping as many students as possible in mainstream classes, even if they have behavioural issues.

While other districts emphasize inclusion, some also have alternative programs for kids who have severe issues.

Vancouver School District, for example, runs programs like Alderwood, a one-year program for children Grades 3 to 7 which “provides comprehensive assessment, treatment and educational services for children who are exhibiting disruptive behaviour and significant emotional difficulties.”

The program, one of several for different age groups in Vancouver, has 16 students, two teachers, and three other educational staff, meaning there’s at least one adult in the room for every four kids.

It’s funded by the Vancouver School District along with the Children’s Foundation, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Another program is aimed at students in Grades 1 to 3, and there are secondary level programs as well.

While Langley School District has alternate schooling programs, those don’t start until Grade 8, and are for secondary-aged students only.

The Langley Advance Times asked the school board about pressures on staff from disruptive students, and alternate programs. A response from district staff was provided.

“The district has alternate schools for students in Grades 8 to 12,” the statement noted. “There are no alternate schools or programs for students in grades Kindergarten to Grade 7.”

It emphasized that the district has “many strategies to support the co-regulation of students so that they can eventually regulate themselves in a variety of settings. Where necessary, students have an Individual Education Plan, Student Success Plan, and Positive Behaviour Support Plan, that is developed collaboratively by a school-based team, the student, and family.”

There are also Employee Safety Plans for staff members, and plans and procedures for emergency incidents.

“Actions in response may include a room clear; directing students to move to a different room or designated area. All procedures are intended to keep students and staff safe. As part of these procedures, staff debrief with students and communicate with parents/guardians where and when appropriate,” the statement said.

The district has moved to a “trauma-informed practice training” for staff, and is minimizing the use of restraint or seclusion to manage student behaviour.

As for the teacher who came forward to the Langley Advance Times with her concerns, she said she wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about her class.

“I would love to know how many teachers are on anti-anxiety meds,” she said.

She is thinking about leaving the district next year, whether to move into tutoring or going to another school or district.

“The teacher is expected to fulfill everyone’s needs, and it’s simply an impossible task,” she said.


Have a story tip? Email: matthew.claxton@langleyadvancetimes.com

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