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Until recently, programs to train teachers have not moved in an evolutionary process. Training of teachers has progressed in most content areas but has been woefully derelict in the social and affective areas. To a large degree, this has been due to the inability of one set of disciplines (namely, psychology and psychiatry) to communicate effectively, in practical terms, an understanding of disturbed behavior to the related discipline of pedagogy.

Despite this lack of interdisciplinary communication, school psychologists, guidance counselors, teachers, and child workers have long recognized that whether or not a child derives maximum benefit from instruction and other educational experiences is dependent upon variables other than intellectual abilities alone. The attitudes and feelings of children and their perceptions of the adults and peers within their environment, with whom they must interact, are also of fundamental importance. These factors will, to a large degree, determine perceptions each child develops relative to self and the nature of the problems being faced. The perceptions thus formed will be influential in determining the manner with which these problems are dealt. They will influence the child’s ability to establish effective interpersonal relationships as well as his achievement of appropriate levels of academic learning, skills, and subject matter knowledge.

A second important factor has been one of responsibility and domain. Psychiatry has been able to assume legal responsibility for disturbed behaviors. Therefore, the treatment of these behaviors has been considered beyond the domain of education.

The early orientation of psychiatric intervention with disturbed behavior in children was an outgrowth of work with adults. It can best be described as an etiological approach based upon a medical model. The administration of certain types of treatment procedures, such as psychotherapy, surgery, shock therapy, or drugs, was prescribed. The specific one to be used was theoretically determined by the identified cause based upon the diagnosis of label.

Even today many universities teach psychopathology and child psychology courses using the medical, psychiatric approach. The focus continues to be upon classification, categorization, and syndrome structure. This in turn leads to diagnostic labeling with the use of terminology that is often poorly or inaccurately understood both inside and outside the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry. The relationship between diagnostic labeling of the behavior and the subsequent treatment prescribed is vague and ambiguous. In many instances, the diagnosis or label had little or nothing to do with the process or purpose of the behavior for the child. Many hours and sometimes years are spent in therapeutic interaction in an attempt to determine the cause of the behavior. This practice is based upon the notion that once the ‘magic link’ is discovered, it can then be removed, thus eliminating the undesirable behavior.

On the surface, this appears to be a logical approach. However, in situations referred to as psychosocial problems, where the suspected cause of the behavior deviation may be related to sociofamilial or environmental conditions, this approach has had limited success. What can one do about the cause and its removal when it lies outside of the individual? Thus, the classical phychodynamic approaches have had minimal applicability within the context of normal classroom procedures. This is especially true with the type of training that is generally received by most educators.

As the methods and techniques for the management of emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children progressed, educators and psychologists who espoused behaviorally oriented approaches increased both in number and impact on the field. They looked at the behavior itself and its meaning rather than for some particular constellation of behaviors or syndromes which could be given a label.

The behavioral or learning theory approaches have had demonstrable outcomes in terms of changed behavior. Techniques and methods of behavior modification and the systematic use of positive reinforcement were recommended. These techniques can be readily taught to, and used by, teachers. Whereas the management of behavior problems was once a taboo for teachers, it is now accepted, not only as an appropriate activity but also as a direct responsibility of the teacher. Under PL 105-17, commonly referred to as IDEA 1997, it has been mandated that the public schools will provide for emotionally disturbed students, not just in special schools or classes but in the ‘least restrictive environment’, which may, and often does, mean the regular classroom.

One of the major contributions in the early stages of moving the work with emotionally disturbed children from the clinic and hospital to the classroom was the work of Bower (1960) and Lambert and Bower (1961). They described five indices of potential disturbance in children:

  1. The inability to learn without any apparent physiological reason
  2. The inability to establish relationships with peers and adults
  3. A pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  4. Inappropriate or bizarre behavior
  5. Excessive somatic complaints

Bower and Lambert, as they continued their work, found it possible to orient teachers toward locating or identifying these areas through various techniques. They, subsequently, found a high degree of concordance between teachers’ identification of children who had already been diagnosed by orthodox, clinical procedures as being emotionally disturbed. Later, the work of such people as Quay and Peterson (1967) and others representing the behavioral approach demonstrated how to identify through the use of behavior checklists characteristics that appear more frequently in children with behavior problems. Factor analytic studies then enabled the investigators to specifically define these characteristic behaviors.

In light of these findings, it is obvious that the teacher has become the key person in the initial identification of problem children in the classroom. The teacher is also the major change-sponsor in the life of many of the children with problems who are in the classroom, whether it is a regular class, a resource room, or a self-contained class. In addition to the increased role in screening and identification described above, the teacher must now provide for proposed behavioral (affective) change programs and the method of evaluating change. While tests and programs are plentiful in the content or subject matter areas, there is not been an abundance of materials or methods for dealing with the affective domain.

The problem of moving from what to ‘call a child’ (i.e., diagnosis) to what to do about a problem has continued to frustrate teachers in the field. The labeling process carried over from the medical- etiological approach frequently left the teacher with little or no direction. To be ‘enlightened’ by the proclamation that a child was ‘schizophrenic’ was the usual procedure. Without belaboring the issue, it is obvious that teachers need more than a label to effectively institute a change in program for a child.

In an attempt to alleviate some of the frustration of teacher trainees, a pragmatic and simplified approach has evolved. It is basically a behaviorally oriented, cognitive approach to managing children and youth with behavior problems, whether in special classes or regular classes.

The theoretical background derives from Allport (1950), Bandura (1965), Dollard and Miller (1950), and several other prominent scholars. From Allport, the notion of functional autonomy seemed central to the evolving model. Paraphrased, his notion suggested that for a behavior to continue, it must have functional autonomy! In other words, if a behavior continues it must have value to the individual.

This led to the equally important axiom that all behavior is adjustive in nature. It is labeled maladjusted or bad or inappropriate by the prevailing norm-making group in that society. For the individual engaging in the behavior, it may seem perfectly satisfactory. As such, the notion that behaviors be viewed as attempts to cope rather than as good, bad, right, or wrong seems appropriate.

Coping, used in this way, can be defined as the cognitive processes used to deal with presently occurring inter/intrapersonal problems.

Excluding those behaviors that might be considered organically caused (e.g., seizures or tremors), most of the behavior used by an individual to cope with her environment is learned behavior. The particular method selected and used to resolve conflict is coping style. Essentially, the style of behavior an individual selects for use in coping with a situation is determined by two factors:

  1. what s/he perceives to be the source of the problem, and
  2. what s/he perceives to be the consequences of the behavior.

The emphasis on the perceived problem utilizes a phenomenological or existential position that does not question the correctness of the perception but accepts it as accurate to the perceiver. The concept of internalized and externalized perceptions of the source of the problem has been discussed by other writers (Achenbach, 1966; Rotter & Hochrelch, 1975; Rosenberg, 1979). This concept seems essential to an analysis of coping style since much of the literature in pathology deals with anger, anxiety, fear, etc., directed in-ward and also with delusional systems directed both inward and outward.

The next delineation in the evolving model is the enunciation of styles of coping with problems. Most writers cite the basic reactions to problems and frustrations as being attack and withdrawal. A refinement of the withdrawing style into two components seemed helpful. One type of withdrawal is denial of the problem. Another type of withdrawal is avoidance of the problem. The basic difference is the awareness factor. The denier refuses to be aware of the problem while the avoider puts off dealing with the problem while fully aware that the problem exists.

Each of the coping styles (attack, avoidance, and denial) may be externalized or internalized. That is, the individual perceives the problem outside or within him/herself. There are six fundamental or basic coping processes:

  1. externalized attack,
  2. externalized avoidance,
  3. externalized denial,
  4. internalized attack,
  5. internalized avoidance, and
  6. internalized denial.

Most persons use all of the coping processes to a greater or lesser degree. Everyone, on occasion, uses avoidance, denial and attack, but externalized and internalized. These persons can be seen as multiple-choice individual who have available a variety of differentiated alternatives while maintaining cognizance of the consequences, thus allowing flexibility in both choice of action and consequences.