Posted in Education, Teaching

How Can You Help a Student When You Don’t Know How to Help?

Helplessness is one of my least favorite feelings.  I do not like feeling as if there is nothing I can do.  No matter what the situation is, I usually find a way to solve the problem.  I persevere.  Sure, sometimes I need to take a break and revisit the issue later, but I almost always find some sort of solution.  However, every once in a while, I am faced with a problem so perplexing that it seems as if there really is no solution.  What do I do then?

Today, a student who had struggled earlier in the year, began to show signs of that same struggle again.  Prior to our big vacation in March, he was working at grade level and showing fine effort.  After returning from break though, he has slipped back into his old habits quite a bit.  He is either refusing to or can’t complete work or meet our objectives.  He sat, staring at a blank card, which he needed to transform into a Mother’s Day card for his mom today.  He had spent 30 minutes on Saturday and accomplished nothing.  He apparently had finished the task over the weekend but then lost the card.  So, he needed to start over.  My co-teacher and I spent much time with him, providing him with ideas on what to write.  He still did nothing.  Can he do the work and is refusing not to or can he not think for himself?  Why was he able to complete similar tasks before March Break but now can’t?  Did something happen over March Break?  There have been several objectives he has not been able to meet since returning from vacation.  While he is not in danger of failing the sixth grade, I do worry that if this trend or behavior continues, he will not be able to demonstrate his ability to meet the objectives covered in the seventh grade.  So, do we hold him back and have him repeat sixth grade?  Earlier in the year, I exhausted my resources in trying to figure out how to help and support him.  At this point, I’m not sure what else to do.  Is he choosing not to do the work?  Did something happen over break that caused this lapse?  We had a battery of testing done on this student earlier in the year and it didn’t shed any light on the situation.  All of the suggestions and accommodations made from the testing were things we have already been doing in the classroom to support him.  So, now what?

I feel lost and helpless.  I want to support and help this student grow, but I don’t know what else to do.  I even had the Director of Studies have a chat with this student when he was struggling today.  He saw the same things I’ve seen.  He too was baffled.  Is there some sort of social/emotional issue at play?  What is causing this behavior?  Did he suffer some sort of trauma over break?  Is he worried about leaving sixth grade and the support system in place?  Does he not want to work anymore?  How can we best support this student?  I want him to feel success.  It’s not about the grades.  It’s about him being able to meet the objectives and feel successful.

Moving forward, I am going to try some new strategies with him to see if they help.  He is also going to see our school’s guidance counselor, who might be able to shed some light on the situation as well.  This student’s advisor is aware of what is happening and I met with him today to discuss the issues.  The lines of communication are open.  The parents are aware of what is happening as well.  Now, hopefully, with all of us working together, we will be able to help him grow and develop as a student.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

2 thoughts on “How Can You Help a Student When You Don’t Know How to Help?

  1. In a Waldorf school this scenario would prompt a ‘child study’. For this every single teacher and support teacher that experiences the child would get together in a room and build a ‘picture’ of what is happening for this child. This normally throws up some interesting insights and some lateral solutions. eg a child prone to bullying could be cast as a persecuted character in an upcoming play, a child who is anxious from excess study could lead a physical work project such as a vegetable garden or patio area, a child struggling to articulate feelings could be given a new instrument etc. At the very least it creates focus and a circle of warmth which may be tangible to the child without any other intervention.
    Wonderful blog!

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