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How do I help my student who seems unusually unhappy?

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From Scotland: I am a newly qualified teacher, and I have a girl in one of my 4th year classes whose behaviour has been worrying me lately. She is around 14 or 15, and she has seemed quite easy unhappy recently. She used to be very engaged and seemed happy in class and with her peers. Now she seems constantly distracted and often when she first comes in its obvious she’s been crying. I’ve noticed she has bruised and skinned knuckles recently. She has a close circle of friends that she seems fine with, but she just seems unhappy. I have raised my concerns with her pastoral care teacher however nothing has been done. What can I do to help?

Thank you for writing. I’m appreciating the situation you find yourself in. On the one hand, you want to be helpful to your student. On the other hand, as a new teacher you don’t want to unintentionally step outside of school policy by approaching her directly.

You didn’t mention if you followed up with the pastoral care teacher. If not, that would be the first step. It would also be wise to talk with your supervisor about policy around what the school sees as appropriate boundaries between teachers and students. Does the school support teachers taking an interest in a student who seems unhappy? What are considered professional limits? What resources are available to both you and the student?

I hope there is a way for you to approach your student. Often young people don’t feel they can talk to a parent or relative about their problems. Research has shown that being able to talk to a trusted adult is often a turning point for a teen struggling with emotional issues.

I wish you well.

Dr. Marie

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