Many times teaching is about so much more than just the subject matter. We have a huge variety of students and they are all from very different home lives. As teachers, we may be called on to be the support system for a child when their parents are simply unable to provide in an area. I’m sure we can all think of many students over the years, that we have gone home and worried about and gone the extra mile to provide for. Sometimes there are uncomfortable conversations that need to happen with these students in order to determine the best course of action. Here’s how to tackle those tough conversations.
Below are the basic steps that need to be taken before talking with your student. We recommend documenting the dates and times these steps were taken. It is also a good idea to document any conversations with the student or attempts to make contact with parents and guardians.
1. Mandated Reporting:
If you suspect a child is being neglected or abused it is your duty to report. Know the law in your state and don’t leave it to someone else to do the reporting for you. Many times we are tempted to hand it off to the counselor or an administrator and we just assume they will do the reporting. This can come back to haunt you, especially in a case where you have emailed other individuals your concerns, but no report was ever filed. We recommend that if you are involved in any way, and not the one that is making the report, that you DO sit in on the call.
2. Communication Between Colleagues:
Contact the appropriate person(s) in your building and come up with a plan: Make sure in all of these situations that the counselor, school nurse, and/or administrators know what is going on. Work together to come up with a plan and make sure that each party knows their responsibilities/role in that plan. Clear communication is key to supporting and helping your student.
3. Follow up:
Make sure to follow-up with the individuals taking the lead. Once you have done your part, report back. Later, check back and make sure they have done theirs.
If you end up being the one who conducts the difficult conversation with the student use the following to help you.
1. Have a plan and resources:
Before talking to the student, make sure you have followed the steps above. Depending on what the issue is, make sure you have resources available in your building or community to help with that student’s specific problem. Write out a list of those resources and any information such as phone numbers, contact person, hours of operation, etc… to help that student.
2. Ask Questions/Don’t assume:
When approaching the subject with the student, ask questions to make sure you have all of the information. This should not be an interrogation, but more of a conversation starter. For instance, if you have a student with personal hygiene issues, you might start out by asking, “how are things at home”, or “how often does your family do laundry?”. Don’t assume that your student doesn’t know good hygiene. Often times they know there is a problem and are self conscious. Many times these issues are due to deeper problems such as their water has been shut off or their washing machine is broken.
3. Stick to the facts/No negative language:
If the questioning technique above does not open the door to broach the subject. Be direct and stick to facts. “I noticed that your clothes are unwashed this week”, don’t use negative language (i.e. smelly or dirty). Follow this with a statement offering assistance such as “I want to help”. Make sure they understand you are not judging, but offering help.
4. Identify the problem:
This can be the toughest part and may require you to ask a few more questions, just remember not to interrogate. For the scenario above, if their washer is broken, maybe there is one at school they can use. If there water is shut off, you would need to refer them to an agency in the community that helps families until they get back on their feet. Use those resources and help the student to solve the problem.
5. Speak with the parent:
This may go hand in hand with step #4. You may have to call the parent to identify the problem, or they may be the one you need to offer resources to. We recommend that you have an administrator make the call or at the very least sit in on the call with you.
There are some conversations that you just never want to have with students, but the most important thing is that you get that student the help and support they need. Make sure to follow your district’s and state’s guidelines when dealing with these issues, but most of all, make sure your student knows you are in their corner.