Sunday, July 19, 2009

Handling Personal Issues

I never have any idea what to do with students who are going through some sort of difficulty outside of the classroom. I understand that bad things happen all of the time, and there's never a good time for it. But at the same time, I don't see how it helps for a student to tell me what they are going through, even just in broad terms. They don't have to tell me if there is some family issue, or relationships, or health, or... anything. There are outside circumstances, I understand, and that's all I really need to know about.

But I don't know how to actually interact with these students when they come to my office and want to tell me what is going on. Most of me wants to stop them from talking about what, in any general or specific terms, is going on. There's nothing I can do about it. But I don't want to come across as not caring. Of course I'm sorry that they are going through whatever difficulty it is.


Kate Nowak said...

Unless it would take up an unreasonable amount of time, I say listen and give them a chance to get it all out. Be sympathetic but then be as firm as you need to be about due dates and whatnot. The goodwill you garner when they know you care will pay off. For most kids a good relationship with a teacher enhances their learning and experience of class. At least, that works for me in high school, but undergrads aren't much older, and with semester-long classes I imagine they might feel somewhat detached from their teachers.

Mitch said...

I agree with Kate for the most part. Hear them out, although don't get into too many specific details. (You're a university employee, so if they, for an extreme example, tell you that they were raped and name names, you're obligated to report it.) I find it really useful that I know people in both the Office of the Dean of Students and the Counseling Center. Students with personal issues often need some real help, even if it's just getting an assistant dean to contact all their instructors to confirm that they really did lose a grandparent and hoping that the instructors might accommodate the student to some extent. For extreme cases, the Counseling Center is really important. Most will have counselors available for drop-in appointments during every time slot of the business day to help students in crisis. I would even offer to walk a student over to either office if they needed help taking that step.