Talking your way out of problems

Shivani Mathur Gaiha and Spandana Kommuri

Every month, we bring you situations commonly faced by teachers that may be linked to the mental health of their students. We discuss possible responses and how you may approach these situations with sensitivity and mindfulness. Most often these “problem cases” are a topic of discussion in the staffroom and teachers use this opportunity to learn from one another. We hope you will use these cases to exchange views on appropriate teacher responses and share your stories with us at [email protected].

You ask a class 6 student, Pooja, to answer a question. She appears blank or day-dreaming in class. Her notebooks are incomplete and she does not do her homework.

Pooja’s behaviour can be indicative of several things. While the common assumption is that the student is either lazy or not paying attention, it is also possible that the problem might be something else. Her incomplete school work can be indicative of an underlying learning disorder or some chronic stress that she is going through. Therefore, talking to the student without any judgments can be the first step.

Some questions to ask Pooja so that she does not feel cornered:
• How are you?
• Are you happy with the pace at which we are moving with the syllabus?
• What parts do you find challenging?
• Are you able to concentrate in class?
• I noticed that you are not handing in your homework. Is there a way I can be of help?

Sometimes talking itself can be healing. A lot of children open up about their issues with a little bit of intervention. Talk to the parents at the next parent-teacher meeting to understand Pooja’s behaviour at home or explore any issues of stress. A psychometric assessment for identifying a learning disability may be recommended in case there appears to be no explanation for Pooja’s behaviour.

This column was co-written by Shivani Mathur Gaiha and Spandana Kommuri. Shivani is a public mental health communication practitioner and post doctoral research fellow at Stanford University. Spandana is a counsellor, work-life coach and trainer with eight years experience, currently working with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Hyderabad) apart from carrying on with her consulting work. She is also a registered practitioner of RE-CBT from Ellis Institute, New York. This activity has been conducted under a public engagement grant awarded to Shivani by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK.

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