Shivani Mathur Gaiha and Spandana Kommuri
Every month we will present 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 own stories with us at Shivani.MathurGaiha@lshtm.ac.uk.
Rhea is a class 9 student. Her parents do not allow her to participate in any school activity. They are scared of class 10 and career decisions. She is an average student. She bunks her tuition class to go out with her tuition friends. Her parents call you, the teacher, and ask for the names of friends in school and their phone numbers. Will you give the phone numbers? What about Rhea’s trust?
This is a common scenario where students reduce their participation in extra-curricular activities and sometimes even in class as they approach higher classes. This is because of the misconception that participating in non-academic activities is a waste of time. On the contrary, when a student participates in a variety of activities, her/his development is more holistic and not one-dimensional. Often, parents might feel that their child is not being serious about studies, so they tend to push her/him towards academics, by cutting off non-academic activities. An overall stressful situation is created for the parents and the student. So, what is a solution that could restore balance and well-being?
In this scenario, Rhea is likely feeling controlled by the pressure associated with board exams and career decisions. Perhaps she is acting out or venting her frustration or trying to escape the situation by bunking classes. First, try to assess if Rhea’s safety and security is threatened based on your previous interactions with her. Depending on your practical situation and whether your school regulations allow it, you may either contact Rhea’s friends’ parents yourself or share the relevant numbers with Rhea’s parents. Second, at the end of the next class when you meet Rhea, try to speak with her to hear her perspective. Your words of advice and warm, encouraging comments may help her feel more in control of her life. You must use this opportunity to explain that you trust her and are there for her. As a teacher, if you can empathize with both student and the parents, you will be able to educate the parents about the situation and guide them to handle this situation differently. Third, understand that the parents’ worry is natural. However, you can try to explain to them that the approach they are taking towards their child is not a healthy one. Fourth, consider whether you would like to talk directly to the parents within the next few days or whether the you can wait till the the next parent-teacher meeting.
You can also advise them to seek a professional career counsellor who can help the student choose the right career by understanding her aptitude and interest.
Shivani Mathur Gaiha is a public mental health communication researcher and practitioner. She is also a doctoral candidate at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK. She can be reached at Shivani.MathurGaiha@lshtm.ac.uk.
Spandana Kommuri is a Counsellor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
This activity is conducted under the aegis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s public engagement grant to Shivani Mathur Gaiha.