Q. What are some signs that a student may be in distress?
A student in distress may not be disruptive to others, but may exhibit behaviors which indicate something is wrong, show signs of emotional distress and indicate that assistance is needed. They may also be reluctant or unable to acknowledge a need for personal help. Behaviors may include:
- Serious grade problems or a change from consistently passing grades to unaccountably poor performance.
- Excessive absences, especially if the student has previously demonstrated consistent attendance.
- Unusual or markedly changed patterns of interaction, i.e., avoidance of participation, excessive anxiety when called upon, domination of discussions, etc.
- Other characteristics that suggest the student is having trouble managing stress successfully e.g., a depressed, lethargic mood; very rapid speech; swollen, red eyes; marked change in personal dress and hygiene; falling asleep during class.
- Repeated requests for special consideration, such as deadline extensions, especially if the student appears uncomfortable or highly emotional while disclosing the circumstances prompting request.
- New or repeated behavior which pushes the limits of decorum and which interferes with effective management of the immediate environment.
- Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses which are obviously inappropriate to the situation.
Q. How should I respond to a student that appears troubled or showing signs of distress?
For students that are mildly or moderately troubled you can choose to initially handle them in the following ways:
- Deal directly with the behavior/problem according to classroom protocol.
- Address the situation on a more personal level.
- Consult with a colleague, department head, Dean of Students’ Office professional, or a campus counseling professional at the Counseling Center.
- Refer the student to one of the University resources. Listed below.
Q. What are warning signs of disruptive student behavior?
Severely troubled or disruptive students exhibit behaviors that signify an obvious crisis that necessitate emergency care. These problems are usually the easiest to identify. Examples include:
- Highly disruptive behavior (e.g. hostility, aggression, violence, etc.).
- Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech; unconnected, disjointed, or rambling thoughts).
- Loss of contact with reality (seeing or hearing things which others cannot see or hear; beliefs or actions greatly at odds with reality or probability).
- Stalking behaviors.
- Inappropriate communications (including threatening letters, e-mail messages, harassment).
- Overtly suicidal thoughts (including referring to suicide as a current option or in a written assignment).
- Threats to harm others.
Q. How should I respond to a disruptive student?
- Remain calm and know who to call for help, if necessary. Find someone to stay with the student while calls to the appropriate resources are made. See referral numbers below.
- Remember that it is NOT your responsibility to provide the professional help needed for severely troubled/ disruptive student. You however are strongly encouraged to make the necessary call and request assistance.
- When a student expresses a direct threat to themselves or other, or acts in a bizarre, highly irrational or disruptive way, immediately call the University Police Department at (936)294-1000.
Q. How should I respond when a student is disrupting my class?
Faculty members have broad authority to manage their classrooms and establish reasonable guidelines for class discussions that ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in an orderly manner. If you believe a students’ behavior is inappropriate, consider a general word of caution rather than singling a student or embarrassing the student. “If the behavior in question is irritating, but not disruptive, try speaking with the student after class. Most students are unaware of distracting habits or mannerisms, and have no intent to be offensive or disruptive. There may be rare circumstances where it is necessary to speak to a student during class about his or her behavior. Correct the student in a manner, indicating that further discussion can occur after class.” (Pavela, 2001, ¶ 5).
If a students’ behavior reaches the point that it interferes with your ability to conduct the class or the ability of other students to benefit from the class, the student should be asked to leave the room for the remainder of the class period. The student should be provided with a reason for this action and an opportunity to discuss the matter with you as soon as is practical. In such situations, consultation and referral to the Dean of Students’ Office may be helpful and appropriate.
This item adapted from ASJA Law & Policy Report, No. 26, ASJA & Gary Pavela, 2001.
Q. How to make a referral
While many students go to counseling or to the Dean of Students’ Office on their own, your exposure to students increases the likelihood you will identify signs or behaviors of distress in a student. What can you do?
- Recommend campus services to the student.
- Determine the student’s willingness to go to a helping resource. Reassure the student that it is an act of strength to ask for help.
- Dispute the myth that only “weak or crazy” people go for counseling or use others for help.
- Remind them that campus counseling resources are free and confidential services.
- Offer to help make the initial contact with the helping resources. Listed below. In some cases, it may be helpful for you to offer to go with the student to make the initial appointment.
- University Police Department
- Students of Concern Team
- Dean of Students’ Office
- University Counseling Center
- University Health Center
- Housing and Residence Life
- International Students’ Office
- SAM Center