Recognizing the Needs of Your Students
by Timothy Howe
Student needs are important. Students bring a lot into the classroom other than books and ideas. They come into the classroom with a whole host of issues with which they are dealing. This is part of life. Each one of us approaches our job affected by a variety of factors – our mood, recent news we have received, physical illness or tiredness, concerns, etc. Students are the same way. Part of the maturation process requires them learning to deal with various struggles while performing at an acceptable level. Yet, as educators, we can help them in to learn this process to great degree. We do so through a combination of demonstrating compassion while holding them accountable to their work. A large part of the educator’s task is recognizing what are the real needs of the student versus plain old laziness or apathy.
Classroom: When students are first entering into the classroom is a good time to assess how they are doing. The look on their face, their body motions, their interactions with other students and their preoccupation with objects not associated with the class (such as cell phone) can all be good indicators as to whether or not there is something with the student beyond what meets the eye. Furthermore, interaction within the classroom with the professor or other students can give more clues. How a student responds to question – does she give quick, short answers when normally she is full of ideas, or is he hostile when normally he is pleasant – can reveal what is going on internally. Since, everyone has a bad day or feels “blah” from time to time, this might not set off alarm bells initially. However, the repetition of such behavior can communicate that a student is in need of assistance.
Silence Speaks Loudly: Most people do not want to communicate their problems. They hold them in and put a mask on for the world around them. One way that people communicate their difficulties is precisely when they do not speak out. When a student seems to shut out others and avoid communication, this is a good time to pay attention to what might be going on in his or her life.
Anxiety Affects Performance: A sure sign that a student has had a need develop is a drop in performance. Anxiety affects performance. When a normally well-performing student suddenly starts to perform poorly, this should be a hint that something is not right. It might be as simple as not understanding the assignments, an easy thing to fix. It is likely to be a lot more complex.
What concern is the student’s problem to the professor? So if a student is having a problem, is that a concern of the professor. People go into education to improve the lives of others. This is done primarily through helping others to grasp knew levels of understanding. It is also accomplished through experience. So, yes, it is a concern of the professor if the professor wants to be a real influence in the life of the student. Learning takes place in so much more than the imparting of factual data. Students learn much from professors they perceive as caring about them. Learning will be enhanced when these problem areas are no longer in the way.
So, how to help?
Face the problem head on: People often times will avoid a problem and hope that it goes away rather than deal with it. This strategy rarely works. If a professor suspects that a student is struggling with a need that is of direct bearing on the course, a good approach usually is to communicate directly with that student about the suspicion in a sensitive fashion. If the need is classroom related, the student might feel relieved to get the issue in the open. If the issue turns out to be non-classroom related, but it still affects the classroom, then the professor is able to get the student the best help available.
Over-communicate: The professor should not assume that one try to communicate about the problem will be sufficient. Neither should there be an expectation that once a problem is diagnosed that it is fixed. Intentional follow-up is necessary and this includes clearing up any missed assignments or completion of material agreed upon to get the student back on track. The professor will need to over-communicate to be sure that the student is back on the right track.
Encourage: Students can become overwhelmed and think that they are too far behind or incapable of doing the work. An encouraging word of a professor carries a lot of weight in such a situation. Professors can take on a mentoring role to not only help the student through the course, but also through life. Many students still refer to past professor’s as mentors in their lives years after the last course they took with him or her.
Resolve the Need: Where it is possible, help the student to resolve the need, not just become aware of it. Their seems to be a tendency to analyze a situation and not do much more than explain it. Real problems need real solutions. If a professor is able to help a student chart the course to solving a real problems, the professor has just passed along one of life’s most important skills.