We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.
As a teacher, you know that many external factors influence your students’ well-being. Stress at home can impede academic performance, and neglect and abuse can have life-altering consequences.
Since you are a mandated reporter, you must monitor student well-being and report any suspected child harm to authorities. However, while you might notice a black eye or severe case of body odor, you might overlook other signs of trouble. Here are eight that should prompt you to take action.
1. Sudden Withdrawal from Activities
Please pay attention when students who once participated actively in class stop raising their hands. People react to trauma differently, and some form a shell around themselves that may prove challenging to crack.
Additionally, you should know that withdrawal from activities is one behavioral warning sign of suicide. Please don’t ignore this clue, especially if it occurs in tandem with suspected alcohol and drug use or giving away prized possessions. You could prevent a tragedy.
2. A Decline in Work Quality
If your A+ student performs poorly on a single essay or exam, many things — computer issues, outside responsibilities — could explain the discrepancy. However, if their work begins a consistent downward turn, please intervene to turn matters around before they get worse.
Take the student aside and help them create an action plan to improve their performance. This meeting allows you to ask them what’s causing the sudden decline. You can ask them if they feel more stressed out than usual, and if they confess to feelings of overwhelm, inquire as to the cause. Sometimes, the problem requires no solving outside of moving them away from a distraction or closer to the board.
3. A Fatigued or Injured Appearance
When a student breaks their arm while skiing, they’ll waste no time telling their peers and gaining bragging rights. However, if their parents hurt them in a fit of anger, they might tell conflicting tales or avoid mentioning how they got hurt altogether.
Teachers and other school personnel are considered mandatory reporters, which means they are legally obligated to report any signs of abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities. Please don’t ignore this potential risk to student well-being. Alert your principal and follow the steps your district outlines for suspected danger.
4. Exaggerated Emotional Responses
According to the National Institutes of Health, childhood abuse causes exaggerated startle reactivity. Your student might react by cowering at unexpected loud sounds. Frustrations that most others shrug off can cause them to burst into tears.
Unstable emotions indicate damaged student well-being. As a teacher, you aren’t a mental health professional. However, you can direct your learners and their parents to the appropriate resources that may help. Many clinics offer sliding scale fees for care.
5. Violent Outbursts
As an educator, your priority is to protect student safety, which means taking a zero-tolerance stance toward violence. While you may feel sympathy for the child who acts out, you must also take swift actions to protect others from trauma.
Use a calm but firm voice when talking to the instigator. Escort them to a quiet, safe place where they can calm down before attempting further interventions. Involve other school team members when necessary — don’t try to be a hero and break up a fight between two individuals larger than yourself. You endanger the student’s well-being and risk your safety.
6. Significant Weight Gain or Loss
Weight gain or loss can indicate an improvement in student well-being — some children do get fit to participate in sports or improve their self-esteem. However, it can also mean trouble at home or a potential eating disorder.
Victims of sexual abuse may gain excess weight to make themselves less attractive targets — their size serves as a shield. Those who shed pounds quickly may have food insecurity in the home or struggle with anorexia. Consult with the school nurse and student assistance team for intervention advice.
7. Increasing Dependence on You
If parents fail to look after their student’s well-being, the child might cling to you as a surrogate. While you may feel flattered, it isn’t necessarily a positive sign if one of your learners insists on eating lunch in your classroom instead of with peers.
Sometimes, children who feel bullied seek out adult company to protect them from harm. Ensure your school takes a zero-tolerance stance toward bullying. Misinterpreting aggressive behavior as harmless physical horseplay can result in injury and sometimes tragedy.
8. Spoken or Written Threats of Self-Harm
One threat to student well-being you should never overlook is a spoken or written threat of self-harm. Suicide rates continue to climb among young people due to widespread insecurity and lack of access to essential resources.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24. The tragedy cuts across racial and socioeconomic lines, although some, like members of the LGBTQ+ community, may face increased risk from minority stress. While females attempt suicide more frequently, males more often succeed.
Protect Your Students’ Well-Being by Knowing the Signs of Trouble
As a teacher, you have to protect your students’ well-being. Knowing the signs of trouble can help you make the best decisions in challenging situations.