“I’ve noticed Latha has problems staying focused…

…in class since the beginning of this academic year,” the language teacher started the discussion in the teacher’s lounge. “Her assignments are late; her work is sloppy. I remember her work from last year…she is capable of so much more! I asked her if she was all right and she mumbled something before walking away. Have any of you noticed this change in her? Or do you know if something is bothering her?” she asked the other subject teachers.


Latha was very fortunate. This teacher had caught on that something was not ‘right’ and paid attention to the changes in her behavior and academic performance. During the discussions it turned out that the other teachers had also noticed similar attention related concerns in their classes and Latha’s work was not up to her earlier standards. The class teacher didn’t stop with the staffroom discussion. She contacted Latha’s parents to find out if they had noticed any change at home or if there was something going on.

So what was the matter?

Latha’s sister was very ill and the whole family was under tremendous stress. The parents were so involved in the treatment and care for their sick child that they were ignoring Latha’s needs unintentionally. The teacher’s phone call woke them up to what was happening with their ‘well’ daughter.

Latha was very worried not only about the outcome of her sister’s health condition, she was also concerned about her parents’ stress levels. She was trying very hard not to add to their worries by sporting a stoic front. Keeping her fears and worries bottled up resulted in poor sleep and inability to concentrate. Not surprisingly her work suffered, as did her confidence.

Latha’s teachers met with her parents to come up with a plan to support Latha in school and to make certain accommodations for her. Her parents in turn realized that they had to watch out for both their children and they needed help to do so. They got some therapy services for Latha to help her work out the emotional stress, and found ways to help her spend time with friends. Being better organized with their work enables them to free up some time to spend with Latha. None of this happened overnight…they too had a lot to learn about letting go.

In some children, such dramatic changes in performance and inability to attend or focus may not have any external factor. It can be part of the developing condition.

Nevertheless, sudden changes in your student’s academic performance, ability to attend or focus in class, disinterest or resistance to participate in regular routines should make you sit up and take notice. These are clear indications that the student is in stress.

What should you do if you are concerned for your student(s)?

If you suspect that your student is in stress, the first step is to keep parents posted on any concerns. Keep in mind that any time parents hear ‘concerns’ there is a lot of anxiety involved for them. Present information in a non-threatening manner and state the behavior without using any labels. As much as terms like depression and anxiety disorder are bandied about freely refrain from using these when you express your concerns.

Ask the parents if they have noticed any such changes at home. Let them know you will keep track of the student’s progress and see if these issues persist. Always present this information in writing—it will help with documentation. Suggest that they see a professional if these behaviors persist. When you introduce the element of professional guidance state it in a positive manner. That will help them see identification/treatment as being beneficial to their child.

When you point out specific events and behaviors parents know what it is that they have to work towards. Don’t forget to let them know what you did to support the student and how you interacted. You conversation should make it clear that it is not about making your job easy. It is about identifying their child’s needs and putting a support system in place because you want their child to cope and succeed. Parents want to hear that their child’s teacher is looking out for them.