“My friend lied to me!”
“My parents are getting a divorce!”
“My boyfriend broke up with me!”
“Everyone’s gossiping about me!”
“He cut in front of me in line!”
When students come to us with personal problems it’s easy to fall into one of two extremes—dismiss the problem as unimportant (“I’m sorry. Go play with someone else.”) or get drawn into the drama and spend hours counseling and problem-solving (“Who’s gossiping about you? What did they say? Let’s have a meeting and work it out.”)
On one hand, as trivial as some problems may seem to us, they are still important to our students, and it’s disrespectful to minimalize them. On the other hand, as important as some issues sound, we may be making them even worse by intervening.
Of course your response will depend upon the maturity of your students and the severity of the problem. But in nearly every case the goal should be to help our students develop problem-solving skills instead of solving the problem for them.
Next time a student comes to you with a problem try asking these three questions:
1—What have you done about this problem so far? (You can skip this question if they’ve already told you a long story.)
2—What do you think you’ll try next? (Helps them own the problem and empowers them to solve it.)
3—What can I do to help? (Clarifies their motivation for coming to you, expresses sympathy, and defines your role as a concerned adult, not a magic problem-solver.)
Sometimes you don’t need all three questions. For example, for outright tattling, question #3 might take care of it. And sometimes when you ask question #2, students will realize they really don’t want to do anything about the problem—they just wanted a sympathetic ear.
Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!
Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies
Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources
- Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
- 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
- The Take-Charge Teacher
- All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
- The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
- The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2
- Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
- Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
- 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
- What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?
- Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
- Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
- A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
- The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide