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Former Teacher Worried About Depressed Student
Q: I used to teach at a private school and am worried about one of my former students, who is 15 years old. While I taught him he seemed to undergo a personality change. I tried to befriend him and he began opening up to me. He says that he does not do drugs, and is quite happy -- yet he seems unhappy, depressed, moody, and has very few friends. He used to be popular.
Over the holidays, some friends of his told me that he didn't participate in any of the activities at his camp, just sat and smoked around 40 to 50 cigarettes a day. The principal told me that he knows that the child is using alcohol. He is a clever child, but resists work and failed the year (the principal allowed him to write a supplementary paper in the subjects he failed). Other kids have told me that he's using drugs.
I no longer teach at the school and, while I know his parents and they encourage me to talk to him, I don't know if I should continue. Maybe I should back out altogether and let the principal handle it. (The principal has not done anything about it so far.) On the other hand, I seem to be the only person who is worried enough about him.
A: This young man is very lucky that he has found a teacher who cares about him as you do. Your relationship with his parents is also helpful but can work against your relationship with him if you try to counsel him.
He may be using drugs or there may be many other reasons for his academic failure and possible depression. I believe the best thing you can do is to encourage him and the parents to seek professional counseling. Working with troubled adolescents takes a lot of skill and I suspect this young man may have some very serious issues. Once the proverbial "can of worms" is opened, you may find yourself in jeopardy emotionally and professionally if you continue to counsel him.
Should you continue to delve into his personal life? No, you shouldn't for his sake and for yours. You can certainly continue caring, being an adult who is there to listen and support, but not to counsel.
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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.