7 Signs of Possible Trouble at Home

As teachers, we aren't only in charge of our students' homework assignments and spelling tests. We also need to be aware of signs of possible trouble at home. Our vigilance and responsible action help our young students be happy and healthy both at home and in the classroom.

It can feel uncomfortable to bring up touchy subjects with a student's parents. But as responsible adults in our students' lives, it is part of our duty to look out for their best interests and help them live up to full potential.

Sleeping at school:

Sleep is exceedingly important to the health and well-being of young children. Without it, they can't concentrate or perform to the best of their abilities. If you notice a student regularly catching up on sleep during school hours, consider talking to the school nurse for help in formulating a plan of action in conjunction with the parents.

Sudden change in student behavior:

Just like with adults, an abrupt change in behavior usually signals a cause for concern. As teachers, we get to know our students very well. Keep an eye out for sudden changes in behavior patterns and work quality. If a formerly responsible student completely stops bringing his or her homework, you may want to broach the subject with the student's parents. Working as a team, you can enlist their support and implement strategies to get the student back on track.

Lack of cleanliness:

If a student shows up at school in dirty clothes or with sub-standard personal hygiene, this can be a sign of neglect at home.

Again, the school nurse may be able to support you in addressing this concern with the student's guardians. Not only is dirtiness a health issue, it can also cause isolation and teasing from classmates if it's readily noticeable. Ultimately, this can contribute to loneliness and depression.

Visible signs of injury:

As mandated reporters, teachers are legally required to report any suspected child abuse. There is nothing more noble (and morally imperative) than saving a helpless child from harm. If you see bruises, cuts, or other signs of injury, don't hesitate to follow your state's procedures for reporting suspected abuse.

Not prepared for school:

Observant teachers can notice the outward signs of neglect at home. These signs can come in many forms. If a student mentions not eating breakfast each day or you notice the student doesn't have lunch (or money to buy lunch), you may need to step in as an advocate for the child. Alternatively, if a student doesn't have basic school supplies, make arrangements to provide them, if at all possible. Small children are at the mercy of adults at home. If you notice a gap in care, you may need to step in and help make it right.

Inappropriate or inadequate clothes:

Be on the lookout for student who wear the same outfit virtually every day. Similarly, watch out for students who wear summer clothes in the winter and/or lack a proper winter coat. Worn-out or too-small shoes may be additional signs that something isn't right at home. If the parents aren't able to provide an appropriate wardrobe, maybe you could work with a local church or charity to get the student what he or she needs.

Student mentions neglect or abuse:

This is the most obvious and clear sign that something is wrong (or maybe even dangerous) at home. If a student mentions being home alone at night or getting hit by an adult, this is definitely something to investigate. Again, you should report these comments to a child protective services agency in a timely manner. It is not your job to determine the veracity of such statements. Rather, the relevant government agency can investigate according to procedure and figure out what's really going on.