Warning Signs of a Troubled Student

Mar 22, 2019 by

While teaching is one of the most rewarding careers out there, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are hurdles and challenges to overcome. And not all students are receptive to learning. On the flipside, there are often underlying reasons for a student’s disinterest in school work, bad behavior, or emotional outbursts. And while you’re not a detective, certain warning signs can give you a peek into what’s going on behind the scenes and what may be causing the student’s defiance. Keep reading to learn a few warning signs that one of your students in trouble and how you can help.

Social Withdrawal

Any drastic and extreme change in a student’s behavior could be a sign of something more going on. Outgoing and social students don’t often become quiet or withdrawn over night. If you notice a student who used to participate regularly, stop raising their hand or joining in discussions, pay attention. Shyness in itself isn’t uncommon. But let’s face it, you know your students well and if they seem “off” or are isolating themselves from others, you’ll be the first to notice. This often happens when a student doesn’t want to share what’s really bothering them. It could be something simple like they’re struggling with the work or didn’t sleep well the night before. Or, it could be something much more serious like an oxycodone addiction or problems at home. The best way to reach withdrawn students is to simply ask what’s wrong and always be available for them to talk. It may take some time, but if you have a trusting relationship with your student, they’ll (hopefully) open up eventually.


A lack of self-control is a sign that your student may need support or counseling to handle whatever feelings and emotions they’re dealing with. These can come in the form of physical or emotional outbursts. Does the student have an uncontrollable temper that involves harming themselves or other students? Breaking school supplies, kicking or throwing furniture, and yelling out are all signs that the student struggles with anger. Emotional outbursts include temper tantrums, unexplained crying, and placing unrealistic expectations on one’s’ work. All too often a student places too much pressure on themselves to be perfect. When they struggle with a lesson or concept, they tend to breakdown emotionally out of frustration and disappointment. Self-regulation is part of maturing, but some students need more support than others.

Expressions of Violence

Violence doesn’t have to come in the form of physical outbursts. Take notice of your student’s work. Are they drawing sinister, dark, or violent pictures? If your students write journals or stories in class, do they depict violent ideas? These are clear warning signs that the student is struggling with internal demons and might need intervention. Speak to the student and parents about what prompted these types of ideas and feelings. Sadly, the rise in violent video games makes students draw and write about injuring others as if it’s no big deal. While the source may be inappropriate games, it’s important to investigate any violent tendencies.

Drop in Grades

Not every student loves school. And most students would choose playing over doing homework. But an extreme and sudden drop in grades is usually a sign that a student is in trouble, either academically or socially. The student may be having difficulty understanding a specific lesson. Without assistance, they’ll continue to struggle, as most lessons build on one another. This disconnect often reflects in a child’s grades. But disinterest in school work could mean the student is engaging in other, dangerous activity. Hanging out with other troubled kids, living in a negative home environment, or doing drugs can all lead to a drop in grades and lack of motivation.

When it comes to identifying and reaching a troubled student, your first step is to observe and be aware of their normal behavior. This helps you easily recognize thing that are out of character. Next, be available and open to talk. Approach the student compassionately and ask what’s going on. If you’re met with resistance, you may need help from the student’s parents or the school guidance counselor.

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