In the Worst of Times

It is important to have tools to implement in helping and supporting students through their difficulties and struggles.

Best Practices July 15, 2021

Teachers interact with learners on a daily basis. Most of the time these interactions are positive and encouraging. However, there are those interactions when things are not well. In my role as a tertiary education course convenor I see all my students when they begin their course and then again at their graduation. But in this role, I do also get to see students when things are not working out as planned. That means I get to see my students at the best of times but also at the worst of times. 

The interactions encompassing the “worst of times” are usually with extremely stressed adult learners needing solutions and support. As the course convenor it is my role to advocate and assist these students in their navigation through these not so good times. The learner going through tough times will often view the experience as a complete failure on their part. The student struggles to differentiate and/or acknowledge that their circumstances, relationships, choices, work and so much more impact on their learning. The most common student “worst of times” troubles are: failed classes, feeling like their life is falling apart, overcommitment to activities, work/study balance and family/relationship drama.

As the support person for learners navigating through rough times I advise and provide support for learning and have been implementing these four steps:

  1. When a student comes to see me it is important that they feel safe and comfortable to share what is troubling them. This takes time. I ensure that I give them time to share if and when they are ready. Sometimes we have to organise and book a convenient time so that this can happen.
  2. Once they have shared what they are comfortable sharing, I retell them their story in a nutshell as I understand it. During this step the student has an opportunity to ensure that I understand the situation well. If not, they are able to clarify things.
  3. I provide advice and options that could be solutions to assist them moving forward with their studies. The very first point I always articulate is that they are not a failure and that what they have encountered is merely a hurdle. Students need assurance that they are capable, but their current situation is impacting their studies. It is so important to understand their story so that as the course convenor I can be sure to tell them how their story is impacting their learning. Only after this can we discuss viable study options moving forward. Some possible solutions include: withdrawing from a class, applying for an extension on an assessment, taking a lighter study load or getting support from a counsellor or tutor, depending on their need.
  4. Each of these encounters with my students ends with prayer. This is a known fact and my students are aware that I will be praying for them. I have never had a student decline prayer and often they return to my office at another time requesting prayer.

Being able to implement these steps means that I have a tool and means to support and work with my students through their tough times. Having these steps on hand means that I can think clearly and focus on my students and their needs in the worst of times. 


Sherry Hattingh

Dr Sherene Hattingh, EdD, Primary Course Convenor at Avondale College of Higher Education, Australia. She has worked in the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education sectors as a teacher, administrator and researcher. Her publications in peer reviewed and church journals cover the areas of internationalisation, ESL students and pedagogy and Christian discipleship.

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