Working with a frustrated student

David Leventhal writes:
A teacher in our network recently wrote to me about a situation in one of her classes. One of her students falls regularly, outside of class, and is experiencing some dementia. In class, the student regularly gets frustrated and agitated, particularly when she wants to move across the floor but doesn’t have the balance control to do so, and she has started crying quite uncontrollably in class. “You can feel the tension and anxiety rise for all of them,” wrote the teacher. “Is there a way that I can handle this so that everyone else is not uncomfortable?”

This is certainly a challenging situation, but I did have a few ideas (and, as always, welcome yours). Here’s what I wrote:

Aside from your teaching partners, do you have any volunteers to assist in class? Younger dancers? Retired people from the community who like dance and who want to help out? This sounds like a perfect situation for a volunteer. Assign that volunteer to accompany this student for the entire class and be her dancing partner. This will make the class special and accessible for her. She’ll be focused on working with the volunteer (who, by the way, can help translate the material for her to make it more accessible) rather than on feeling frustrated.

If that’s not a realistic solution, you might want to approach the woman’s husband. I’d gently ask him to make a stronger effort to assist her and dance with her during the class. Her frustrations are really difficult for you to see, and they are affecting other people in the class. Ask if he would be willing to help out more. But if he is resistant, ask if there is someone else in their family or circle who can come to class and help her out so that he can enjoy the class. Tell him you know how important it is for him also to have time for himself, so if they had a friend come, that person would be doing a wonderful service to both the husband and wife.

Unless the situation continues to be disruptive, I would try to avoid asking her to stop coming to class. It just goes against what we believe about these classes–they they are often the one and only way that people can still feel human and connected. But of course you need to use your judgment. If one person in the class makes it very difficult for everyone else, and none of the solutions above seem to work, you may need to go that route.

One more thought: for the people who remain seated, is there someone who remains with them and dances with them/demonstrates for them? It would be good to facilitate this in your class if it’s not already happening. Often, it’s not enough just to show and then go back to the mobile group without anyone staying with the seated group. If you don’t have the volunteer resources to have one volunteer dance only with this student, you at least want to try to have an assistant who can do the second part of class seated and form a group that works together to translate material for those who remain in chairs.

Have you encountered a similar situation? Please share your experience with us via Chatter or by emailing me for inclusion in this blog.