Case Study: Sui Ming Mentor Student

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This paper will endeavour to explore which strategies and interventions could be implemented to deal with the case study presented in which a bright and intelligent student has suddenly and inexplicably become listless and disinterested in learning, including communicating with both student and parents, and it will attempt to explain the educational merit of the strategies suggested, and why.

Keywords: communication, fear, peer rejection, victimisation, anxiety, strategies, disinterest, problem-solving, initiative

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  Upon reading this scenario, several questions immediately spring to mind here. The first would be how long is lately? Is this only on certain days or lessons, or all of the time? Is this student usually a “gamer”? and finally, what is the real reason for this behaviour, since it is obvious that a previously motivated student does not simply become listless and disinterested in learning. Has there been something that happened at home? Perhaps a divorce or a parent angry with a previous result? This scenario gives too little background information to make an informed diagnosis based on what little we have here in actual fact. However, one could begin by analysing Sui Ming’s response, “maybe I spent too much time on the computer last night,” surely a responsible student, as we are lead to believe Sui Ming is, would know if they had spent too much time on the computer last night. An intelligent and motivated student, would most certainly have kept a check on the time, in order to ensure their learning will not be impaired through lack of sleep the following day.

Secondly, a previously motivated student doesn’t just “suddenly” lose interest in learning, and the fact that we are told that Sui Ming suddenly became “quiet” also implies something deeper is going on here. If a previously social student suddenly falls quiet in class, attention must be given to any changes within their social circle first. Does this student suddenly appear to be sitting apart from the other students, or in a seat away from their usual friends? “Withdrawal is viewed as a behavioural index of the child’s isolation, exclusion, or rejection by the peer group,” (Boivin, Hymel, & Bkowski, 1995). This could indicate a falling out or bullying is behind the sudden quietness, peer-rejection is one of the most common factors in behavioural changes in students. Similarly, any difficulties at home could be behind the behaviour being demonstrated, was there the birth of a new baby perhaps whose cries could be keeping him awake, or fighting or the suggestion of separation or divorce? This constitutes the second-largest impact upon student learning – disquiet or changes in the home situation of a student. Perhaps the student is feeling the pressure from an angry parent at home, how were their recent grades, did they perhaps fail or not perform to their usual high standards and this has not gone down well at home? It is even conceivable that the student thinks the teacher is angry or disappointed in him and that this is the cause of the sudden listlessness. Bullying via social media could also be a probable cause, which must be investigated and taken seriously. Social withdrawal has many faces, (KH & RS, 1988). The simple fact that this student initially says he is “fine” while he is clearly anything but fine, tells me that he is trying to conceal the real reason for his behaviour by conjugating a rather feeble excuse for it. This raises a red flag with regard to the health and well-being of this student. All of these possible causes, boil down to one simple word; anxiety. According to the Child Mind Institute, healthcare providers have seen a 17 per cent increase in anxiety in children over the past 10 years. Whatever the cause, this student is clearly displaying signs of anxiety, and this must be addressed swiftly, yet delicately.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), (2020), there are seven tell-tale signs of anxiety:

  • Procrastination and avoidance
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Physical symptoms
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of pleasure
  • Harmful/unhealthy coping behaviours (e.g. use of alcohol and drugs, excessive use of games/social media)

Teachers and Mentors must be educated to spot the signs and symptoms of anxiety.

It is important that we remain vigilant for reoccurring patterns that seem to happen for no reason as this can give us more insight into where the problem lies. It does not say that Sui Ming has missed any school yet through this, but a common side effect of anxiety is a litany of minor ailments brought on by anxiety, leading to the student missing school due to sleep disturbance brought about by the constant worrying. Perhaps this intelligent student is a perfectionist, whose own high expectations have been putting an untenable strain on the student leading to some kind of burnout or worse.

In this day and age, we must never dismiss the rising numbers of student suicides due to the pressures of study and the negative impact of social media. In the school year 2018-2019, figures released by the coroner in the USA estimate that at least 71 students died in that year alone due to suicide during the study. According to the American College Health Association Fall 2018 National College Health Assessment, 63% of college students in the US felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year. In China too, the number of teenage suicides has also experienced a sudden rise. Yan Wu, vice mayor of the southern city of Zhuhai, said at China’s annual parliamentary meeting, “There has been some heartbreaking incidents as schools reopened,” “This highlights the importance and urgency of promoting mental health development in young students,” he said, June (2020). The numbers worldwide are rising appallingly. This alone should be enough to motivate us to sit up and take stock.

The first step in the multi-faceted approach this case study would need, would be to notify the school psychologist or mental health adviser. As a mentor, one should initiate contact between both student and the school psychologist as swiftly as possible. It would also be advisable to take to the student quietly, one–to–one immediately to see if the mentor can persuade the student to open up to them by asking open-ended questions and showing respect for their feelings while being mindful not to empower them. It is often helpful to talk through the “what-if” scenario if something such as worry about a test or social media is affecting Sui Ming’s behavioural change, to allow them to discover for themselves that, even in worst-case-scenario, there are still plenty of alternatives available to them. This information can then be shared with the school psychologist as a starting point for the conversation.

A mentor also has a responsibility to bring this to the attention of the parents, do they recognise this behaviour or had it escaped their notice, can they offer a possible plausible reason for this sudden change in behaviour or has there been any change that could cause disruption at home perhaps.

Sometimes, it is also helpful to have an informal chat with one of the students closest friends. They often know far more than the parent about what is actually causing the students behaviour, and when armed with the knowledge that it is in the best interest of Sui Ming and that neither they nor he will get into any trouble if they talk to you, they will often be very forthcoming with helpful information which, perhaps even the parents are unaware of.

As a teacher or Mentor, one can assist a student suffering from anxiety by giving them space if needed, listening reducing the “waiting” time for a test so that the stress levels do not have time to rise as high, keep homework to a minimum by only asking for what is necessary or relevant, not simply as “extra practice”. Try being open with the class and share a story about the effects of anxiety to raise awareness in the classmates of the student indirectly and remind the class about the negative impact social media can have. It is vital to establish a trust relationship between the Mentor, student, parents and school psychologist in order to be successful in dealing with this situation.


  1. (2020). 5 Tips for Navigating the Stress and Anxiety in College. Retrieved from
  2. Boivin, M., Hymel, S., & Bkowski, W. (1995). The roles of social withdrawal, peer rejection, and victimization by peers in predicting loneliness and depressed mood in childhood. Dev Psychopathol, 765-85.
  3. KH, R., & RS, M. (1988). The many faces of social isolation in childhood. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 56(6). Retrieved from
  4. Winni Shou, B. (2020). In post-lockdown China, student mental health in focus amid a reported jump in suicides. . Retrieved from  


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