Understanding Student Behavior

Photo of distressed student

student with face coverddtracting students

 Understanding the Spectrum of Challenging Student Behavior

Adopted with permission from East Tennessee State University, Counseling Center


All students will experience some level of stress. Some will face life events that are more challenging such as significant changes in a relationship, the death of someone close, family crises, or physical illness. Others will face severe difficulty with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, anger, addictions and even psychotic episodes. How students respond to these challenges and how these challenges impact their academic functioning will vary greatly based on their coping abilities and personal situations.

Let’s begin by looking at the range of behaviors that staff/faculty may encounter that might cause them concern, discomfort, or that may interfere with their work or the education of other students.

It is important to try to resist the temptation to “profile” students based on media reports of past high profile incidents of campus violence. However, faculty or staff members at Madison College are in an excellent position to recognize behavior changes that may characterize an emotionally troubled student. A student’s concerning behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with previous observations, could reflect a need for intervention or be a “cry for help."

“At risk” student behaviors can fall across a spectrum that ranges from the distressed student to the dangerous student, with the categories of disturbed and disruptive falling somewhere between the two poles. While the categories are not clear cut, and don’t necessarily unfold in a clear progression, it may be helpful to consider behaviors that are most often indicative of each of these categories.

If staff/faculty is struggling with a student issue or concern, they are encouraged to call Counseling Services at 246-6076 to access the On-Call Counselor.