If a student has indicated, either on a health and safety form or by coming to talk to you, about their concerns or anxieties, your first step would be to find out more about their difficulties and discuss the arrangements or support that they feel would be appropriate to help them to participate fully in the field course.
The section on Organising the Field Course and Making Special Arrangements offers some suggestions about practical arrangements that might be made, but just talking to the student and showing that you are concerned and sympathetic may reassure them and may also allay your own concerns.
If a student does not declare their difficulties and you are concerned about their behaviour either just before, or during, the field course, you may have to seek the student out and try to encourage them to talk to you about any problems that they have. Don’t panic if a student bursts into tears; tears are a temporary reaction to an intense feeling but do not necessarily indicate an urgent need for professional help or an underlying serious problem requiring urgent intervention. Calm reassurance may be all that is required.
If you are not reassured by your conversation with the student, or are unable to get them to talk to you, you will have to make a judgement about whether or not the situation requires immediate attention. If you are still on campus you can refer the student to one of the support services such as the Counselling Service or the GP. You may find it helpful to seek advice yourself from a GP or Student Counsellor — this can be done without revealing the student’s name if you wish to preserve confidentiality. It is very important that you know which services are available to students in your institution, and to have their contact details to hand, both in your office and while you are in the field.
It is very important both for your sake and that of the student that you do not get out of your depth or lose sight of the boundaries of your role in relation to the student. The normal boundaries between teacher and student may become blurred in the friendly and relaxed atmosphere that frequently characterises a good field course. It is appropriate to offer support to help the student to manage the tasks and practicalities of the field course, but you should make it clear that you are not able to offer help with their personal or psychological problems unless you feel that you have the relevant skills and the time. Close or dependent relationships made during fieldwork may be very difficult or inappropriate to maintain once you are back in the university environment — providing emotional support for students can be very demanding. If you offer personal support that you then withdraw, a student may feel betrayed and their feelings of self-worth may be seriously damaged.
If you are in the field you may have to treat the situation as an emergency.
Page updated 14 December 2001
GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock
© Geography Discipline Network/authors, 2001
ISBN: 1 86174 117 0