Part 4: Challenges to the Supervisory Relationship

Activity 4.2: The Failing Student?


This activity addresses the issue of students encountering difficulties during their clinical placement and in particular those at risk of failing. In addition to readings on the subject, we have provided two scenarios that supervisors might face when working with students in their clinical placements. You will have the opportunity to discuss these challenging scenarios.

Readings for Reflection

Gatekeeping Role

Problems field instructors should discuss with their student and faculty liaison

Adapted from Wilson, SJ. (1981), ”Field Instruction” New York: The Free Press. Pp.199-200

  1. A hostile, resistant attitude toward learning. Because of the student’s unwillingness to accept and recognize areas where growth is needed, it becomes impossible for the field instructor to teach the student, and he or she cannot achieve the minimum skills and attitudes necessary to pass the placement.

  2. Chronic absenteeism. Field instructors cannot teach students who are not physically present in field. This behavior must occur more than once or twice and take place without good reason and/or with no prior discussion, negotiation, or approval from the field instructor.

  3. A personality unsuited to professional work. This is one of the most difficult areas for field instructors to assess and for students to accept. Certain personality attributes are incompatible with effective practice: highly punitive, rigid, or judgmental approaches to people; abrupt, curt, overly businesslike approaches (a cold, reserved, unapproachable appearance or attitude); extreme compulsiveness; perfectionist habits that interfere with the ability of getting the job done and so on. Such behavior must characterize the student’s approach to people and persist in spite of efforts on the part of the field instructor to help the student develop more constructive ways of relating.

  4. Emotional immaturity or unusual naiveté. This usually, though not always, pertains to a student very young in chronological age. Because of insufficient personal maturity, the student may lack basic defenses and techniques for responding to people different from him or herself and the kind of common sense that is crucial to successful practice at any level.

  5. Unprofessional behavior. Students who consistently violate the Code of Ethics, not out of ignorance but out of apparent disregard for their clients, their agency, and their field instructor, usually find themselves failing field placement. Blatant disregard for basic agency policies, rules, and regulations could produce similar results.

  6. Inability to communicate. Spoken and written communication skills must be compatible with those usually expected of university students.

  7. Behavior that is emotionally damaging to clients. A student may say and/or do things that obviously upset the client, reinforce defenses, heighten mistrust, hurt the client’s feelings, and leave behind emotional wreckage that must be repaired by someone who is more skilled.

  8. Emotional problems and needs that interfere with the student’s ability to work with clients. Some students may be able to see clients only through the mirror of their experiences.

These are two typical situations supervisors may face when supervising students encountering difficulties.  Please read and then continue to the discussion section.

Situation 1

Mark is a second year student in a clinical setting. At midterm (6 weeks), his supervisor told him that he has not been demonstrating an adequate knowledge base for the complex situations he has encountered.  At the end of the term, the supervisor gives Mark a passing grade, but her written comments do not support that.

In reviewing the situation with the course coordinator, she says: “he showed improvement in the last two weeks, so I evaluated him as having met expectations”. Her comment is not consistent with the course criterion which states that “students must consistently meet expectations in all areas for the last four weeks of the course”.

Situation 2

Irene is in a clinical course at the end of her first year.  On several occasions, the supervisor has noticed that the analysis of her client/patient situation is incomplete and she has neglected some priority issues. Role modeling and role play have not improved the situation. At week 9/12 weeks, the supervisor contacts the faculty member to report the situation and seek advice. The student has clearly not been meeting one of the main criteria of the course. 

Let’s Discuss: Situations

In situation 1, what issues does this raise for you in relation to the student-supervisory relationship? In situation 2, what issues in supervision/evaluation does this situation pose?

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