We have all read statistics on the decline of student engagement between kindergarten and graduation. I recently read the article Bored Out of their Minds which talks about students and the reasons for their lack of interest as they get older. One particular part of the article that struck me was:
“But who cares? Isn’t boredom just a natural side effect of daily life’s tedium? Until very recently, that’s how educators, academics, and neuroscientists alike have treated it. In fact, in the preface to Boredom: A Lively History, Peter Toohey presents the possibility that boredom might not even exist. What we call “boredom” might be just a “grab bag of a term” that covers “frustration, surfeit, depression, disgust, indifference, apathy.””
It’s difficult to not be frustrated by articles like this, not because they’re wrong, but because they’re right. The data is there, we see it on the faces of our students and kids everyday, and yet either don’t know what to do about it or don’t care enough to try. My own kids express their dislike for their classes and how boring they are all the time. My younger son (the same one who went on this rant regarding imaginary numbers) had been telling us that he wanted to go into Biomedical Engineering, and wanted to learn how to code because he wanted to learn to create new prosthetics for people who had lost limbs. Recently, he told me that he has changed his mind. The coding class that he took in school was so boring and frustrating (not because it was hard but because it was too easy) that he lost interest in the entire coding process. The class’s assignments consisted of repeatedly building a website with HTML with minor changes in the coding. I think of all the amazing activities that can be done with coding and I shudder at the fact that an entire semester course consisted of this one skill. He was bored out of his mind. His experience changed his entire outlook toward a profession he was confident he would pursue.
I’m not saying that all students will have wide-eyed amazement at everything they do in school. I liked school because I knew how to “play school” and it, in general, came easy to me, but math was not my strong suit. I had to work really hard to get good grades because it didn’t come naturally to me (evidenced by the fact that I told someone the other day that $1799 x 3 was $1400 – I’m not even kidding). It’s going to happen that not every student likes every subject they take. However, if we allow students more choice and create opportunities for cross curricular learning, they can couple their interests with their struggles, and be more engaged than they would be otherwise.
Because my role is to work with teachers more than students now, I also connected this article to an image by Sylvia Duckworth that I often use in Twitter PD.
Any chance that you know an educator that seems to feel “frustration, surfeit, depression, disgust, indifference, apathy”? I would say that I could probably name a few. Honestly, whether discussing student boredom or teacher boredom, I can’t even imagine being so miserable at an activity in which you spend the majority of your time.
The awesome thing about being an educator, however, is that we have control of how we handle boredom when it sets in. If we would allow the students voice and choice in their learning, like they so desperately want anyway, we would find that when we create these opportunities for students it reawakens the reason we became teachers in the first place. Their engagement in the learning process becomes your engagement in facilitating their learning. They are no longer just handing in papers. Their creativity will amaze and entertain you…probably blow you away at their resourcefulness. They will take ownership, and isn’t that exactly what we want anyway? It’s definitely a win-win.
When boredom set in for me when I was a teacher, I took matters into my own hands. I was introduced to Twitter and ran with it. I learned what personalized professional development was and became more cognizant of what it was that I wanted to learn more about and made my own opportunities. However, this required me to be reflective enough to:
Recognize that I needed to be the one to change
Quit blaming others for me staying inside my box
Realize my strengths, weaknesses, and interests, how these affected my students, and what I could do about it
But once I did that, I was able to take control of my own learning and reengage in my profession. I could have left teaching all together or I could have become cynical and apathetic, but instead, I’m consistently thankful that I found a profession that I love so much.
Student engagement and teacher job satisfaction really aren’t that different. Each of us needs to be given the permission and authority to take ownership of what it is we want to learn and how to best engage. Every single decision we make as a teacher, including taking control of our learning and development, will affect our students. Hopefully, the ownership in our own growth provides opportunities for our students to engage and become less frustrated with their education as they get older.