Student & Teacher Boredom: What can we do?

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.

duckworth twitter

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.