Apathy: a Teacher’s bane

One of the things that I have the most trouble dealing with as a teacher is student apathy and unfortunately it seems to be high in my students this year. From discussions with other teachers it seems to be an issue across the board and not just in my class. For some reason this particular group of students seems to care less about their education and learning than any, that any of us have had in years.

Now bearing in mind that we have many students who have a really tough home life, it still seems abnormally high. I understand that my students dealing with lack of food or clothing or housing will not care as much about school as those who have all of their basic needs met. I’m familiar with Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. I know kids who are dealing with the illness or loss of a parent or grandparent will also often not care as much about school.

However what I’m seeing is students who may not have all these things but school is their haven, their safe place, where they are fed, and we make sure they are clean and clothed and they concentrate and do their absolute best on their school work, and even if their best isn’t great they’re trying.

Then we have the kiddos who do have all of their physical needs met at home, maybe it’s emotional they’re lacking. Maybe their apathy and lack of effort at school is a cry for help, so I try to connect with them. I try to build relationships, which is a whole other post. And yet there are still kids that don’t seem to care, no matter how much we care about them or how they do, they don’t seem to care.

I’ve been doing some research, that’s my thing according to the Kolbe index I took years ago. The first site I found listed some things I can do.

  1. Give students duties and responsibilities – I have done this in the past though not yet this year. I’m not sure this is appropriate for the students I’m most struggling with, but I can try so now I need to make a list of responsibilities or duties students could take over in my class.
  2. Take students seriously and celebrate successes – if you as a teacher don’t do this already I don’t want to work with you
  3. Teach what’s relevant – well I have a curriculum and I do my best to make it relevant to the students and to “real life” I try to always give them examples of why these things are important to know, sometimes that still isn’t enough. And let’s be honest, sometimes I don’t succeed in making it relevant.
  4. Be positive and a model of good behavior – I’m probably one of the most positive people I know, the glass is always half empty, in the past I’ve found that then when I do make a negative statement about students effort it has more effect, but not this year
  5. Be consistent and fair – again if this is not you as a teacher I don’t want to work with you
  6. Allow students to have a voice – I’m not sure what exactly this means here, but I try to allow my students some freedom of choice in their seating, in their choice of writing topics, and yet again there are those that this does nothing for
  7. Listen to your students – one more time if you don’t do this I don’t want to teach with you
  8. Accept the fact that you can’t connect with every student – nope sorry this one I just can’t do, I’m going to keep trying, that’s why I searched for this information in the first place

Another site gave me four things to try:

  • Make sure work is purposeful – Well yeah, otherwise what’s the point? I don’t want to do work that isn’t purposeful.
  • Make work more collaborative – I can do this but the problem comes when I don’t let students collaborate with the people they choose because no work gets done in those groups
  • Offer choices about how or what students learn – We do have our students complete an all year project, the I-Search paper. They pick the topic, they do research and interviews, and they write a paper. It’s all their choice. Other than that I let students choose their own reading books, and some of their journals are student choice, though not all as there are certain topics I want to cover.
  • Make sure learning is fun – I do my best

All in all, while I’m going to keep looking for resources, I think the idea for me is to just keep trying. Keep trying to find the one thing that will spark those apathetic students, keep trying to connect to them, keep trying to help them connect to their work, keep trying to help them see why learning is important to their lives. Just keep trying, yes now Dory is singing in my head but it’s a tune worth remembering.

 

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