being a teacher, boring, challenge, Student-centered

When Students Tell You They Are Bored Can We Blame the Students As Well?

I am in a conference trying to figure out why a child seems less engaged, less into it, and just not all that excited about school.  So far the conversation has been rather one-sided, meaning me speaking and being met with lsilence.  Finally I ask, “Are you bored?”  And the student looks up and says, “Yeah.”

I think that has happened to most teachers, a bored student, but what may not have happened to many is for that student to have the guts to tell you.  I know I was incredibly bored throughout many classes in my school days but I never did tell a teacher since I figured nothing good would come of it.  And I may have been right because my gut reaction the moment I was told was to get frustrated.  How can you be bored in my room? We do so many exciting things!  And yet, I bite my tongue, nod, and go home with a head full of questions.

I have a classroom full of noise, ideas, and engagement. It is something I work incredibly hard for and I am very very proud of and yet, it can also be boring.  There are times when the base needs to be built for our further exploration and I have to talk.  I try to make it engaging, I try to make is student-centered, and yet sometimes I can’t.  It gets better every year but still; but yes I can be boring.  So these thoughts follow me home and I ask my husband what I should he do since he acutely suffered from school boredom.

His thoughts stopped me; “Maybe it isn’t you?  Maybe you do everything you can and that child needs to step up too.  Maybe boredom is a two way street and you can only make it so exciting but if the student is not ready or wanting to be engaged then it doesn’t matter what you do.”  I immediately started to defend the child and lament that it must be me until I realized he may be on to something; perhaps we as educators can only do so much.  Perhaps we can only engage and excite until a certain point and then the student has to invest as well.  Perhaps we cannot change every student’s perception of school no matter how many things we pull out to do.  Perhaps, we are not the only ones with control in our classroom?

So I turn to you; what do we do when students are bored?  After we have changed the curriculum, the approach and the task?   What do we do when a student-centered learning environment is not enough?  Do we dare tell the student that they too have to invest?  That they have to make an effort to be interested or else school will be infinitely boring no matter what we do?  Do we dare put some of the responsibility for school engagement back on their shoulders?  Or is that taking the easy way out?

25 thoughts on “When Students Tell You They Are Bored Can We Blame the Students As Well?”

  1. Like you, I work hard to create a classroom full of engagement. I am not a lecturing kind of teacher. But there is no getting around the fact that sometimes I have to talk to give needed information. I haven't figured out a way around it. I flat out tell kids, "We have to do the boring stuff so we can get to the fun stuff". I don't know if it works, but at least the kids know why I'm doing it and what we will be using the information for.So, yes. I do think students need to take some blame for being bored. They need to engage themselves and prepare for the long haul. They need stamina–the ability to keep their mind on the task at hand even when it's "boring".

  2. It may not be boredom but more disengagement or sitting there thinking about all the challenges the child may face when he/she goes home after school… There are so many variables to consider… But trying to figure out the why's is where we always need to start. I know students in our school that say they are "bored" just because they do not know how to describe the many reasons they are disengaged – it is usually very complex.

  3. Excellent point, with some students it is definitely outside factors influencing their engagement, but when we remove that, then what? I also wonder what we can do when even the child does not know why they are not engaged and therefore says the "I'm bored…" With other students I have heard the statement when it has been a way to get get away from something they didn't understand or something they deemed too difficult. But what about the kid that just would rather lean back and let the learning happen?

  4. I am a home schooling mom and not a very creative one at that, but when I have done all that I can or know how to do I believe that my children have to step up and try to find something interesting in the lesson. If they are not willing or cannot for whatever reason then I think it is time to move on. I am not saying give up on that student, continuing to try and get them engaged is our job, but sometimes they are just not ready or interested. I feel learning is a two way street and you can only make the basic boring facts but so exciting. In life we have to learn how to push through the boring stuff to get to the fun.And I want to thank you for your blog, you have given me much to think about as a home schooler.

  5. I think a large part of the problem is kids don't know how to actively engage themselves. Our society tends to focus on content delivery and kids are a major consumer. Television, the internet, even video games are pretty passive. We learn to be dependent on other people entertaining us instead of learning to entertain ourselves. Maybe we need to figure out how to teach students how to do so in a classroom environment?

  6. Since engagement is the topic of my dissertation, it's a subject I'm very interested in. (This blog supplies a lot of "food for thought", so thanks for that!) I understand and agree with many of the thoughts posted here, but would also like to make the observation that we rarely hear "I'm bored" in Kindergarten or Grade 1. How we change things when students reach about Grade 3 is part of it, of course, but these younger students get a heavy dose of success and accomplishment on a nearly daily basis, as there are so many new skills they are learning. Older students have to wait so much longer to see evidence of their growth. One of the most helpful articles I've read is linked here: explains well what has to be in place for students to engage.

  7. I also tell my students that at some point, they are going to be bored. But, I also let them know that they are still responsible for learning., And as you stated, they still have to be invested. I can't be "on" all the time, but I still expect them to learn.

  8. I am really enjoying this post and the comment thread. A couple of points come to mind. First, I agree with Kim, the home-schooling mom, who accepts reasonable limits on how entertaining the educator can/has to be. I also agree with Will Chamberlain who has shared online some really exciting lessons from his classroom. How can children in these settings get bored? When my own children (can't help putting on my parent hat) try to make me responsible for their entertainment needs, I have often used this response: "Well, there's lots of work to be done around the house so if you tell me you're bored, that means you are looking for work to do." (And then I actually suggest short, not draconian jobs that they can help me with. They enjoy the attention and the house gets cleaned.)On the other hand, if we've had some very boring days at home (eg. we're on holidays and I've been cleaning the house for a few days), I'll suggest they phone friends to set up playdates or that we pencil in outings on the calendar. In the classroom, I usually try to weave the rationale piece into my lessons by deliberately asking, Why is it useful to know about fractions? Does spelling even matter? etc I try to weave these provocative questions into each lesson (opening, middle or end) so that we are always coming back to purpose. I'm not saying kids don't ever get bored in my class, but these are some of the ways I try to reduce boredom and increase purposefulness. (A love of reading also helps because how can you ever be bored when surrounded by books?) A great post and interesting comments! – Ingrid

  9. I'd add that not necessary (or desirable) for all students to like or enjoy every moment. I was a good student but I remember hating labs in high school science classes. I preferred to stay comfortable in my desk and have information presented to me (to which I sometimes I sometimes paid attention and sometimes chose to ignore while I doodled or daydreamed.) Labs forced me to be active and engaged. Even though I didn't like them, they were a better way to learn than just reading the manual. It's our responsibility to provide a learning environment that's as engaging (and varied) as possible but it's ultimately the students' responsibility to learn. Like many other things, it's a matter of letting go.

  10. I loved your post! The dialogue between you and your husband reveals many a discussion that I have had with myself. I think there is a happy medium between teacher and student and your husband has so sensitively stated this. The student has to meet the teacher half way! I would wonder what the student meant though by being bored?!?!? Class wasn't fun or wasn't interesting or wasn't engaging. Class can't always be fun but it can be interesting engaging!

  11. There are both boring teachers and boring students. Yes, it is up to teachers to find engaging ways to involve their students in their learning. Teachers who just assume that everything they present has to be listened to regardless of its relevance, interest to the student or mode of presentation (passive/active) will have bored children in their grade. Chuck out he lecture notes, the textbooks and the worksheets and get them involved in authentic tasks. Not that it is easy to present all learning in a way that all 30 kids will enjoy.On the other hand, many children are the product of an upbringing that has not given them the opportunity to create their own ways of entertaining themselves. No independence, no creativity allowed without being given parent organised stimuli, no time to think for themselves and explore the world as they grew up. Through no fault of their own, they grow up to be boring students who find nothing engaging unless its an entertainment extravaganza. Teachers can't be PT Barnum or Pixar Studios for every lesson every day. Students have as much responsibility to use their creativity and spark their own interest as we do. My own children are never bored, at home or school, because they find something interesting in everything they encounter. On the rare occasion they find that impossible, they find a way to engage in their own way in the topic if the teacher doesn't grab them. Maybe this is what we need to teach the bored ( or boring ) student to do instead of switching off when there's no action in the first minute of the lesson. Or give them the opportunity to show us how they would learn best.

  12. "Perhaps we can only engage and excite until a certain point and then the student has to invest as well."There's no perhaps about it. Is every part of your day exciting? Do you tingle with anticipation at the thought of doing laundry? Does reading memoes from the administration leave you breathless with delight? Learning to tolerate boredom or, better still, to find some part of the boring task interesting or useful is an essential part of becoming adult. Rather than blame the student, we need to think in terms of helping him learn constructive ways of coping with boredom. Of course, he may find that boring, too; a teacher can do only so much.

  13. What an insightful discussion happening here, thank you everyone for reflecting with me. I keep returning to my initial thought that we as teachers need to make sure we are providing engaging learning opportunities but then also discuss expectations with our students. If we do our bit then they need to do theirs. Life is not always a circus act and school shouldn't be either so in preparing students for both the hands on and the more passive we are preparing them four anything outside of school.

  14. Hello!What a truly inspired discussion.I am an intensely personal teacher: my teaching is directly linked to me. I take it personally, normally, when kids are bored in my room. However, in reflecting deeper here (with the help of this discussion!), I can begin to let go.I am not a circus performer. I work hard to engage my students, but I really appreciate the reponsibility we need to place back on our students. If we want our students to be ready for a 21st century world, then we need to get them more engaged in their learning!Thank you so much for this post!Mike.

  15. If a learning environment is truly student-centered, then the students have to step up and invest in their own learning. They need to understand that the responsibility for learning has been put in their hands. This is probably a completely new concept for many learners. Working at a Montessori school at the 4th thru 8th grade levels, I would see this paradigm shift happening in children who were new to the school and its follow-the-child philosophy. At first there would be disbelief, then confusion, then pushing the boundaries to see where they were (affected boredom often shows up here) and finally (for most students) an authentic desire to pursue their own learning goals.

  16. A student expressing boredom is certainly cause to pause and reflect on whether that day's approach is appropriate – but if that reflection yields an affirmative answer, then I agree that the issue can be on the student's end.As educators, it's important that we do our best to accurately assess the problems we face. Accepting responsibility for our failures (being boring) is important – but equally important is recognizing and addressing areas where our students can improve.Teaching in the modern era is tough. We're competing with the rest of society. The other 16 hours per day when they aren't in school, they're besieged by media tailored to a 10 minute attention span (the time between commercials) and high interactivity low-content activities (video games) that probably condition them to find anything resembling a traditional classroom format to be…. unstimulating.

  17. This was a really interesting discussion, and I learned a lot. I've been creating a more discussion based classroom including student-led presentations and a variety of different assignments. Yet, I worry that I place too much responsibility on my students to participate in class and engage ideas thoughtfully with their peers in small and large group discussions. Perhaps there is a need for balance, say between group activities and the teacher's emphasis on the concepts that she wants the students to walk away with. I think that one of the challenges of creating a classroom where everyone is engaged is that everyone learns and is inspired to learn differently. Some people think more visually, others like small group discussions, some students like writing down their thoughts while others learn best by verbalizing their ideas with peers. When a students says that s/he is bored in class, perhaps this can become a productive opportunity to add a new kind of assignment or activity to the structure of the course. These are not suggestions, only thoughts as I wrestle with a similar "problem" and reflect on what to change and how to not be so hard on myself.

  18. Well, I go to school and although most of it is extremely boring there are some classes that i actually do enjoy- mostly due to the following reasons.
    Social- Including some form of socialisation is important to encourage an enthusiastic learning environment. This could take place by using a competition, such as bingo or a board game to assist in learning.
    Relaxation- In almost every subject of high school everything you do is done in a rush, to meet particular deadlines- either a test or exam- or for the teacher to keep up with the curriculum. It is especially important in a hard working school for there to be time in each class to reflect in small groups or be able to show their ‘creative’ side
    Reward system- Sure, the kids don’t really want to fail the test but it’s hard for children to see that from a long-term perspective when doing regular class and homework. Teachers working on a reward system tend to get an overall enthusiasm from the class to do well- and get rewarded with things such as parties or social games.
    Teachers enthusiasm- We all have had that teacher. The one thats a grump. That gives detentions out every which way and repeats the syllabus in the most boring, monotone voice possible- either lack of knowledge on the subject or the old ones with no energy, coping from the textbook most lessons or getting kids to write things down on pre-bought slideshows. The best teacher I have is the most inspirational, and her subject has actually become my favourite from my worst hated- Maths. We have parties often, are allowed to have a quiet talk in class and there are almost always activities to do that work in groups.
    Students own enjoyment of subject- Sure, doing these things will help with 80% of your class but there are always people who just have a genuine lack of interest in the subject o matter what you try and do. For these people, creating something slightly off-topic may help them gain some interes, but there are very few ways to actually inspire/teach people who don’t want to learn in the first place.
    Goodluck and happy teaching- try not to bore the students to death!!!!!

  19. I am searching for some advice. I started substitute teaching this school year. I love teaching kids and try to make things as interesting as I can, but I have to teach what the teacher has left and I usually do not have lesson plans before I get there. I try to read ahead when they go to their specials like PE and Music, but sometimes those aren’t until later in the day and I have to read as I go along. Some subjects are required and just are not something that student is interested in at all. I try to be sympathetic toward that but it is hard to know what to do when they say they are bored. I mostly tell them that we both have the job of getting the work done that the teacher left for us and that I will help them with it all I can. Some I think are frustrated because they are do not understand and others finish with the work so fast they are bored waiting for the others all the time. I wish I could do more to help.

  20. Perhaps the challenge for the student is not that they are bored but rather that they are not comfortable being bored. Boredom is not always a terrible thing, sometimes boredom is absolutely necessary to achieving results, creating new ideas, or resting our minds. We are not taught this. We and our students are taught that boredom is something to be avoided at all costs. I think this harms us, not just as educators and students, but as humans, in our social, personal and professional lives.

    Sure there are situations where persistent and long lasting boredom can be detrimental to learning. I think it is important for us teachers first, and then our students, to learn the difference between beneficial boredom and detrimental boredom, know how to seek help, and learn ways to take responsibility both as students and teachers for the situations when we are experiencing detrimental boredom. How can we teach comfort with boredom?

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