Are Just Teachers to Blame for Boring School?

I have tried to change education.  I have tried to re-ignite forgotten curiosity.  I have tried to spread joy when I teach, when student learn, when we go through this experience known as school.  For the past 5 years this has been my mission.  I ask the students.  I build community.  I make it authentic, meaningful, personalized, passion-based, and many other educational buzzwords.  And yet, today, one of my students asked my why no teachers ever made school relevant.   Why school is so boring.  And my shoulders dropped right along with my spirit, but just for a moment.

As I drove home, I kept coming back to the question the student asked, because it is a relevant one, yet I also realized that it is not that we aren’t trying.  Because I am not the only one who spends hours every day trying to change education.  I am not the only one who feels like they can do better and strives to always make it more than it has to be.  I am not the only one who is trying to make it relevant, trying to make it worth student time, trying to make it meaningful.  I see it every single day in the classrooms of my colleagues and on the teachers that share their stories.  And yet, students continue to say that it isn’t and that we aren’t.  And I am not quite at my wits end on those days, but I am inching closer, comment for comment.

So I ask, at what point can we stop feeling that it is all our fault?  At what point can we realize not just as a society, but as human beings,  that it is not just teachers that create the school experience, but all of the players; including students.  That perhaps it is not just our fault when school is boring, although we seem to think it is.  I know I take personal responsibility for when my students are not engaged, but perhaps I need to stop.  Is there blame to spread?  Or must we continue to carry this burden alone?

Perhaps, my question is irrelevant; who cares about blame when students are disengaged, but carrying all this guilt and responsibility is sometimes exhausting.  I know I blame just myself when a lesson goes wrong,  because to think it would be anything else seems sacrilegious.   Still, though, it cannot just be the fault of the teacher, can it?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

12 thoughts on “Are Just Teachers to Blame for Boring School?

  1. Most of the educators I know want to make learning exciting and inspiring and work very hard to create learning environments to facilitate this atmosphere. But sometimes we forget that people are all different. Not every person is looking to be inspired, creative problem solvers, or wanting to be challenged to achieve their best. There is a wide variety of life philosophies among adults, so there must be a wide variety among children, too. I know it is hard for us to accept that some folks just want the easy answer or the easy way out. Luckily, with dedicated teachers who are willing to take risks (like you Pernille), teachers who think outside the box and strive everyday to inspire everyone in their class, more and more students see the value of hard work, stay in the struggle to achieve their goals, and want to make a difference in the world. It just won’t be everyone in your classroom just like it isn’t everyone in our communities.

  2. I think the compulsory nature of school is what makes it boring. Isn’t it fairly well known psychology that forcing, bribing, etc to make a person to do something is going to make them less like to enjoy it, even if it is a generally fun thing? Teachers can do all they can to make it interesting and relevant but if the student never has the option of leaving or not participating….

    • I have always looked at school like a job. Some days at your job you are stimulated, excited, and productive. Others days on the job you are bored, disengaged, and not motivated. As a teacher, I try to make my lessons as active and engaging as possible to promote the former and reduce the later.

  3. I wonder if a better question is when was it decided that only activities that are entertaining are relevant? In my own life, growth in every area that I find meaningful involved some boring moments. Maybe our job isn’t to make those moments go away in learning, but to help students understand and appreciate their connection to being able to do vastly cooler things than they can do now in the future. I think this comic puts it well — http://popperfont.net/2011/10/17/want-kids-to-learn-science-put-this-in-every-science-textbook/

    I’m not calling for a return to rote learning and bookwork. I follow your blog because I too strive for authentic, meaningful, personalized, passion-based, buzz-wordy teaching (and you’re an inspiration in that arena). I am married to project based learning, blogging, genius hour, and giving my students ownership in the classroom. That said, I do worry when “fun” and “meaningful” are treated as synonyms in learning. I don’t think any amount of educational reform can take the hard work part out of real learning/growth, and I don’t think that most people find that kind of work engaging all of the time. I wonder if there is a way to help students (and adults) find value in it anyway.

  4. Your post reminds me of when I taught 1st grade. I was a new teacher and I worked so hard to engage my class in learning. We were involved in (what I thought was) an exciting game in math. Everyone was engaged except this little boy, who seemed to not be enjoying himself at all. When I asked him about it he said he really didn’t like school and just didn’t want to be there. I was aghast that a first grader would already be so ‘anti’ school, how could that be? As I got to know him during the year, I discovered that at home, school held little value. His parents didn’t admire what he brought home, they didn’t ask him about his day at school. He was allowed to hit the computer once he got home, and then anytime with parents was spent watching television.

    I have come to understand that there is an education triangle’ in learning. In addition to the teacher, the student and the parent both have important responsibilities in the learning process. Parents need to celebrate and appreciate their child’s effort and support them when they falter. Parents also instill a love of education and learning at home by taking an interest in what their child is doing in school, reading with them, even perhaps pursuing their child’s interests with them through outside activities. Students learn from their parents the importance of perseverance, participation, and effort.

    It is possible to foster and grow relationships with those students who are missing the parent support at home, and guide them to see the value and joy in learning. When I am able to accomplish this, even just a little bit, that is the very best part of my role as a teacher. It can also be the most heart breaking part of my job when my efforts are unsuccessful and that child continues through school lacking a passion for learning.

  5. Release some large predators in the building. I can’t imagine they’ll be any boredom when there’s a 15% chance you won’t make it to your next class.

  6. All we can do is what we can do. Certainly, factors beyond our control can affect the level of engagement of our students in the classroom. After more than thirty years in the classroom, I have become philosophical. This does not mean apathetic, uncaring, or resigned. It just means that I have accepted that once I have done my best, which includes work-life balance for me, then that’s it. All I can do is put in my brick. I can’t build the whole cathedral. And, like the masons and craftsmen throughout the centuries, I may not see the cathedral built. I’m good with that, finally. It took a lot of years, but I have made peace with putting in my brick well, being sure it is straight, follows the pattern, and is well cemented so it lasts for centuries. I don’t want my brick to be the weak link. After that, I go home, and I focus on my own family and my own needs. That’s just the way it is. By the way, you may find some consolation in the story of the bamboo. I will post it on my blog, as I’ve referred to it quite a few times in the last month or so. Peace to you, Pernille. Breathe.

  7. Reblogged this on Our Global Classroom and commented:
    3/4J as we explore persuasive preparing for NAPLAN next week here is a topic you might want to explore. Teachers sometimes blame themselves for school being boring but is it always their fault. What do you think?

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