‘This is boring’ - a comment most teachers are subjected to during any given day. Comments like this frustrate young, enthusiastic teachers; of course, the kids don't think this is a problem, often it's just a ‘knee-jerk' reaction in the face of a new topic, but we would do well to examine this perpetual statement. It is hard to under-estimate the difficulty in making something like solving simultaneous equations exciting and stimulating to a class of thirty or so average students on a hot summer afternoon. This is what we are instructed to do, and despite our best efforts, some kids are bored!
The acclaimed major cause of boredom is the response from being forced to do something you do not want to do but are required to do. This is often the case in class especially with such a prescriptive curriculum designed by those who love their subject and see no reason for anything about excitement. In these instances teachers find ways to make those simultaneous equations at least interesting, this is what we do best.
The cause of boredom is a lack of focus on the issue at hand. This lack of attention can have many reasons but all are linked to the student's perception of the situation they find themselves in. On those rare occasions when the opportunity to get their needs and wants are present by the environment presented, boredom is the last thing on the student's mind. But for children, especially teenagers, the chances of the lesson that is being presented aligning with their current interest, is fairly remote. Students’ appetites and imaginations rarely match the environmental conditions of the classroom. They find the schoolroom dull and tedious, it lacks stimulation and is stopping them from doing what they want to do!
But there is more that can drive boredom and teachers should consider this response more carefully. In some cases the claim the lesson is ‘boring’ might cover the real message that the lesson is too challenging! Some kids have such a sense of being ‘failures’ it becomes a better option to be bored than expose themselves to their false reality – they believe it’s better to be bored than dumb! This faulty belief is explained below.
For most kids, this lack of stimulation within the environment drives them to find alternate things to occupy their mind. How they do this is telling for the teacher.
In our modern age, the availability of screen access is a dangerous answer to boredom. Teachers are spending increasing amounts of time fighting against the easy escape into the smart phone. Whether it is the social media or the availability of YouTube, kids have easy access to messages that are enclosed in highly designed, attractive ‘environments’. The content of these messages are not the primary attraction for the child; the fun environment is. However, it is the message that remains after the ‘excitement' dims. Media manipulation of all levels of society thrives on boredom and the ease this ‘boredom’ can be instantly eliminated is seductive and can lead to a type of soft addiction.
Despite the difficulty, teachers are experts at manipulating the classroom environment and can make it at least attractive enough for most to get through the lesson content. This is at the heart of our professional skill set. However, those ‘difficult’ students who reside in all classes provide us with a degree of wisdom that goes beyond the presentation of a slick, stimulating and inviting lesson.
To get back to the issue raised above. The most difficult kids to motivate, those these Newsletters focus on, are the ones with a history of abuse/neglect. Their issues go beyond a lack of stimulation; they find the challenges of the classroom environment threatening and the goals of the lessons unobtainable. What may appear to be the apathetic response, this apparent boredom hides their fear of attempting the work. They ‘know’ they will fail and each time they do there is further reinforcement of their toxic sense of themselves. They are better served to hide in a dispirited cocoon of boredom.
As pointed out it is the perceived lack of stimulation in the environment that causes boredom but I would expand this to take very much into account the child’s expectations of that environment. If a student perceives that at the heart of the lesson the outcome is inevitable exposure of their sense of persistent failure, they will refuse to attempt the work despite the teacher’s best efforts. Better not to try than to demonstrate incompetence.
A final point about boredom; the experience does not have to be unproductive. In some cases, the feeling of boredom can drive the student to find alternative way of dealing with their environment. This can lead to some creative outcomes for the student. This is especially so for students who are confident with the presenting conditions and can move beyond what they see as easy and therefore ‘boring’.
In other cases the boredom, if we don’t divert our attention elsewhere forces us to reflect on the bigger pictures of life, even daydreams are attempts to imagine an alternate future. Of course, it's hard for teachers to understand when these times are of value but the message is not to be too worried about the student's complaints about being bored.
I have often argued that teaching is as much an art as a science and perceived or ‘reported’ boredom can provide real feedback about how your lesson is going and an understanding that nothing is as simple as it appears!
Great teachers are never bored!