In an Education Week article entitled “Studies Link Students’ Boredom to Stress,” Ulrike E. Nett, a student motivation researcher at the University of Konstanz, Germany, is quoted as saying: “Although teachers try to create interesting lessons, they must be aware that despite their best intentions, some students may still perceive interesting lessons as boring….What is imperative to underscore at this point is that both teachers and students must take some responsibility for boredom, and both must be involved in finding an adequate way to reduce this emotion in their classrooms.”
Now to me, this statement is disturbing, and for a couple of reasons. First, how can you be bored by an interesting lesson? If it’s interesting to the student then he won’t be bored. If it’s interesting to the other students, but not to this student, then the teacher needs to engage the student in some other way. Second, I’m concerned because this statement suggests that, “well, it’s good if teachers try to provide an interesting lesson, but….” No buts! And no trying! It’s essential to good education that teachers provide instruction that is stimulating, engaging, eye-opening, and enriching. (See, for example, The Highly Engaged Classroom by Robert Marzano and associates, for an excellent collection of practical research-based strategies that create engagement in a classroom).
What’s even more disturbing, though, is that education is anything but stimulating for many kids these days. The Education Week article cites statistics indicating that 65% of students are bored in the classroom at least once a day. Some people will say, “well, boredom is a part of life, and it’s just part of what a student has to deal with in school.” No! School is for awakening the mind, not putting it to sleep! I’m concerned that if we start to lay the blame for a student’s boredom in the lap of that student, then suddenly the onus is no longer on the teacher for bringing the subject matter to life. And in this increasingly test-driven, standards-obsessed climate that has developed in the past decade where there is more and more pressure to cover increasing amounts of curriculum, there is simply more boredom being spread around in our schools.
It’s understandable (if utterly lamentable) that in an effort to cover up this unpleasant circumstance of more boring classrooms, people began blaming the students for their own boredom, and started suggesting that it is at least partly their responsibility to snap out of it and get themselves engaged. Perhaps we will soon have a new medical diagnosis for children who are genetically prone to boredom. Wait! We do have such a diagnosis: it’s called ”attention deficit hyperactivity disorder!”
I believe, however, that this “blaming the victim” strategy won’t succeed in making boring classrooms an acceptable and entrenched part of the educational landscape. We don’t need excuses and scapegoating. We need positive action in creating interactive, motivating, engaging classrooms where every student can become astonished on a daily basis by the amazing world around us.