Surprise! They Don’t Care!

I have been in education for about 22 years and have worked as a paraprofessional for the last four years. I certainly should not be surprised when students respond with indifference to the things I consider important. I realize some students come to school burdened with life issues and, of course, those need to be addressed. But there are many, many students who come to school less encumbered and more apt to be ready to learn. Those are the ones that baffle and, to be honest, frustrate me. All the creative, innovative motivational strategies sometimes just fall flat, much to my disappointment. If they only knew how much energy and thought we put into our lesson plans! When students’ attitudes start to influence my attitude in the wrong way, I have to go back to the basics.

1. Remember to Meet Their Needs

I can’t help but notice that many students sit in class expecting to be “entertained” or, worse, put to sleep. One of my fondest education professors said, “Teach to the need of the student.” Find out what their need is, then teach to that need. We have various resources, methods, strategies, and approaches we can thankfully utilize, but this presumes we know what the student’s basic educational need truly is. Use your subject to address their need. Can’t read? Use that history lesson to teach them to read. Not easy to do, but it is a place to start. Sometimes we overcomplicate the basics.

2. Remember, They Are Young

After one especially frustrating fifth-grade class marched out of my computer class, I mumbled my complaint about their contrary attitudes to their homeroom teacher. His comment stopped me cold. He told me to “remember they are only ten years old.” Yes, I knew that, but I had not weighed the reality of it. A decade, only a decade, had some of these kids lived. My life was, well, many decades into adulthood. That statement has become my reply when irritation assaults my attitude. Although some children grow up way too fast, many lack true maturity.

3. Remember, Patience and Grace Are Virtues

I am more traditional, so change is not always easy for me. However, I am willing to try new things. If students’ indifference is a result of something I can change, why not change? Most kids respond to a good story. Jokes can also crack kids predisposed to disregard anything remotely resembling instruction. We all have been trained in differentiated instruction, but the process of determining which approach works with which student requires patience and extreme grace on our part. Often, however, the long suffering is worth it. I have to remind myself that I am learning about my students and must be willing to adjust, when appropriate, to their learning style.

4. Remember to Care, Even if They Appear Not to

I am involved in technology, and the tendency to become robotic exists simply because I work with machines. I have to counteract the inclination to become stiff and distant. I have to remember not only that my students are about a decade old but also that technical button-pushing fixes are seldom part of their ability to acquire real knowledge.

Compassion and genuine concern originate from our hearts. It is probably the reason we became teachers in the first place. It is sad that this sensitivity is many times swept to the sidelines by the more urgent deadlines and requirements imposed upon educators. Stand at your door in the morning and welcome your students to class by name, praise good work, remember their birthdays, and surprise the class from time to time with simple treats or little celebrations. Students respond more positively to honest interest and kindness, especially those that challenge our earnest goodwill. It helps to put on a more mellow demeanor now and again.

5. Remember, Change Begets Change

This is a hard lesson of life. I could never really understand why I had to change before a situation or another person might change. Why couldn’t we just change the situation or the other person? Gloriously, sometimes that can happen. Unfortunately, however, life and people are not that simple. There is no substitute for straightforward self-assessment. Self-assessment requires honesty and, with the consultation of trusted colleagues, it will change you, and your students will benefit. When I positively alter something in my teaching style or my response or reaction to a student, I notice that they change, too. I am sure we have all observed that one lesson we are so excited and passionate about move through the class like an airborne contagion. Whatever is given out returns. Counteract indifference with a persuasive and determined positive attitude. Someone just might latch onto it and cause an epidemic transformation.

So, what do you do when your students don’t appear to care about your lesson? Go back to the basics. Remember:

  • Uncomplicate the complicated
  • Immaturity often masks as a poor attitude
  • Be patient, extend grace
  • Compassion opens hearts and minds
  • Change what can be changed

How do you keep students engaged? Share your own tips in the comments below.

Kay Deckerhoff graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, and is a certified elementary school teacher. She and her husband have two grown children, who are both graduates of Texas A&M. Kay is a computer paraprofessional at AR Turner Elementary in Willis, Texas. She was the recipient of the 2016 ATPE Associate Educator of the Year Award.

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