Student apathy is a hot topic. Students today aren’t as attentive in school and the problem continues to grow. One causes might include access to cell phones during school. Another might be economic deficits. However, we have examples of people from these circumstances be successful in school. So, why don’t more students just follow that path?
What is the barrier?
I believe all teachers come into the profession with intention to help all kids. Not some, but all. So what happens? Teachers are worn down by the job, it can be taxing to keep up the positive energy. We all know this challenge, but I think there is another challenge. The challenge what teachers believe about teaching. Didactic contract. This contract has been in place since the early days of school. In this contract teachers pass knowledge to students. Students are to listen, take notes, and practice the lessons. This was a solution in the past when knowledge was useful for decades. Now, we know that the world is changing too fast for this process to work for students. Also, with the amount of choices and access to knowledge, students will lose interest quickly.
How do great teachers handle this?
There are a few differences in how good teachers handle this new challenge, and how great teachers address it. Here are two:
Ask questions, don’t just look for answers. If you listen carefully, good teachers are asking questions to look for a certain answer. While great teachers are curious about student experiences and student thinking. This shift creates students who are more likely to actively participate during class. Students know their thoughts matter and the teacher is really listening.
Use a variety of strategies consistently. Most good teachers use direct instruction. Though this strategy can appear effective, it also creates students who forget how to think. Direct instruction also becomes predictable and soon students tune out because the teacher is doing all the work. Great teachers try to create experiences where students are doing most of the thinking. These teachers are willing to change things up, even though it might be uncomfortable. Students are more curious because they see the teacher as a learner as well, therefore the great teachers model the behavior they expect.
The primary goal of the great teacher is to pull out students strengths instead of trying to put knowledge into students.
How can leaders leverage these skills?
I know we want to highlight the great teacher and leverage them as models for the good teachers. But, consider this. Let’s learn to use the great teacher strategies on our good teachers. Instead of telling them what they can do differently, let’s ask good teachers questions. Questions that are curious about their experiences and thinking around teaching. How do you prepare for challenging students? What strategy did you choose for your students and Why? How would you rate your lesson? What choices would you make next time to make the lesson better? Through questions, I think we can learn more about our staff, show we believe in their ability, and find strategic ways to push them from good to great.
In conclusion, we all struggle with student apathy. As leaders we struggle with teacher apathy. So, let’s make it our mission to learn from our best teachers by asking more questions and using a variety of strategies. If we do this, then I believe we will shift our good teachers to great teachers, and successfully address the challenge of student apathy.
What is Didactic Teaching. Retrieved from: