Coping with Student ApathyIn this era of No Child Left Behind and Teacher Accountability, student apathy is one of the greatest threats to academic success.  What are the signs of student apathy...

Coping with Student Apathy

In this era of No Child Left Behind and Teacher Accountability, student apathy is one of the greatest threats to academic success. 

  • What are the signs of student apathy in your classroom?
  • What teacher strategies and classroom management strategies do you us to combat student apathy?
  • What help do you need from administration and parents to combat this problem?


Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the comments so far. We live in a 7-minute world--statistics say that's how often we need to re-trigger the interest of our students in the classroom. It's equally true for youth groups or any other gathering of kids; even adults, in church services or conferences, often have trouble staying focused on anything meaningful for too long.  Shame on the media, the internet, and video games for this trend.

That being said, a teacher's job is to teach, not entertain.  So it's important to do three simple things to be most effective in getting and keeping students engaged in a classroom setting.

First, love what you're doing.  They will, at least to some degree, catch your passion.  I've had students say things like, "I didn't really like it but since you loved it so much I didn't hate it."  (Talk about a back-handed compliment!  But I'll take it.) Passion really is contagious.

Second, expect them to be engaged and participatory.  "Sell" your classroom as a learning community in which all must do their part--observe, listen, respond, analyze, question, interact, commit.  Really good students who don't say a word are not overly impressive to me if they can't find a way to contribute to the community.  Lazy and apathetic students who do nothing but "make contributions" in class aren't impressive, either.  My philosophy is, "Do your part to prepare, then prepare to share."  This kind of environment will keep students more alert and ready to contribute to their own education--taking some of the pressure off the teacher.

Finally, as #6 said, develop relationships with your students--and not just the select few at the top of the GPA list.  I've found this is the one thing that has bought me the most grace with both parents and students.  They know I love them, and they'll do a little more because they know I'll notice it and appreciate it.  Notice I didn't say reward it--that does nothing but create obsequious grade-watchers.  Relationships matter, and it--even more than your subject matter--is what you'll both take with you when you leave.  This is the part of teaching I love the most.  (Okay, so I adore the literature, as well, but still....)

kristenfusaro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Student apathy can be identified as the student who does not want to participate, whether it is through class discussion, group work, or written work.

How to overcome student apathy? My best advice is to know your students!

Take the time to survey your students at the beginning of each year/semester. Ask them questions relevant to their age and to their era. Ask questions that will help you determine their learning styles. Your job is to combine these answers so that you are appealing to different 2/3 of the class on any given day.

So you have a group of students who bemoan reading Shakespeare? Try playing music for them -- whether it is rap, country, folk, pop, etc., you can find some music that will completely appeal to them or make them laugh at how old and corny it is -- use this music to break down the language, then bring it to Shakespeare -- explain how he was tricking the rich, or point out the dirty aspects. I have a game in my classroom, anytime someone picks up on a double entendre that may be considered racy, they get to proverbially wave the "Naughty Flag."

Make school a competition -- I divide my classes up into "teams" that compete for prizes, such as a pizza party or movie tickets, at the end of the marking period. I display team points. Award points for great participation or effort, take team points away for negative behaviors -- no matter how apathetic a student, he/she generally wants to be accepted and is willing to do some work to fit into his/her team.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the ideas of "making things fun" sound good in theory - but come on... some kids are just never going to think writing essays is "fun" even if you let them pick the topic themselves.

We've all tried games, some of us have probably even sung and danced (and maybe juggled one-handed) for our classes.  In the end, there are only two things I've done that have given me the most success:

  1. Build personal relationships with students. Repoire is everything.  If they like me, they try harder.  FACT.
  2. Make things immediately relevant to their lives. Sometimes this means simply saying, "Look - I know you hate Shakespeare.  Lots of people do.  Unfortunately, between today and your 35th birthday, Congress likely will not be passing a Shakespeare-ban on public schools.  However, if you end up failing this class just because you want a short guy in tights to die -again, I guess- you might still be sleeping on your mama's couch when you are 35.  So - just for today, keep that image in mind, and try not to take it out on the guy in tights."  Usually something like that puts the little things into perspective and they start to get over their apathy.  (This is immediately easier if I have already succeeded at #1.)
lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I found myself nodding vigorously to the above posts!  I think the idea of "relationship" to the key to it all.  Students have to have a relationship with you and you with them.  They have to see a relationship between the material and their lives.  They have to see  a relationship between the work and the grade they earn in the end.  ETC...  These students want to know why they being asked to do something.  Long gone (if they ever really existed) are the days where students just did what they were told and statements like "becuase I say so" worked.  When my students are writing literary analysis essays I always tell them keep asking "how do I know that to be true?"  The next sentence in their essay should be the answer to that question.  I find myself doing the same thing when I think about how and why I am teaching a lesson in class.  It has made me much more reflective. 

lynnetteholly eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You all sound like wonderful teachers.  I would have loved to have been in your classes during my middle and high school years!  I agree with all of the above comments.  I recently read a book called Clock Watchers by Stevi Quate and John McDermott.  The book provides a framework for facilitating motivation and engagement in your classroom.  The authors suggest implementing the 6 C's : caring classroom community, checking in and checking out, choice, collaboration, challenge, and celebration.  The book has been very helpful to me as I have reflected upon the issues of motivation and engagement in my classroom.  The link for the book at Amazon is listed below.





slchanmo1885 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a teacher in today's society, it can seem like a lot of students just don't care. You used to be able to threaten bad grades or a zero, but some students just don't respond to the threat, because getting a poor grade doesn't matter to them. The key is to make things fun, and maybe students will forget they're actually doing work. 

I think it is really important to involve parents and family members as well. Keep everyone up to date on what's happening in school and aware of their child's progress. 


brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Over the years, I have learned that students will only be as interested in the subject as we are.  That requires a lot of acting the 17th time I'm teaching the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  So I act.  It's pretty fun actually, and makes my time at work go faster too.  Use your sense of humor, make them laugh and don't be afraid to look a bit foolish if it keeps their attention.  They're much more likely to be involved and to remember what you're teaching.  All my humble opinion, of course.

besure77 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that it is very common these days to have a certain number of students who do not care. I am not sure why this is but I believe it has something to do with the way they are raised. It seems that students have forgotten that an education is something that they should be grateful for. Instead, I feel that many students are not grateful for having teachers who want them learn and grow to become great individuals.

draporter92 | Student

I agree with the above post, however fun is not all there is.  There is also the responsibility of a teacher to make a student connect with the subject matter.  One other thing I would like to add is how we, as teachers, need to make the learning relevant and current.  As a middle school teacher, I have seen teachers teach the curriculum without making any connections to the present day.  For instance, in teaching history, I have witnessed how teachers teach what happened in the past, but do not make any present-day connections!!!!  How can you teach history without explaining how the past contributes today's going ons?

I am a science teacher.  I make sure to explain how discoveries of the past still affect us today in this current day and time.  Students then make the connection.

lindalouiteachu | Student

I think all teachers are experiencing problems with the student who just doesn't care.  The key to reaching many students with this problem is to keep learning active and fun.  Engage all students in contests and games which induce learning.  Teachers today need to be actors on a stage, entertaining students like a video game would.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question