So Johnny is in the back, yawning and not paying attention to your instruction. Johnny has been here before, and you’ve just chalked it up to “we can’t reach everybody.” As that may be true sometimes, we need to make certain that we’ve attempted all forms of assistance to help Johnny reach his potential in your class.

Some students show lack of interest because of our subject area, our teaching approach, something happened at home this morning; it may be so many things that we may not be privy to.

These 4 problems may give some insight into those students [and Johnny’s lack of energy and seemingly nonchalant, rebellious attitude] in your class, during your lesson. Let’s check ’em out!

NERVOUS student in a library

Because school can be intimidating to some students, they may show resistance to you and your task: teaching them your lesson. It may have nothing to do with your content or you personally; it’s just the whole concept of going to a place that reinforces what they already know – nothing about learning.

Students may fear — and therefore not like school — because of their past interactions with school and education. Maybe they did not learn the foundations, so now they are intimidated and embarrassed.

Here’s how to navigate this:

  1. Try to understand the student: Find out about his/her past. Ask them. For example: this year, I was given a class half way through the year…like in February. I mean…seriously? With that said, I know they hadn’t had a teacher all year, so my expectations were different for that class. I had to do things differently because I knew their past.
  2. Your responses and behaviors: Some students may not respond to the teacher at the chalkboard lectures. Some students may not respond to the teacher giving them treats without them earning it. Some students may not respond to shouting or ridicule. Get to know your students.
  3. Sit with versus standing over your students: Be more conversational rather than instructional. Talk to your students and not at your students. Now, this does not mean that you won’t be stern and “use your teacher voice” at times, but just navigate the space in a way that your students know that your instruction is only to help them, not only to chastise them.
  4. De-emphasize “FORMAL” lesson/education: Yes, I know you have to teach the standards and it seems you’re evaluated daily, but sometimes showing students the “cool” side or “fun” part of your lesson will help them learn more. Making jokes, showing you care about them, more than your content, goes a long way to helping them connect with you.


Student being bullied because of things other students have heard

We all know all students are not coming to the table with the same opportunities and backgrounds. Even if they grow up in the same neighborhoods, family situations, financial circumstances, and other problems may persist.

Here are some things you can do, if you discover something about your students.

a. Refer the student to services: Some schools and districts have multiple services for students with problems, whether they be financial, abusive, emotional, and more. Reach out to others who are experts, either in the building or not. In some districts, it is your responsibility contractually. If it isn’t and you contact these services for your student, they may appreciate it.

b. Try to help out if you can: I keep bath soap, deodorant, candy, and snacks in my closet at work becuase I know some of my students do not have these things at home. I know that at some time during the day, a student will need a Granola bar or a Honey Bun for nourishment to get them through their next class. See if there is something you can offer that doens’t cross any lines or inconvenieces you, but helps your student attmept to do more or better in your classroom.

c. Make it a Class Assignment: Because you don’t want to make everyone aware of a student’s distressing home life or problem, make it a class assignment and speak in general terms. Everyone has to work on it, and the student you are trying to reach will realize that this is how they can work through their issue – nobody else has to know.

d. Work with them: I’ve had several students who have parttime jobs because they need to help out at home financially. When I am made aware of this, I offer to extend due dates for them; only do 2 questions, instead of all 4; I extend my office hours (maybe an hour or so) if they have questions on an assignment. I realize that every student’s household is different and they’re trying to survive, so I’m there for it!

e. Be THAT person for them: Yes, sometimes it gets overwhleming to have students coming to you to get things off their chest or to just sit with you during lunch, but You my be THAT person for them. They understand that what is said here, stays here (within reason and the law), and that regardless of what’s going on at school or home, they have a champion on their side. Like Rita Pierson says, “Every student needs a Champion!” Are you THAT person?


Some students find it hard to brainstorm and plan for their future, even as seniors in high school

Setting goals — long or short — may be problematic for students, so they freeze up and do nothing. So while they know they need English, Social Studies, or Calculus to graduate, because they cannot see where this will take them or how it will impact their future, they do nothing.

Get with your students and help them make a plan. What is going through their minds as it pertains to their futures? Make a supplemental lesson or assignment if you have to.

I relegate anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks of Life After High School lessons for my students because I’ve seen the nervousness and glossy looks every time I mention graduation and what happens afterward.

Help your students find their future. Even if their plans change, at least someone has helped them navigate to this point.

Heck! Adults are still figuring it all out! At least these students would now have a plan of action.


Student embarrassed at not knowing something

Of course, every student who comes into your room will not remember what they should, do what they should, or even have the skill set to do what they should, but that’s ok.

With the embarrassment, comes the opportunity for you to appeal to their softer side and help them out.

When the student is showing lack of interest in your class lesson because they cannot keep up or they don’t understand what’s going on, talk to them and let them know that they’ll get it eventually, seek assistance from administration or an interventionist, pair them up, group them, sit with them and assist during a lesson. Welcome them into your space, so that they know that they have a chance to catch up and learn at their pace.

So next time, Johnny asks to go to the restroom for the 11th-hundredth time because he has no interest in your lesson, approach the situation from any of these points of view. Johnny may come around and be that exceptional student you know he can be.

Hey, check out this video or products for help.