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Why it's okay to be bored in school

Coach Brown, the witty blogger and social studies teacher at Ukiah High School in northern California, shares some of my concerns about, but none of my enthusiasm for, the L.A. Times series assessing teachers and schools with value-added test score analysis. The Times, he says, has "taken it upon itself to promote the idea that a test that assesses bad information and that kids don't care about somehow shows a clear indication of a bad teacher."

We shall return to the Times controversy eventually, but as school starts across the country and teachers worry about how to engage the reluctant returnees to their classrooms, I want to share part of another recent essay from Coach Brown's blog, "A Passion for Teaching and Opinions." He reflects on the master teacher that helped train him, and other influences. I think he has put the engagement issue, and our frequent complaints about boring schools, in just the right light:

Being bored at school is nothing new, and the amount of energy spent on whether it really is a big deal is amazing. I don’t mean that good teaching involves boring the hell out all of your students. But let’s be perfectly honest, a vast majority of high school students want to be somewhere else, and many new teachers are being led to believe that classrooms have to be dens of constant engagement. Engagement is good, but the term "engagement” is often misinterpreted as “edutainment”, the process of entertaining students while trying to impart them with knowledge. New teachers then get wrapped up in complex lessons that can lead to classroom management issues and forget that students need some direct instruction that provides actual information.”

I totally admired my Master Teacher. But the one thing we disagree on is the idea that you can’t lecture. His idea was that lectures led to bored students, no engagement, and then the subject matter doesn’t get moved because students are doodling, texting, or snoozing. I don’t agree. I’ve seen students totally engaged in lessons where the teacher is imparting knowledge through lectures, whether it is personal anecdotes, story-telling, or use of visuals and power points. Students can be riveted to a good speaker, and can be convinced that the term “lecture” isn’t necessarily bad. I use power points all the time, but you need to make the presentations to-the-point, easy to understand, and mix in a little media. Video clip, song clip, a cartoon, a picture. And don’t call it a “lecture”. Call it a seminar or a presentation, and constantly keep kids involved. And remember that you are public speaking and there are good tips for that too. Move around, keep differed eye contact, use different tones in your voice, act out certain parts of presentation……just be the show.

In the end, it is about being “on”. My old principal once made a comment that good teaching was like good theater; you got into character and at the end of the production, you should be damn tired because you were “on” the whole time. There should also be an understanding that teachers will not be able to engage everyone all the time. Students are occasionally bored in class, that is just going to happen. Hell, when Homecoming Week is upon us, everything is more boring than being out in the Tri throwing water balloons. It is ok to be bored sometimes. Those of us that work for a living know that boredom happens and part of character building is dealing with it.

By Jay Mathews  | August 24, 2010; 11:22 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  LA Times teacher assessment series, blogger Coach Brown, boring is not always bad, how to engage students  
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Comments

Let me first start with stating that I didn't had any education in the USA. My origin is Dutch and therefor I had my education in The Netherlands. However I recognize a lot of the issues mentioned in this article.

Take for instance History. It's the most boring class I ever had. If History was brought like TLC or History Channel does, I certainly would have paid a lot more attention.

Well I guess it's okay to be bored in class from time to time, it's not when this starts to looks like a pattern.

I think that up till High School there's a need for a wide range of education. At college or university students should have more elective classes to choose from. That way they can drop the elective classes that that not have their interest. Most schools (at least in The Netherlands) still work in the same way they did 40 years ago. Times have changed, but education didn't evolve with mankind..

A teacher in front of the class just doesn't work anymore. A teacher has to find a pace that suits both slow and fast learners. However High Schools still don't use computers in a good way. Using the computer as the primary means to teach students, the teacher can spend more time helping the students that have a problem. Students can also take the education metrials to home, so parents can help out. Slow students normally drop out because they just can't keep up with the rest and fast students get too bored if the teacher isn't going fast enough.

I, myself am a fast learner. However most of my grades were lousy because I did loose interest very fast and start doing something else. Until my parents put me on another school where each student has its own track I started to get good grades. When I entered High School I learned a more than most students in my class.

Every 6 to 8 weeks I still return to Holland for conferences and to give some presentations. My presentations exists of a lecture with an additional workshop that makes things more real. The interactive workshop makes it easier to understand to theory. I usually get very good critics about my presentations.

Posted by: zyprexia | August 24, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

He doesn't say it's OK for students to be bored in school. He says it's OK for students to get bored in school from time to time. There's a difference.

I agree that not every student is going to be 100% excited 100% of the time, but I disagree that it's OK to bore students consistently.

And students preferring to be someplace else is different from students being bored out of their wits. Even during AP US History, I would have preferred to be elsewhere; however, Functions Statistics and Trigonometry was a special kind of boredom. Teacher droned on and on, and I had already mastered the material (school forced me to take the class). I slept through that class every day, and earned the highest score on the final.

That type of boredom is not OK to subject our kids to, although I'll admit I needed the sleep.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | August 24, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

How to bore 49 percent of your class in a D.C. public school in 2011?

Give all your students in the second year of high school the most interesting book to read for a 10th grader and tell them to each read it silently on their own.

Since the national test for D.C. in 2009 indicated that 49 percent failed on the 8th grade reading test, you will probably have 49 percent of bored students. Very few if any pictures in the book.

Why does Jay Mathews come up with these meaningless articles since the results for D.C. probably represent the norm for the Title 1 poverty public schools?

Oh I forgot, Jay Mathews is the big believe of standardized testing. Too bad he still has not worked out a standardized test, in any other subject besides math, for all the large numbers of students that can not read.

At least Jay Mathews should give us an article from one of his experts that will tell of the design of new standardized tests that do not require the ability to read.

There are large number of students that are bored. They do not have to be engaged with good theatre, they need to learn how to read.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 24, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

FOR JAY MATHEWS WHO APPARENTLY DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEMS OF EDUCATION IN AMERICA.

The Two Real Problems In American Education

1.
Large numbers of children that have great difficulty in learning and will probably never be able to read.

2.
Low enrollment in colleges and universities for the computer sciences, mathematics, engineering, and the sciences.

Problem 1 has been around for years but is now reaching epidemic proportions because of multiple generations of poverty and the lack of employment for those who can not read.

Problem 2 started in 2001 with acceptance of American companies such as Microsoft sending American jobs to cheap foreign labor. Americans have no desire to enroll in these fields any longer since Americans have no desire to spend a great deal of money and four years of study in a field where there are no jobs for Americans.

Problem 2 is probably more important than problem 1 since this causes America to simply accept the loss of the great benefits of these fields in the 21st century by accepting the idea that any job that entails using computer technology in an office or in a lab is not a job for Americans but the jobs for cheap foreign labor.

Americans in 2000 led the world in the computer sciences. Now it is difficult to find any Americans that will enroll in this field at colleges or universities. The Department of Defense now has trouble finding Americans to work on sensitive national security projects involving computer technology because of the shortage of Americans in this field.

THESE ARE THE TWO PROBLEMS FACING AMERICA IN EDUCATION AND THEY WILL NOT BE RESOLVED BY STANDARDIZED TESTING WHICH APPARENTLY IS THE ONLY ANSWER JAY MATHEWS IN THE PAST HAS OFFERED.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 24, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I agree that there's a difference between having students wish they were someplace else and being frequently bored out of their skull. The problem is that schools insist on grouping students together by age rather than place in the curriculum. So a large percentage of the kids are going to be in a class that's at an inappropriate challenge level. Trying to learn material that's either too hard or too easy is boring. But it's a problem that has a simple solution.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | August 24, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

It's one thing is students are bored sometimes or even bored in French class because they want to be chemists. But it's another thing if they are bored because the material or the teacher is boring.

In college a professor (in my major) had a total of 6 students sign up for any of his classes. The administration, apparently stuck with him because of his contract, waited until registration was closed and gave him an evening section of a required class (mostly students who were going part time and could only take evening classes). Almost half the students dropped the class when he announced he was taking it. He spent the term telling us about his family and vacations and giving tests over material he hadn't lectured on. While most of us eventually took an independent course that depended on our own reading, this was a sophomore survey course. He left campus at the end of the term.

The professor he replaced, on the other hand, had a waiting list for her classes despite her reputation as a tough grader. The difference was that she loved her subject, considered teaching the excuse to study it, and lived in hopes of finding a student as enthusiastic as she was. (The joke was that if everyone cut the class some day, she would probably go on lecturing just as enthusiastically.)

But the college students "voted with their feet," while high school students are simply stuck with a problem teacher.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | August 24, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

I agree that there's a difference between having students wish they were someplace else and being frequently bored out of their skull. The problem is that schools insist on grouping students together by age rather than place in the curriculum. So a large percentage of the kids are going to be in a class that's at an inappropriate challenge level. Trying to learn material that's either too hard or too easy is boring. But it's a problem that has a simple solution.

Posted by: CrimsonWife
................................
Yes, there is a simple solution of grouping students in a class based upon their levels but educators and Americans will not accept this idea.

Neither educators or Americans will accept the idea that the process should be about learning and not teaching to the mythical average of the classroom.

It is not surprising that most students simply learn early on to accept being stranded in classrooms and to hate school.

The reality is that these students are not bored, but simply resent being forced to be some place where they are ignored and do not want to be.

The students that understand the material resent the constant repetition of what is known, while the students who do not understand the material resent the constant frustration of not obtaining anything from the repetition.

Things will only get worse with the acceptance of the idea of Mr. Mathews that teachers should be fired based upon test results. Teachers will continuously lower the level in the hope that will aid as many as possible to simply pass the test.

This can only be accomplished by repetition and repetition does not require involvement with students.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 24, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Of course it's OK to be bored in the classroom and seriously...students need to learn how to survive boring classes. Why?

Nowadays politicians like to talk about how they want to increase college enrollment and have more college graduates. And what's happening is we do have more people than ever in colleges. The problem is- what's the graduation rate? Is it getting better or worse?

Teachers in k-12 schools are always expected to be fun and entertaining. Teachers are the ones to blame when students are bored. So a lot of teacher trainings are telling teachers how to 'engage' students and how to 'make lessons fun and interactive'. Nothing wrong with these. But students are so used to 'having fun' in the classroom. Few of them know how to do work independently and how to quietly listen to an important speech.

In college, most professors have never got any teacher training. All they know is lecture. They might try to make their lectures interesting but they are NOT going to move students around and play games in the class. And the kids who never learn how to sit through a two hour lecture will just get lost easily in a college class. Kids who are used to being entertained by teachers will find college boring. They won't be able to focus on a lot of information presented by professors. Then they drop out...they quit...

So it's really OK to feel bored from time to time. I really don't think traditional way of teaching is that bad. You need to learn how to focus and how to motivate yourself instead of expecting other people to make things happen.

Posted by: salukiindc | August 24, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack: switch to decaf, take your pill--whatever it takes to calm the posting rage.

You can be a critic of the blogger without being (Should I say it? Oh no here it comes...) a major annoyance to every other reader.

First, you don't like Jay's ideas or the issues he discusses here, fine. Take my advice: criticize the ideas, but not the man.

Second, try typing out your posts on a word processor, then edit. Start by removing anything IN CAPS. Follow this by removing any sentence with "Jay" or "Mathews" in it (run a 'find' on those terms to locate them in your voluminous ranting).

Please, focus on the issues and ideas. Other frequent respondents on this blog also take issue with standardized testing and how it’s used/misused/abused. At times, everyone who frequents this blog takes issue with something Jay reports; dare I say ‘espouses’. But it’s a place for discussion, not angry bitterness.

I know you're a bit hot right now. However there's no need to reply with fury or accusation.

Ok, I’m going back to prepping for tomorrow’s edu-tainment. Good night.

Posted by: professor70 | August 24, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

I agree with this idea about engagement. I feel we are suddenly supposed to be "engaging" everyone all the time, but sometimes the students need direct instruction and sometimes they will get bored, because learning takes an effort and often we don't feel like making an effort. (I mean the students)
bsallmack-keep posting, you have a good perspective

Posted by: celestun100 | August 24, 2010 11:49 PM | Report abuse


The following are just some random observations only indirectly related to this post, but directly related to education in this country. Just before composing my comments I came across a blog post on espn.com. “morning take: brett favre”. There were 299 comments total, and the post wasn't really even about Favre. Jay's lucky if he get's 100 comments. I then decided to check out some other recent somewhat randomly selected blog posts, and here are some I came up with, and the number of comments they each got: “Elin Nordegen Spotted...Out of the Woods”(31), “Heidi & Spencer -- Busted in Costa Rica!”(207), and “Oksana's Dentist Sticks With Original Story”(913). Jay and Education beat out Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegen but lose out big time to Oksana's Dentist.
At some point in the 50s I saw my first episode of Mr. Wizard. He inspired a sense of wonder and inquisitiveness in me that lasted for quite some time. I begged my parents for a chemistry set, telescope, and other scientific equipment, collected and identified bugs, rocks, etc. My parents use to help me get set up and follow along with his experiments on tv. Of course all that wonder and inquisitiveness were nearly destroyed in my high school science courses – and that was in a moderately affluent suburb with comparatively excellent teachers.
In 1967 at college I got my first chance to use a computer. I had to spend hours preparing a program with data. The computer room was the size of a basketball court and the program took hours to run. Now you can do the same thing on a programmable calculator that will fit in you pocket, in amanner of minutes.
100 years ago life expectancy in the US was about 50. If your ear got cut off you were out of luck. If you had serious heart valve disease you would basically be crippled and in pain until you died. Well, the other night when I was channel surfing I came across a science show documenting growing human heart valves and ears on the backs of mice. It was gross and spooky, but the humans who got those items for transplant were probably quite happy. Life expectancy in the US today is about 80.
Except for the media inserts, the teaching technique Coach Brown is describing is more or less the technique employed by the Sophists prior to the introduction of the Socratic Method of teaching 2400 years ago.
A few years ago I was put in a situation where I thought it was my duty to lecture a 14 year old on an important moral issue. I thought I was in my best lecturing form, pacing around, using dynamic hand motions, and maintaining eye contact at all times. I really thought I was getting through to this kid. He never took his eyes off me and seemed to be absorbing everything I said. All of a sudden he started to giggle and had to cover his mouth with his hand. I stopped my lecture and asked him what he was laughing at, and he answered, “I was just thinking what you'd look like with a Bugs Bunny head.” So much for lecturing as a teaching technique

Posted by: david_r_fry | August 25, 2010 12:48 AM | Report abuse

I disagree that boredom is a part of school. It's part of school because it can't be helped.

A major problem is that the writers of curriculum and textbooks for public school don't understand that textbook and curriculum need to be designed to inspire not only the students, but also the teachers, so they both have a desire to chase the material and seek to understand it more deeply of their own volition. this would save the teacher the time it takes to unfragment the curriculum so that need, sense making, and rigor are combined together. This can never be done in public school because the designers want certainty and they ignore beauty and wonder. Hence, they resort to standardized tests and they call it education. For what purpose, it has never been revealed to me. Because what good does it do when a Title I student or any student for that matter sees the uselessness of a subject only to tell their own children to bear with it because they see no significance or value of it.

Just look at mathematics. Ask them why it's important or why geniuses would chase it so madly and they'd scoff at you or tell you it helps you get into college or find x. I majored in math and not until I left schooling did I become educated in math. I realized it's just a giant structure and game geared towards creation and beauty. For my children, I will never allow public school to destroy that childhood perception and desire, which is innate in all children of all classes. I have seen sparks of that innate curiosity and wonder in all my Title I teaching, but which becomes doused 80% - 90% of the time by the time they've graduated high school.

And unfortunately, teachers cannot overcome the problem of public school. Even the most experienced veteran, except in the rarest cases.

I remember an astronomy teacher who was so passionate about her subject, but could not overcome the problem of materials and curriculum. I felt so badly for her because I sensed her pain even then in high school. God bless her.

And unfortunately, rich people's schools like Phillip Exeter Academy and others like it have the ablility to overcome the problems of public school at little cost, and so it turns into a class struggle.

It's not until the general public seeks to understand what genuine education is and rebels hard against the current system will things change.

Posted by: Playitagainsam | August 25, 2010 2:58 AM | Report abuse

Sure, maybe all students at some time do need direct instruction. However, rarely, if ever, do all students in a classroom need the same direct instruction at the same time. And that's the problem. Students are bored because they're not given the option of getting what they need and moving on, or having something reexplained to them because they just don't get it yet. The factory model of one-size-fits-all education is the problem, and if that's not going to change, then we cannot expect students to change.

Being bored at school should not be expected. Students should be engaged in learning, but they are not going to be engaged by the current structure that we force them into. And if students are not engaged in what a teacher has to offer, then that teacher has not clearly articulated to the students why that offering is vital to the them.

I've never had students who were uninterested in what I wanted to teach them. They understood why learning to read closely and write well were important. The problem comes when it is time to give grades. Students with a satisfactory grade will relax and students who are failing will give up, and the classroom dynamic changes. Why does this happen? Because rewards and punishments decrease motivation and the quality of performance. Again, the structure is the problem.

And now high stakes testing is going to inhibit learning even more. I wish someone could point to any study that demonstrates that giving students grades and tests leads to better learning outcomes. I'm pretty sure such a study does not exist--and, therefore, such a practice should cease to exist unless one can demonstrate its necessity. Testing should only be done as a way to see what other work still needs to be done, not as a way of labeling a kid or stigmatizing them with a grade.

Posted by: thesilverback | August 25, 2010 4:17 AM | Report abuse

Students need not be bored in school nor overwhelmed if teachers were properly trained to individualize their instruction.

That's right. Our schools of education and teacher colleges, at best, go through the motions of training teachers how to customize student learning. It's the eight hundred pound gorilla in the classroom of education reform.

We've had standards reform and a move toward fiscal reform but pedagogical reform is somehow conspicuously absent from the movement.

For a teacher to stand in front of 20-25 students and attempt to meet the instructional needs of all of them with a single lecture/lesson is like a doctor trying to give the same prescription/treatment to every patient for the day despite the variety of their ailments; or an attorney giving the same legal advice to all his/her clients over the course of a week, regardless of their individual needs. If a doctor or an attorney attempted to operate their practice in this manner they'd be out of work by the end of the week.

So why do teachers continue to operate the way they do, with whole class instruction dominating the majority of the day? Well, (1) it's clearly easier, (2) they've never been properly trained to individualize the pace of instruction for each student, (3) this is how they were taught when they were in school, (4) this is the way everyone else around them teaches, (5) they wouldn't get paid any more for individualizing/customizing their instruction; and the list goes on and on.

Bottom line - some students get bored, usually the brighter ones, while the slower learners are often overwhelmed because they never properly mastered what came before in the scope and sequence of that particular discipline.

What's critical for education reform to truly be realized in our schools is for teachers to be trained to customize the pace of instruction for each student. It's common knowledge that all students are different, they show up on the first day of school with different strengths, weaknesses, as well as levels of readiness and motivation. So how can teachers continue to treat their "clients" with a one size fits all mentality? It simply makes no sense.

Think of all the money schools, districts, states, and the feds have spent on education "reform" since A Nation At Risk was published over a quarter century ago. It's all been for naught because schools are still operating their classes the way Oxford University taught their classes back in the twelfth century - whole group.

Not a semblance of change in pedagogy over the past eight to nine centuries? No wonder education and teachers enjoy the negative reputations they've enjoyed for so long as opposed to their counterparts in other professions.

Boring (or overwhelming) students is never going to improve the reputation of the teaching profession and worse, it will never improve the learning of our students. Somehow, somewhere, some day, it's going to have to change.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 25, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Too bad this isn't the good old days. So much of this teachers position is based on how HIS teacher taught. Students have changed since then.

So many of today's teachers think that the way they were taught is the way to teach now.

Wrong.

Just because being bored was fine when they were kids doesn't mean it's okay today. Today's students require ENGAGEMENT. Even older learning theorists, Gagne for example, understood the necessity of gaining and maintaining attention. Boredom does not equal attention.

So, while it was a cute headline -get your head out of the 19th century (yes, the 19th century) and wake up to the needs of today's students and the responsibilities of today's teachers.

Posted by: topwriter | August 25, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

What nobody so far has mentioned as part of the problem is the sheer size of schools and classes in urban and suburban areas these days. For each individual teacher, this leads to the question of who controls the activities in the room. For example, a simple thing like not securely knowing each student's name can be a problem, when huge classes are milling in and out of the classroom each period. If the teacher can say, "Beauregard, it's your turn, then Dillingham next ..." she's okay, but if all she sees is a sea of similar kids in similar clothes, she's lost. Assembly-line systems tend to produce assembly-line, automated teaching. When you see cows in a field, you can begin to get to know them individually; when they're in a feed-lot it's almost impossible.

The teacher-training that I have observed emphasizes empathy and engagement with students, but is pretty weak on classroom control. So the new teacher, filled with ideals, and dreams of connecting with students, is thrown into the feed-lot with little or no idea of how to handle the herd found there.

I agree that the current emphasis on assembly-line, automated tests is another factor that leads to disengagement on the part of the cattle going through the feed-lot. But the structure of the feed-lot itself is largely to blame, I think.

Posted by: penkuhn | August 25, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

What nobody so far has mentioned as part of the problem is the sheer size of schools and classes in urban and suburban areas these days. For each individual teacher, this leads to the question of who controls the activities in the room. For example, a simple thing like not securely knowing each student's name can be a problem, when huge classes are milling in and out of the classroom each period. If the teacher can say, "Beauregard, it's your turn, then Dillingham next ..." she's okay, but if all she sees is a sea of similar kids in similar clothes, she's lost. Assembly-line systems tend to produce assembly-line, automated teaching. When you see cows in a field, you can begin to get to know them individually; when they're in a feed-lot it's almost impossible.

The teacher-training that I have observed emphasizes empathy and engagement with students, but is pretty weak on classroom control. So the new teacher, filled with ideals, and dreams of connecting with students, is thrown into the feed-lot with little or no idea of how to handle the herd found there.

I agree that the current emphasis on assembly-line, automated tests is another factor that leads to disengagement on the part of the cattle going through the feed-lot. But the structure of the feed-lot itself is largely to blame, I think.

Posted by: penkuhn | August 25, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I got fired from Woodrow Wilson Senior High by Michelle Rhee because an Assistant Vice Principal told every student in the school via the PA system that school was boring, I had merely told him that does not make my job easier. So this article really struck a nerve. I have quite a few former students who took my classes and have gone on to study related subjects in college or to pursue professionally. I guarantee every one of those students at one point or another did not want to be in my classroom. Why? The reason is I required diligence and for the students to remain focused and to work hard.

Of course kids want to be somewhere else... watching tv, having sex, playing video games,talking on the phone, smoking pot or doing other drugs. That doesn't mean school is boring. School should be challenging, but parents don't raise their children to either accept nor deal with challenge. If a student does poorly their parents can lobby for a better grade. As a teacher it is easier to change the grade because of pressure from administration and a basic view on how the teacher is performing, because obviously it's the teachers fault.

If students can't sit through and take in a lecture perhaps they should be in more remedial classes, the fact is that is how the real world works. In the real world if you can't sit through a presentation and comprehend what is spoken, you won't have that job long. And in regards to another poster stating "we need to teach each student individually" I agree but tend to think it unrealistic. Your argument that teachers are lazy proves you've never led in a classroom setting. It is not nearly as simple as that. Number 1 is logistics if you have 25 students and roughly an 1 and a half hours per class that allows about 3-4 minutes per student at best. As taxpayers we don't allocate enough money to pay for individualized instruction. Perhaps the students that are falling behind need to put in more effort than the students that aren't. Number 2 is student behavior, if parents did a better job parenting perhaps behavior issues would be reduced and free up the teacher to provide individualized instruction, but based on my experience it is the student that doesn't behave or pay attention that needs the individual instruction. Number 3 is the quality of teacher's being attracted, the fact is the money sucks and money drives demand. This is coming from someone that made significantly more than his or her peers. What about Teach for America? These teachers generally have no grasp of what they are getting into or how to effectively control a classroom. When they do realize, they finish so they get their Masters Degree and get out as soon as possible. They are the teaching equivalent of the deer in headlights.

Personally, I was bored in school when I was a kid/teenager, but that was because the students around me needed individual attention and the pace of learning was too slow. If typos, sorry.

Posted by: jwright7471 | August 25, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack: switch to decaf, take your pill--whatever it takes to calm the posting rage.

First, you don't like Jay's ideas or the issues he discusses here, fine. Take my advice: criticize the ideas, but not the man.

Posted by: professor70
...........................
Apparently professor70 does not feel it is necessary to take the advice that he feels free to give to others.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 25, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I was never bored in school. It was only after high school when my level of tv watching shot up that I began to get bored with a number of things.

Posted by: nuzuw | August 25, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

What fantasy world are some people living in? Every student should be "engaged" all the time no matter what? A teacher should be able to teach material to 25 students at the same time without any single one of them spending a single minute bored or "unengaged"? How?

Boredom is part of life. No matter how much you love your job, you will be bored by parts of it and you'll have to pay attention and retain information anyway. Everyday life also has it's dully, but important parts - managing finances, cleaning house, the mundanities of child rearing - are less than "engaging" at the best of times and deathly dull at others. Learning to pay attention despite being bored by the material or the presentation is an important life skill and we do our children a disservice by pretending otherwise. This doesn't mean that it's OK for teachers to consistently bore our children, or for them to lecture in a monotone for hours on end. But it does mean that we shouldn't indulge in fits of self-righteous indignation because Junior has to endure a few hours a week of lectures or other "unengaging" activities in the classroom.

Posted by: burntnorton | August 25, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Terrific comments here. I am sure Coach Brown will be pleased.

for jwright7471--I would love to tell your story and yr thoughts on this subject in the paper. Please contact me at mathewsj@washpost.com and let me try to talk you into it.

My thanks to professor70. To David Fry, I appreciated the comparisons, but I think we both agree the QUALITY of the comments here are on average far higher than the more popular blogs you cite. I so prefer talking to you guys.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 25, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Good teachers are few and far between, even in the so-called "good" schools. I should know. I've had the very best education available in the USA, and yet I can almost count on one hand the good teachers I've had. And so I spent many many years being bored in school. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Isn't that a shame? All that time and all that money wasted on educational resources that most kids probably just tune out.

Posted by: John991 | August 25, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Good teachers are few and far between, even in the so-called "good" schools. I should know. I've had the very best education available in the USA, and yet I can almost count on one hand the good teachers I've had. And so I spent many many years being bored in school. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Isn't that a shame? All that time and all that money wasted on educational resources that most kids probably just tune out.

Posted by: John991 | August 25, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Some of you bring up very interesting points. However, while we all are interested in preaching the gospel of what education should be, there is the reality of what education is. I'd love to work in a world that has perfectly aligned and individualized education. I'd also love to work in a world where every single kid will be engaged all the time and actually learn something in the process. I'd also like to go to St. Thomas anytime I want, hit a home run at AT&T Park off a Dodgers pitcher, and slap LeBron James in the face for his shameful summertime antics. Yeah, that'll happen real soon.
As much as we want to say that teachers "love to hear themselves talk", or that kids need to be engaged in finding answers all the time, the reality is that kids sometimes need to be told/shown/drilled into understanding some information, especially in a room of 35 diverse students. And there is nothing wrong with that because it is "how" you present that is more important than the term "lecture".

Posted by: CoachBrown | August 25, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Being bored and having to do boring things when we'd rather be doing something like, like lying on the beach, is a fact of life.

I imagine that the President who has what I imagine to be a pretty good job, has times when he's bored. I'm pretty sure Bush was and I'll bet Obama is also.

Grown-ups are expected to behave during these times and even to do stuff they think is stupid and a waste of their time without excessive disruption. Sometimes a bored person who isn't being angry that they're subject to this idiocy will discover something they didn't know before or happen onto an activity that interests them.

A parent does their children no service by letting them think that the school is at fault if the school day is sometimes boring.

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Posted by: shoestrade23 | August 25, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

"Grown-ups are expected to behave during these times and even to do stuff they think is stupid and a waste of their time without excessive disruption."

------------------

Anyone who acts in this way is a mere automaton and not a human being, someone who is an employee and a mere cog and not a free-thinking, independent person. Unfortunately, someone who thinks this way does not believe that providing for oneself or one's family is not boring and does seem to have bought into the rhetoric of the corporate economy in which the majority of people are supposed to provide great riches to a small minority of the supposedly deserving.

Posted by: thesilverback | August 26, 2010 3:04 AM | Report abuse

First the author tells us not to focus on "edutainment", and then he states, "My old principal once made a comment that good teaching was like good theater"....uuuuhhhh, isn't that exactly the "edutainment" he just railed against?
I prefer to use entertaining lecturing, but I also involve the kinesthetic learners (most adolescent boys are these) by have reinforcing activities every 20 minutes or so. My students do very well and often comment that my class is the "only" one they learn in...It's about engagement, whether it's edutainment or not. Don't shut off one possible vector into a child's mind.

Posted by: roguewarrior100 | August 26, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but too much of the blame is placed on teachers in k-12 classrooms. In my opinion, if a student is bored, it is not the fault of the teacher but the lack of motivation by the student.

Posted by: dontheking | August 26, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I loved reading Coach Brown's perspective about being exhausted after lecturing to classes because we should always be "on" during instruction. That should make us tired, he says.

Having retired from public education 4 years ago, I agreed to teach a mass communications class this fall at the local community college. Knowing that I use direct instruction but that I also include some activities along the way, I wondered how I would fare with the younger students.

That is, I had learned long ago that if I were bored for a consistent time period with what I was doing as a teacher, my students were equally bored, so I've always been on my feet, moving around and asking questions the whole period.

As I walked to my vehicle today, I thought, "Wow, teaching this class is exhilarating, but I'm exhausted!" Then I thought, "Maybe it's because I'm 70 years old."

Then I read Coach Brown's words and remembered that I was always tired after a really good day of teaching middle school or high school students. And that was when I was 30.

Thanks for this column and these insightful, plain-spoken (and truthful) words of Coach Brown.


Posted by: nikihayes | August 26, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Coach Brown,

You can have it all if you individualize the instruction for your class. And trust me, at the end of the day you'll be pooped.

I taught a traditional classroom (elem) for one year and came to the conclusion it was not the best way to operate - for numerous reasons. For the next 33 years I taught (Massachusetts) an individualized classroom where I customized the pace of instruction for each kid in each subject. More work? Absolutely. More satisfying? No question about it. It was nice to know each kid was where they were supposed to be every day; not bored because they already knew what I was trying to get them to learn and not overwhelmed because they were where they were because they had mastered the material that had come before.

Pooped at the end of the day? Without a doubt. Doable? I thought it was.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 26, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

I've been teaching English in CA since 1981, first to seventh and eighth graders and now to ninth and tenth graders. When I began my career no one taught us how to teach. Today I am told that I must engage my students. But no one is showing me how to do that. I have to teach an average of 32 students in a 50 minute period. How do I individualize for this group? Phoss1 can you help me? Tell me, what grade were you teaching? I really do admire elementary teachers. I can't imagine how someone even begins to teach a child how to read. On the other hand if a teacher is working with an eight year old who is not on level with his peers it is not such a great leap to catch him up. Not that the task isn't challenging. But it's a small leap for someone to gain two years in reading (especially if they are young)compared to making up a deficit of 6 or 7 years. My students are supposed to be average (as opposed to advanced.) Their reading levels range from grade 2 to a few above grade 12. Pity the child who reads far below grade level. Not only does he have to read in my class but he also has to read text books from his other classes. Is it no wonder that this child hates school? Does it surprise you when this child has behavior problems? Who must assume the burden of bringing this child up to grade level in reading and writing? "The English teacher." Can you see where I have a huge challenge getting my students to read and understand Romeo and Juliet? Or a novel like Animal Farm?
California adopted English standards in 1997.
55 pages of them. I am supposed to teach my ninth graders 108 of them - to mastery I suppose. That's not totally clear. The elementary schools in my district adopted a standards based report card. At high school we still give grades. How else will they get accepted into college if we don't? Standards are a good thing - but teaching 108 standards in 179 days? Get real. If students met the standards in elementary school why do I have students who can't read or write at an eighth grade level when they enter ninth grade?
Learning takes place when 1. The teacher knows and loves her subject matter. 2. The student has either a strong interest in the subject or knows he has to learn the material whether he likes it or not. 3. The parent supports the child in learning in whatever way he can. 4. The child takes the responsibility to learn. 5. There is mutual respect between the parent-teacher, teacher-student, administrator-teacher. 6. Expectations are high and students make every effort to meet them. 7. The school has the necessary materials & staff to meet its needs. (In CA we have been reduced to bare bones.)**8. The basic needs of the child have been met. (Not in any particular order.)One last comment: Everyone thinks they know how to fix education because they've been to school. That's like saying I know how to fix your car because I drive a car. Educational reform is needed but there will never be one way to educate everyone.

Posted by: SFRSanDiego | August 28, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

SFRSanDiego,


Go to: www.coreknowledge.org; click on "stay connected;" click on "our blog;" scroll down to "archives;" navigate to December, 2009. The third article down is entitled "Individualized Instruction."

As for sophomores in high school reading at a second or third grade level, you need them to find something that's of interest to them -anything. Whether it's sports, Harry Potter, comic books, anything. They're going to have to do a great deal of reading outside of school. Tell them you'll be willing to help in whatever manner possible. It will not be easy and the student will have to want to do it, to improve themselves.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 29, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

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