Boredom is not a problem that came into existence only because of coronavirus and the stay-at-home order. Boredom in school is a well-known educational problem. I contend that boredom is also one of the reasons that reading scores were worse in 2019. Yes, boredom.
So, if we are sending students back to school for in-class instruction to counteract boredom, we are making a huge mistake.
Another study surveyed 110 schools and found that 2 out of every 3 students claimed to be bored in class. They also cited lack of interaction with the teacher as the reason for their boredom.
Students are bored. Why?
Amanda Morin, a former teacher who now works as a parent advocate, gives the following reasons for boredom in the schools:
Lack of challenge—It is common for gifted students to feel bored in a traditional classroom because they are not being encouraged to work to the best of their ability.
Lack of interaction or connectedness--Remember, in one of the studies that we mentioned earlier, one of the reasons that students listed for their boredom in the classroom was lack of interaction, especially with the teacher. When we rely on worksheets as our primary teaching method, boredom results. If we turn to lecture, boredom results. It should also be noted that worksheets and lecture are considered to be two of the worst teaching methods presently being used in any school classroom.
Read more: Worksheets Contribute to Academic Failure
Lack of skills—Students often say, “I’m bored” when they do not know how to work a problem or read a story. If you have weak teaching methods in the classroom and parents are not able to help at home, where should students turn for help?
Lack of incentives or motivation—Rewards or prizes are not the same as motivation. If you offer a bowl of candy for completing a worksheet, it’s a bribe—not motivation. We’ll talk more about intrinsic motivation and the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in a later blog.
Read more about Intrinsic Motivation in Chapter 6 in my book Group-Centered Prevention in Mental Health: Theory, Training, and Practice. The publisher enables you to select and read just the one chapter if desired.
Did you notice that each of the reasons or causes for boredom resulted from something lacking in the teaching method used in the classroom? Yes, boredom is a problem for gifted students as well as students who are failing.
Is boredom harmful?
No, as a psychologist, I can assure you that boredom by itself does not cause any mental concerns. It is when boredom couples with anxiety that mental health problems arise. It is anxiety that can lead to depression, not boredom.
Boredom is a state of mind. As Dr. Alex Lichterman M. D., primary care physician and former professor of medicine, stated:
“There are two important things to note about boredom. First, if something bores us, it’s not because that something is intrinsically uninteresting. Nothing is intrinsically uninteresting…. even without significant external stimulation, internal stimulation can serve as an effective substitute. That is, there definitely exists a mindset in which all experience becomes interesting. Second, what essentially makes an activity boring is our inability to see a purpose in it.”
Gail Macklem, certified school psychologist, builds upon this idea by stating that it is the environment that causes boredom. If your classroom environment is not conducive to learning, then students are bored and do not learn.
I create an environment that encourages children to write stories—both fiction and non-fiction. I make it a comfortable fun place to sit and write. Then, I add a notebook with instructions and story starters. Often, I will start a story and have students write an ending to the story. This teaches reading, comprehension, and application through writing a story ending. Children who work in an environment like this are unlikely to get bored.
“Children do not learn to read by memorizing a word list. Most children especially those who struggle in reading, do not learn to read by memorizing phonics rules.” (p.78)
Why do students get bored?
Boredom is a negative feeling that occurs when we are not able to successfully master a problem or match our thoughts and feelings to what is required in our learning environment. Our feelings are negative because our attempts to engage in a particular activity are unsatisfying; we can’t complete the task. We are so focused on our feelings of failure that we thereby lose interest and blame our failure on the task or the environment in which we are working or studying. We say that we are bored instead of saying, “I need help,” or “I can’t read the story.” No one wants to admit failure, no one objects to saying, “I’m bored.”
You might be saying, so students are bored at school; they’re also bored at home, so what. The reason boredom is critical is that it is linked to academic failure. Therefore, boredom is a primary concern that all teachers, parents, and administrators should be seeking an answer to this fall. Boredom is also a problem that can be solved.
No, just sending students back to school will not solve the problem of boredom. It also will not change the fact that reading scores were worse in 2019 than in 2017. We have a major problem in our schools. Our educational system and the teaching methods being used in the schools are failures. Schools were failing before the pandemic. No, I do not think online education is better than in-class learning, but just sending students back to school will not solve the problems of our educational system. Schools need to make major changes because boredom can cause students to fail.
Art Markman, Ph. D., a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas, states that:
“Boredom often occurs when you have little control over your situation…. Boredom happens when you are unable to change the situation…. negative feelings can actually impair later performance. Stress can decrease people’s ability to pay attention and can narrow peoples working memory capacity. These effects can be a particular problem in school settings. Students need to be able to work at peak capacity to get the most out of school.”
When we combine boredom and the stress of failure together, now, we have a mental health problem. Then, when you add the trauma of returning students to a school surrounded by the fear of coronavirus, you have a formula for disaster.
How are teachers or students to work at “peak capacity” when they are terrified of getting sick with coronavirus while attending school?
The battle between whether students should be enrolled in in-school classes or online classes continues. We all want schools to reopen when it is safe, but schools shouldn’t reopen just to appease politicians.
“While some US officials – including the president – have downplayed the risk coronavirus positions on children, the new CDC guidance notes children can develop severe illness and complications…. The rate of hospitalizations among children is increasing…one in three children is admitted to intensive care…. In the US, more than 5.3 million people have been infected with the virus and at least 168,446 have died….”
Coronavirus is real. It is not a hoax. Children are not immune. President Trump and the Secretary of Education’s claim that children are safe is false.
Dr. Sean O’Leary stated that “it’s not fair to say that this virus is completely benign in children.... We’ve had 90 deaths in children in the US already, in just a few months.”
Read more: Should Schools Reopen in the Fall?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association have stated that Covid-19 cases have risen 90% with children in the past four weeks.
Some schools did return to in-school classes this past week, and many have already had to close back down. In Georgia, after a school opened, 21 cases were reported in the first week. More than 2000 students, teachers, and staff from five different states had to be quarantined from in-class sessions after approximately 230 new positive coronavirus cases in their school.
The National Coalition for Public School Options, a national school choice advocacy group has stated that:
“Nearly 70% of parents are concerned about sending their child back to a brick-and-mortar school this fall….”
As one parent went on to explain:
“There is absolutely no way that I will be sending my child to school until there is a proven vaccine for COVID-19. There is no way I would ever put my child in danger like that when it can most definitely be avoided…. Schools are a cesspool of germs, bacteria, viruses and illness. Too many parents send their kids to school when sick. He will be home with me."
Of course, some parents do not have the option to stay home with their children. Essential workers are looking to the schools for help.
How can there be so many different opinions about coronavirus?
Mark Whitmore, a professor at Kent State University, explained in an interview why people interpret the dangers of the coronavirus differently.
“Denial is a way for people to defend themselves against anxiety. When they’re in periods where there’s a lot of anxiety and it’s perceived as a threat, then people develop strategies to protect themselves….one of these is simply to deny whatever the threatening source is exist. In this case, you would simply say, ‘Well the epidemic is a hoax. It doesn’t really exist….’ Denial sometimes gets confused with rationalization, which is when people try to explain away or diminish the threat of the source of anxiety. When people say, ‘Covid- 19 is just another flu,’ they’re admitting that it exist, but they’re minimizing it and saying it’s not as severe as everybody is saying…. Whether you react to situations with stress and anxiety or you react more positively by figuring out how to deal…has to do with your sense of control…. For some, that’s creating a myth about the pandemic or simply seeking out information that will reinforce their viewpoint that it’s not really as severe as people are saying…. Both denial and rationalization are considered to be maladaptive…. In the case of the pandemic, you could become ill because if you’re in denial, you’re rationalizing the severity of the situation. Then you probably won’t take the proper necessary precautions to protect yourself.”
Even if we set safety aside, we must remember that merely sending students back to school will not guarantee that students learn.
If children stay home and work online, there is a strong possibility they will be bored, unless schools provide curriculum that is challenging and appropriate. Most students did not see such curriculum in the spring. Will curriculum improve this fall, it remains to be seen?
If children and teachers return to in-class instruction, that will not prevent boredom either. In-class instruction will also add stress, anxiety, and even the possibility of trauma because of the fear caused by coronavirus.
While boredom does not cause mental disorders, trauma can.
By forcing children and students to return to school under the threat and fear of coronavirus, political officials are creating an environment that is right for trauma. Trauma is a deeply disturbing or distressing experience. Children, teenagers, and adults experience trauma differently. Yuval Neria, Ph. D., professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and Director of Trauma and PTSD at New York State Psychiatric Institute, says that trauma “… involves a risk to your physical safety or [well-being].”
The possibility of contacting and dying from coronavirus certainly qualifies as a traumatic experience that involves risk to a student or teacher’s physical safety or well-being. There is also the guilt or shame for those who fear they may have passed on coronavirus to a teacher or fellow student. If that teacher or student dies, the trauma and guilt may become a lifelong “terrible event.” Death is often a difficult experience for anyone to cope with, but if a child, teenager, or teacher feels that they caused the death of another, then the “death experience” can become a very serious psychological problem that may take years to overcome, if ever.
In light of trauma and death, boredom seems rather minor.
Is the risk of death and lifelong trauma really worth a political election? Exactly what are people saying by demanding that children and teachers return to school in the middle of a devastating coronavirus pandemic?