How to Deal With Indifference

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Our Most
Difficult
Responsibility

Without reservation, there is one particular student who “drives teachers up a wall.” That student is the one who is indifferent. This student’s characteristics are easily defined: He or she simply doesn’t care.

These students may be docile or belligerent, quiet or loud, capable or slow learners, but their overriding similarity is that they are not interested in anything that is happening in the classroom nor are they concerned about what is happening to them as a result of this disassociation. Although these students may not affect classmates, this “I don’t care” attitude almost always affects teachers. It arouses emotions ranging from helplessness to anger.

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Don’t
abandon
standard procedures

Even though kindness, patience, and understanding may be a strain, they must be extended to the indifferent student. This is a professional responsibility. Too, regardless of the number of times of rejection, teachers must constantly present the indifferent student with opportunities for involvement and search for areas of possible interest. Involvement and interest are two components necessary to turn these students into productive classroom members. Never forget, a teacher void in these areas will result in a teacher-student relationship that will discourage rather than encourage change.

Without doubt, the teacher who reverts to ridicule or sarcasm has made a mistake that will compound the problem. Not only will any possible progress be thwarted, but a negative effect on other students is also likely to emerge. Remember, a teacher’s relationship with one student affects his or her relationships with all students. Regardless of how much trouble one student causes you, care must be taken not to allow the indifferent student to destroy your relationship with others or your position as the classroom teacher. Other students identify and relate to you, both as a teacher and as a human being, by how you treat people. If you become irate with certain students, then there is no reason for them to believe you don’t have the potential to do so with them.

A
primary
recognition

There are two important facts that teachers must accept in helping the indifferent student—and keep their balance in the process. First, the teacher is the professional and must be the first to recognize the indifference. In recognition, the teacher must determine if a student’s indifference is only school-related. This is significant in both teacher approach and treatment. Second, the student must recognize the problem. Never forget, indifference is a problem that must be recognized by both teacher and student—and a desire to change must be effected or the indifference will continue. A teacher’s responsibility is to try continually to help these students arrive at this awareness. If teachers reject this student by word or deed then, in reality, all is lost. Realistically, teacher attitude can best be demonstrated by accepting responsibility and refusing rejection.

Confronting is not the course of action a teacher should take—and it is often the teacher’s reaction towards these students that causes crises. Remember, this student truly doesn’t care. This is sad. It is not an attitude that should stir anger or hostility. Rather, it should arouse concern and empathetic understanding. Here is a student who needs a teacher—badly. Teachers must view this student professionally rather than personally, or they might think the indifference is aimed at them. It is not. It is self-directed.

It is my personal belief that teacher persistence coupled with a “hang on and buy time” attitude will prove beneficial in the long run. Let me explain. Time and situations and conditions change, and at some point, most of those who are indifferent move in healthier directions. We must be sure that we do nothing which will prolong this attitude or make changes more difficult or impossible for them to effect.

Experience has taught the Master Teacher that at some point the vast majority of students shed their indifference. Looking at many of our former students proves this to be true.

I can’t help but remember a junior high school girl named Linda. Her indifference made teachers furious. She projected it in attitude and behavior and even dress. It was during one of several case conferences when teachers were urging suspension that they reversed their course and decided not to “throw in the towel.” In fact, they vowed that although Linda may have quit on herself, she would never have the opportunity to say that her teachers quit on her. They told Linda this in a subsequent conference.

To this day, I do not know when the indifference began to fade. But within two years she was an honor-roll student. This potential dropout finished high school and now owns and operates her own business. An amazing story? No, a quick look at your former students will probably reveal many similar stories. In fact, a look at your former indifferent students will probably reveal many more successes than failures. The problem with the indifferent student is just as much our attitude toward their indifference as it is their indifference. Being human, we are affected when someone shows complete indifference to everything we do. Yet, if we can endure this indifference, if we can force ourselves to “hang on and buy time”—then success remains a possibility. If not, then we have shown an indifference toward the indifferent, and their disinterest can be prolonged—or even remain final. Most certainly, many students quit on themselves. Yet, I think it significant if we, as professional educators, can say we have never quit on one of them.

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