Refuse to be Bored

I don’t have many rules in my classroom, but the most important one is “Refuse to be bored.”

So when I say, on the first day of term, that the first rule is to refuse to be bored, students are surprised. For one thing, most adults going back to upgrade their skills expect to be bored. Their experience of school is one of large stretches of boredom, accompanied by more or less anxiety, and interspersed with flashes of panic. Why would my class be any different?

This rule challenges their expectations. Always a good thing on the first day.

I go on, “When you’re bored, I get bored. I hate to be bored, and when I’m bored, I get crabby. So as soon as you’re bored, your job is to say so. Your job is to refuse to be bored.”

And then I wait. If I’m lucky, it will happen very soon. Someone will test the rule (and me). “Oh, this is boring. I’m so bored…”

Secretly gleeful, I try to keep a straight face. “Well, thanks for saying you’re bored. That’s exactly what I need to hear. Let’s figure out how it’s boring, so I can find something else to do.”

Then we get to have a brief conversation about what’s boring. Too easy?? That’s boring after about 30 seconds. Let’s move on to the next step. Too frustrating?? I can tolerate total frustration for about 90 seconds. Let me think of another way to teach it. Not connected to anything real?? Let’s leave it and find another way to work that is better connected.

Notice I don’t say “Why are you bored?” which implies that there may be something wrong with the student.

Instead, we focus on the activity at hand. What is the matter with it? Why is it not meeting our needs and desires at the moment?

This focus on the activity puts me and student both on the same side. We are the teaching team, trying to find a strategy that will result in learning. The student is assessing the activity, rather than being assessed by it.

But mostly this rule works because it is cool to tell the teacher that the work is boring. And much easier to say “I’m bored,” than to admit “I’m confused,” or “I feel stupid.”

Comments on this post inspired me to write more: Refuse to Be Bored: (A second look). 

16 thoughts on “Refuse to be Bored

  1. I enjoyed reading about your one rule of not being bored. As an educator you cannot always tell when to change it up. Involving the students is a good way to keep the class interesting

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  7. Hi Kate,

    I’ve shared this with my colleagues in adult literacy. I love your approach and like that you put the onus on both the student and the instructor. By giving the student a voice, it is then in the instructor’s ball court to find another approach, topic, etc for the consumer (the student). I appreciate your thoughtfulness with students! You Rock!

  8. I love this Kate – I find it such a creative way of opening up discussion about what is and isn’t working for any student – and such a wonderful way of being allies together to make it better. But i worry that if i was actually working with a group of students i might not do it – or not do it well – i fear i might get defensive – instead of being delighted to re-think my class, i fear I’d be so busy trying to avoid being defensive – wasn’t it a wonderful class, hadn’t i spent hours preparing it etc. etc. – that I’d not speak it very well – might blurt out “why are you bored?” instead of catching that vital shift….

    I look forward to reading much more as you spell out your wonderful teaching strategies for all to see clearly – I will forward your site to folks as i think many will love the jolt to old thinking – and the originality of your ideas – they always seem to be such excellent ways to respond to all students – but especially those who have experienced violence and struggle to believe in themselves (ourselves) as learners and have such challenges to stay present in the classroom…

  9. Very brave! – A teacher who is confident they can switch gears if they need to. Or, maybe, being honest in the moment and realizing you need to set it aside for later- gives you confidence because you and the student are really communicating so that takes some pressure off- you haven’t lost them! Well you can see i love the post – so many other thoughts follow on yours! Thanks

  10. Hi Kate, great post. I like your strategy here, a great way to empower your learners and get them involved in their learning. I’m going to give this a go!
    Look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Yes please–I know a little about the literacy and community work that goes on in the Downtown East Side–I’d be honoured.
      And in general, I’m happy to have anyone send a link to my site to anyone who would be interested.

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