This blog will be boring. Don’t read it.

I say something like this at the start of many of my classes. I’m being facetious, obviously, but I say, “I wouldn’t be surprised if half of what you do in your classes doesn’t even begin to spark your interest. You’re probably bored already, right now, wondering when I’ll stop talking and let you leave early since it’s the first day. Sorry. I won’t. So here you are. You have to do it and you have to do it well.”

Boredom may be the most crippling difficulty our students face when they’re sitting in our classes. Their eyes are open and we think they can hear us, but their minds drift off as if our words themselves were wearing elbow patches and tweed.

Sometimes, if I get enough students saying, “I didn’t do the reading because it was boring,” I’ll steal a page from the Sugie Goen-Salter playbook and toss out my lesson for the day. I write the word on the board, BOREDOM, and ask, “What is this?” Soon we start populating the wall with other words – too long, I don’t relate, hard vocab, can’t understand, and so on until it turns out the word boring actually starts to mean “difficult.” Which is important because difficulty, unlike boredom, can inspire us with opportunities to learn; we can locate the exact challenge and then apply the necessary reading and writing strategies to overcome.

I do this plenty in my own life. I’ve sometimes wondered why others can find something fascinating that I find tedious (and vice-versa). At the risk of angering everyone, let’s take spectator sports. Total boredom for me, mostly because I don’t relate; I never played them. But I have so many friends and family who will froth at the mouth with enthusiasm over football this weekend, that starting somewhere on Friday evening I’ll actually begin a process for getting myself interested just so I’m not completely antisocial at the superbowl party. And it’s not impossible – it turns out that after only a little effort I can find features of the game and culture that can fascinate me. (I’ve even done this with golf… yeah. Pretty wild).

And I suspect this may be the case with all things. Someone, somewhere finds even the most monotonous to be thrilling and I wonder what it is that intrigues them. Is there a way to strategically recreate that interest for ourselves so that we can also appreciate the wonder in what we once found dull. As educators you all know what I’m talking about – it’s the way we learn how to learn, and this is often what our most disinterested students need in our classes. They need an access point to figure out why all of this knowledge and information can be so fascinating for the learner. Then studying is less of a chore and more a delight.

“If you could trick yourself into finding everything interesting, you’d never have to be bored again.”


One thought on “Boredom

  1. Yes! This is something we need to teach our students (right alongside ourselves). Our world provides such constant stimulation that sitting in a class listening to even a few minutes of lecture is, yes, boring. Where is the entertainment? Why aren’t there more videos? How can I keep from texting my friends about how bored I am?
    Where do we find the middle ground between changing all that we do to compete with explosions and sex, and telling students that they had better sit still and listen because this is what they should be doing? Teaching how to learn, how to find the parts that can relate to students lives, how to even learn despite difficulty- these are the important tools that we give to our students alongside grammar, quadratic equations, or the date of the Magna Carta.
    p.s. Baseball season is right around the corner, so let me know when you want to find the enjoyment in eight men standing around waiting for one man to throw a ball at another one, who will hopefully miss hitting it. (-:


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