What keeps me awake at night - My duty to care even if they couldn't care less

22nd November 2013 at 00:00

Swearing, fighting, sulking ... I think I can deal with most of these teenage behavioural traits. It's the apathetic students who frustrate me.

There is no easy fix for a nonchalant attitude. Overcoming students' anger over assessments and vocal complaints about poetry analysis is a walk in the park in comparison. How can I get through to students whose defiance is shrugging and eye-rolling? There is no anger to turn into passion or depression to spill into layers of meaning. These are the students who just don't care.

Behaviour management courses prepare you for the chair-throwing and escalating tantrums of difficult children. And the special educational needs coordinator leads courses on assisting those with dyslexia and autism. However, there is no support for this small but intrusive group.

I have tried many strategies - including appealing to their interests, one-to-one attention and not caring back - all to no avail. Sometimes they snap out of it and realise that a good grade in English will help them in the future, but there are still some I can't get through to. I want to take them in a time machine and show them the life they could have if they just applied themselves or cared.

I understand that some students have such dire home circumstances that school is low on their list of priorities. Maybe there are ones I just can't "save".

This is not me being naive. I knew that being a teacher would be hard. And I always wanted to be the one to make a difference and support the most difficult or least able as much as push the gifted and talented. I was aware that the latter would probably prove more successful than the former. Yet expecting the situation makes it no less soul-destroying.

In some respects, I feel I am failing. Failing myself and failing these young people. My deputy headteacher told me that my efforts should be focused on the students who want or need the support. They deserve my attention: my desire for them to do well and sleepless nights thinking of ways to stretch them further. But the uninterested will always have a place in my teaching, because I really feel it is our job to engage them - no matter if some view it as a pointless exercise and no matter if I am constantly met with a lack of response from those I am trying to help.

The writer is a teacher in the South of England.

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