Eight Observations about Boredom in the Classroom

My child is bored!

Several years ago, I got into a classroom tangle with one of my 8th grade percussionists. I won’t share the details, but take my word that what he did and said was egregiously defiant, disrespectful to other students–and very public. I called him out for his unacceptable behavior–also in public–and sent him to the office to cool down, something I did fewer than a dozen times in 30 years of classroom practice. Later, I met with him in the office, privately, and we settled on what would happen next. He went on to his next class.

Then I called his mother, who was a high-profile person in our small community, just to let her hear what happened and what the outcomes were. She was appreciative of the call and expressed agreement with my actions. And then she said: Maybe this is my fault for not pulling him out of the band. Lately, he’s been so bored in your class.

I was floored. While this boy may have been a star in some of his classes, he was a middle-of-the-pack performer in the drum section. He was also smart enough to know the music I was dishing off to him was at his challenge level. We were preparing for several fun performances, and he had some key parts to play.

So–why complain to your mom about being bored? What’s that about? How should parents and teachers interpret and deal with charges of being bored in the classroom? Here are eight of my experience-honed, overlapping ideas about student “boredom:”

  • Boredom is never an excuse for bad behavior. Being bored doesn’t get you off the hook for rudeness or worse. If you’re bored, see it as an opportunity to figure out why. In addition, bear in mind that many excellent life habits are established through repetition and plodding along.
  • Boredom should not be immediately equated with “dumbed down” curriculum and instruction. Applied learning happens in peaks and valleys. Practicing almost anything can feel boring, at times. It’s not “too easy” if it’s not yet automatic. Practice at a lower level–solving single-variable equations, reading a young adult novel, singing with a less-experienced choir, playing soccer with younger players–can also be very pleasurable. As a music teacher, I tried to have music in the folder that was over my students’ heads as well as rip-through-it simple.
  • Buying into kids’ boredom as valid reason for disconnecting or misbehaving corresponds to another fallacy: the idea that “good” teachers should make every lesson novel and entertaining to kids. True, there is a strong acting/entertainment factor in dynamic teaching. Great teaching should inspire learning through more than attention-grabbing, however. Reminder: the person who does the–hard, and occasionally monotonous–work of learning is the student. It doesn’t matter how many white-lab-coat chemical explosions they witness, or if their fifth grade teacher dresses up like Amelia Earhart–there is no learning without diligent effort on the part of the child.
  • Boredom is not a sign of giftedness. I once honked off a few hundred parents (and teachers) in the Gifted/Talented community by suggesting that if their children were truly gifted they’d be finding ways to amuse themselves in so-called boring classes. (I also suggested some of these might be less than desirable, given personal experience with very bright kids who love to keep things lively.) Boredom and giftedness are two separate things. I do support challenging curriculum and instruction for very capable students–but not because they’re bored.
  • “Boredom” should not be used as reason to assert that kids should never have to wait for other children to catch up. Children consistently learning at the wrong level (both too low and too high) will be vulnerable to disengagement, of course. But having to wait until the class has solidified a concept before moving ahead is not a crisis. Cliched but true–education is a journey, not a race. Sometimes, you’re leading the pack. Other times, you aren’t. There are benefits to learning in a cooperative group, the primary one being developing the skill of acceptance and appreciation for the viewpoints and capabilities of other human beings.
  • Boredom is merely lack of engagement, a two-way street in terms of responsibility. Are there boring classrooms? Yes. There are boring drills, boring lectures, boring warm-ups–and any number of boring instructional strategies (i.e., worked examples in mathematics) that yield some learning benefits. Daily practice of musical scales isn’t much fun, but it’s an enormously effective technique-builder. Brushing your teeth is boring, too, but that doesn’t mean you should stop.
  • Boredom can be cured–by students. I think the most useful thing parents, teachers (and students) can do to prevent genuine boredom is devise individual strategies to extend learning– read a different book, tackle a more challenging solo, ask for harder problems or other enrichments. Anyone who’s ever leafed through a well-used textbook knows that some kids know how to doodle their way to amusement. Tell your kids to own their boredom and fix it.

My cocky 8th grade student calmed down and finished the year–as do most kids who make a big deal about how bored they are. We should teach students that boredom, like any problem, can be your friend. Right?


  1. This! Yes, to all of it! I teach the youngest learners and my take is I’m bored because I can’t do what I want. Parents take is usually I’m not challenging them. As a parent of children with special needs, it can be a cry for help that I don’t get it or understand so I shut down. Such a complex word boredom.



  2. My talent as an artist was recognized and encouraged as early as age 6 which I attribute to my success as an art teacher. I also spent hours playing imaginatively in woods around my house and hanging out with friends I, to this day, considered more intelligent than me. Once I matured a little bit, I really enjoyed school and learned that boring classes were just part of the deal. As my tenure in education advanced, I tried to find students’ interests and coupled them with my academic expectations. The students who had success tended to have experiences beyond the school house that inspired inquiry that often translated into success at school. I think your encounter with that parent says more about her challenges with her son than his interest in your class. Maybe he was bored at home.



  3. Wonderful, as always, Nancy. And so relevant! One of the things I struggled with is the realization that my generation – I’m now 50 – began to experience what current students live. They often have complete control over the content they consume, the media to which they are exposed, from a very early age. But they could not do that with a teacher in bring l front of them. So they often felt bored. I wrestled with this while working at the now defunct (sadly – long story) The Early College at Lansing Community College while teaching English to high school juniors and preparing them for college writing. However, I did not see it as my role to entertain them. I believed it was important to teach them to be resilient, to develop a sort of academic endurance that many of them did not have. Were there laughs and surprises? Sure. High interest readings at times? Absolutely. But there were also times to work. Multiple drafts of essays of which they grew tired. Terms that didn’t seem relevant at first introduction. And as you explain, days when they might have been ahead of others, waiting for others to catch on. I thank you for this. Made my day today!



  4. Fascinating topic that gets little oxygen.

    Reasons for Boredom in the Classroom:
    Topic/task too easy
    Topic/task too repetitive
    Topic/task too predictable
    Topic/task uninteresting/unwanted
    Topic/task deprives/denies personal desires
    Presentation uninteresting, too slow, or too repetitive
    Too much idle time; nothing to do (No task)

    Minimizing Boredom in the Classroom

    Establish Flow:
    Flow is a state of total immersion in a task that is challenging yet closely matched to one’s abilities, akin to “being in the zone.” Flow occurs when a person’s skills match the level of challenge presented and when a task includes clear goals and immediate feedback.

    Provide Novelty:
    Some individuals are *more likely to be bored than others. Students with a strong need for novelty, excitement, and variety are at risk of boredom. Teaching new topics or presenting old topics in new and exciting ways can mitigate the feeling of boredom in those (usually extroverts) who are prone to the feeling.

    Provide Boredom Breaks
    Humor/subjected related jokes, stories, or offbeat presentations can help when certain topics or tasks are unavoidably boring.

    Develop Student Curiosity:
    Model it
    Teach beyond the textbook
    Distill content and emphasize what really matters and why

    *Understanding Boredom Proneness in Students:
    Short attention spans
    Lack of curiosity



    1. Pretty much covers it. Except for the irritation of teachers who have a clear idea of what the class knows/can do, and doesn’t think it will hurt Jason to spend another class period practicing something he thinks he can already do.



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