Encouragement, rewards, punishment, and motivational speeches: nothing worked. It seemed that not doing an assignment was the “in” thing to do. Students’ flippant attitude when announcing, “I didn’t do my homework,” would make teachers’ blood boil. As the principal, I would be called in out of frustration to deliver an ultimatum, “If you don’t do your work, then…” I would fill in the blank with whatever sounded good that day. Things like, “You will never get a job,” or maybe, “You will end up failing this year,” would roll off my tongue year after year, and still they never flinched. “We care more than you do,” was another routine statement that was a waste of our breath. The term “Student Apathy” seemed too simple compared to the enormous real-life frustration our staff felt every single day of the school year. If this were a physical tumor, instead of our approach reducing the tumor, it seemed to grow larger and more dangerous each year. After 25 years in education, I had resigned myself to the accepted paradigm that we just cannot reach all of them.
Then we changed and all of our students completed every assignment for years. We totally changed our approach and the students dramatically improved. Notice I did not say we “added” things to our plates that were already overloaded. No, we changed our approach totally. No more speeches, no more threats, and NO MORE LETTING STUDENTS OFF THE HOOK.
Wow-what a mess! We had unintentionally declared war on student apathy without a battle plan or the infrastructure to sustain us. Nobody had explained to us “how to” get students to turn in assignments when we had been letting them off the hook for years. Just telling them they still had to complete their work just made things harder on the teachers. My incredible staff dug in and over the next several months pieced together our own “how to” and all students (yes even our toughest ones) completed every assignment routinely for years.
We are committed to defeating apathy and building a culture for learning, one school at a time.