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How to Spot and Combat Student Apathy: A Teacher Resource

When a student has their head on their desk and isn’t tuning in to a lesson, it can be hard not to take it personally. When it’s a frequent occurrence, it might be time to connect with that student to see what’s really going on.

Inattentiveness during class could be a sign of poor sleeping habits—or indicative of a larger sense of apathy toward school. A recent nationally representative survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly half of teachers say that students showing little to no interest in learning is a “major problem” in their classrooms.

Student disengagement can also lead to more absences, the rates of which have skyrocketed since before the pandemic. Research shows that chronically absent students—those who miss at least 10 percent of the school year for unexcused and excused reasons—are likely to fall behind academically, engage in risky behaviors, and eventually drop out of school.

There are many potential reasons behind student apathy and disengagement, including mental health issues, family problems, troubled peer relationships, and academic difficulties. While teachers can’t always solve the root of the problem alone, they are still key partners in the solution, experts say.

After all, studies have found that students who have a strong sense of belonging at school are more likely to be engaged in class and are less likely to be absent. They are also less likely to experience poor mental health.

Here’s a downloadable guide that shows what student apathy can look like in the classroom and some of the contributing factors, with strategies educators can use to help students feel more connected and engaged.

Download the Guide (PDF)

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