Disengaged Students need love

Change Disengaged Students Attitude to School

In your school, do all your students run to get into the classroom every morning?  Is it hard to get them out of the classroom at break times or at the end of the day?  When you teach creatively that’s the sort of thing that can happen.

‘My dad killed my mum’ he announced in class

We had quite a few disengaged students at one Australian school I taught. One day a student lets call him Dave [that’s not his name] was placed in my class mid-year whose father had murdered his mother. Dave had been expelled from other schools and as such his development was slow.

Dave was imprisoned in fear and anger against the world. At first he just refused to learn. Dave didn’t want to know. So, I endeavoured not to push him but allowed Dave to learn at his own pace. If he didn’t want to do an activity I didn’t push him but distracted him with another activity that was linked to the main activity.

Sometimes it was just a lower year level version of the task but presented in such a way that upheld his dignity. ie Don’t give a Year 5 student a Year 2 or 3 text book. That just makes them feel dumb. You the teacher must present the task in the conversation style of the year level the student is in.

I took time to make sure we chatted every day. I believe it only takes 10 minutes a day for a few weeks to make change happen in a students behaviour. You must, of course, show genuine care. Don’t overdo it. Just show some interest in the student even if it’s for 5 minutes per day, about their interests. Gradually the barriers went down. He couldn’t get enough of school.

Love Conquers All

Dave was no longer the disengaged student of two months ago. He laughed these days and well liked by his classmates.

love conquers all
love conquers all

I happened to overhear Dave talking with his younger brother outside the classroom window. Dave’s younger brother was quizzing him “Dad’s coming out of prison so why don’t you want to leave school and go with him?” Dave replied “I want to stay because my teacher loves me!” I couldn’t believe it hardly. Next day he left . . .

That’s the kind of unconscious feedback I’ve had which shows how engaged even the most difficult students can become. Average and above average students routinely outperform the Naplan standard.

Re-engaging disengaged students

I have since had more of those disengaged students in my classes who were way behind their standard for age. Teaching Creatively means that I not only assured that all basics were taught, it meant a committed approach to adapting and re-adapting my materials and approaches to grab the attention of even the most disengaged students. By focusing firstly on getting my students engaged in the classroom, behaviour management for me is only needed secondarily.

Of course, there will still be the exceptionally difficult student like Dave, but even then creative teaching helps one to differentiate and support learning even at that level. If you are interested to hear more, I encourage you to join our Love to Teach 101 Club. Also, feel free to comment below. Perhaps you have a similar experience to share.

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8 comment(s)

The story in this post is very harrowing, but it’s great to hear that the student was still able to remain engaged with their learning.

Not that it relates to your story – but one of my biggest issues with a lot of school systems is their lack of inspiration towards the most basic methods of learning – like reading books for example. Most people hate reading because they were forced into it at school.

I think the key is to show students a goal that they can reach – whether that be financial independence or the development of a skill they love – so they develop their own drive for wanting to learn.

I feel like this was a massive thing that was missing when I was at school!

Hi Joshua, yes the story was very harrowing but also inspiring in that the student changed.

I agree with your perceptions about reading in schools but many teachers are changing that. I have developed over the years a classroom library adding the most unique books to tantalise the most reluctant readers. Of which most were boys. We also use technology reading aloud into an iPod and recording it and playing it back and listening to improve reading.

They also know I will spot check and give a response at least once a week but as you so rightly comment, the students quickly developed their own drive for wanting to learn. Especially when they want to share with the class a book review. Thanks.

Hey Sylvia:

Thanks for sharing your story and for forming your network of love to teach 101. It’s an amazing thing that teachers do. Their students come to them carrying all of the rest of their lives with them.

Some of the students have a really hard time of it, and very often it is a caring and creative teacher who can help them find their way through.

Thanks for trying, all of you awesome people!

Hi Netta, thank you so much for your encouragement. It is amazing how many teachers just ordinary folk are so kind!

Sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier. We are in the middle of reworking the website but I thought I had better reply soon or you might think I’m ignoring you.

Thanks, Sylvia

Wow! What a sad story with such a good outcome. Have you heard of Torey Hayden? She is a special education teacher who writes about her class room experiences and your story reminds me of her book “One Child” and its sequel “Tigers Child”. Sheila, a severely disturbed little girl, remembers the care Torey gave her. I really hope Dave is able to take the care and support you gave him and go on to do great things in his life!

I really wish you’d been around when my son was in mainstream. It was the most awful experience for him. He is very bright but has severe learning disorders which has him years below age level in most subjects. I ended up pulling him out and putting him into distance education as it removed the behavioural issues of him lashing out because he couldn’t keep up and he was being bullied. Unfortunately the school decided he was the problem and whilst we had good teachers they were too scared to go against the establishment to fight for him. I am so glad Dave had you in his life, even for such a short period, as it could well make a huge difference to his future schooling.


Hi Megan,
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

I had not heard of Torey Hayden but I looked her up on Amazon books. I liked so much what I read in the reviews, that I purchased one of her books. Can’t wait to get into it today being Saturday. Thank you for pointing me to such a good resource.

That is so sad what happened to your son. I hope he is doing well with the distance learning but that must put a lot of strain on you being mum and teacher 24/7. I take my hat off to you and other mothers who do this. Us teachers get a break at the end of the day but mums don’t.

Thanks for sharing,

Wow! That is such a sad story but we persevere and our students change. I think people should spend some time in classrooms so they know what it’s about. I love teaching and strongly recommend teaching as a career to everyone because it is so rewarding.

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