This was the thought that dominated my thinking as I rode home from work the other day. Less an observation and more a predilection anymore, this line is drawn from both my education experiences in Japan and America. And here’s why.
There’s no greater killjoy to the art of teaching than the Apathetic One. (And yes, teaching is more an art than a science, even if the majority of your curriculum comes off the Periodic Table.) I’m not rebranding Lucifer, or referencing Harry Potter; I’m talking about that quiet kid with the glazed-over expression, the One who does all the class work but doesn’t do anything for the class itself, the One whose time you’re wasting even if telling you such would demand that they care about being someplace else. You know the One. Yes. That One! How do you deal with the Apathetic One? It’s not as if they’re doing anything wrong, specifically. The Apathetic One is rarely absent, rarely responds to any kind of stimulus, and rarely bothers anyone. And when you’ve tried your darndest to spark some kind of interest in the Apathetic One, you feel burnt out and apathetic yourself afterward. It’s a crime. And fellow classmates go from innocent bystanders to accomplices if the problem is left unchecked.
The Troublemaker is easier to deal with. Though trouble is in their name, they come in many forms. The “smart-ass,” “jack-ass,” “jag-off,” “class-clown,” or simply “dumb-ass”; often the Troublemaker is anything but dumb, their very behavior stemming from an intellectual inquisitiveness that needs redirecting. Troublemakers aren’t shy about “participating” in class, and their obtuse musings can sometimes even become great fodder for class discussion. Hell, you can even discipline the Troublemaker! Cry hosannas to the heavens! You can actually engage the bastard! (And derive some level of satisfaction out of it: either you disciplined the little snot, removing Big T from the class or making Big T an example for the others, or turned the tables and produced something positive out of the Troublemaker’s actions.) And truly compelling intellectual engagement should be the hallmark of any classroom.
I was wrong before. It’s not a crime. It’s a disease—apathy—and it’s contagious enough to affect not only the other students but you the teacher as well. And that’s ultimately the real danger. I never want to be apathetic about the things I love. Should I ever become apathetic about such things, I’ll know it’s time to move on. The medicine then is to stay cognizant of our approach and the atmosphere we create so we know how to identify apathy when we see it. From there, the methods we use to change apathy depend on the situation, but we should always be prepared to recognize that such change can start with us.