The "B" Word

Jacquie McTaggart

Former students would probably attest to the fact that few things tried my patience as much as did the statement, “This is boring!” As I reflect back on my many years in the classroom, I can’t help but feel a tad bit sorry for the first kid who made the mistake of uttering those words each year. It was rare to hear the phrase a second time because most kids vividly recalled my “sermon,” and they didn’t want to risk a repeat performance.

The sermon went something like this. “Nobody is BORED in my classroom. I work hard to plan fun and interesting activities that will allow you to learn. When you finish your work earlier than others, there are many choices of quiet things to do. You may use the book nook, puppet theatre, computer, writing center, art center, or the manipulative math corner. Now please, do NOT let me hear the word “bored” again!”

I suspect that each school year’s first offender felt like Calvin in one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. In the first two frames Calvin is sitting at his school desk looking totally bored, but saying nothing. In the third frame Calvin screams, “BORRRING!” In the final frame Calvin is heading for the Principal’s office muttering, “Yeah, yeah…kill the messenger.”

Although not many kids made the mistake of verbally uttering the “B” word a second time, I suspect they thought it or mouthed it to their friends more than once. Why do all teachers – and many parents - hear this complaint on a somewhat regular basis Is it because most kids find the day-to-day classroom work too easy Not hardly.

Contrary to popular opinion, the “bored” child is not always the academically gifted child who is not being challenged. As a matter of fact, that is rarely the case. More often than not, the “bored” student is one who is frustrated because he is not really understanding the material being presented, or does not yet possess the skill that he is being asked to demonstrate. None of us like to admit that we aren’t up to doing a task that we’re expected to accomplish, or that we haven’t the foggiest notion about what is being explained to us. And for most of us, it’s easier to say, “I’m bored” than it is to say, “I’m struggling.”

When a student of any age - that includes the high school kid - says he is bored, he oftentimes means something quite different. He is really saying, “This isn’t fun. This is work and I don’t want to work. I want to be entertained! Furthermore, I don’t understand what she the teacher is talking about or what I am supposed to do. ” In the mind of the student albeit subconsciously, his cry of boredom shifts the blame and the responsibility from himself to the teacher.

If the child is unlucky, the “boredom syndrome” will give the parent a hook on which to hang criticism of the teacher, and no one will win. The parent blames the teacher, the teacher reacts defensively, and the child continues to flounder. An opportunity for helping a kid gets lost somewhere between the pointing fingers of the parent and the defense mechanisms of the teacher.

And what do I suggest you do if your child says, “School is boring” Run forget walk to the telephone and request a conference with your child’s teacher. Advise the teacher of your concern. Assure “him” that you are not requesting a conference to assign blame to anyone, but rather to get his opinion as to what is really going on in the classroom that might prompt a declaration of boredom. I can assure you that your child’s teacher will appreciate your concern and do everything possible to work with you to determine the cause, and work toward a solution.

“Boredom, after all, is a form of criticism.”
-William Phillips

*This article is an excerpt from Chapter 8 in my book, From the Teacher’s Desk.

About The Author

Jacquie McTaggart is a recently retired 42-year career teacher and author of, "From the Teachers Desk." She currently travels throughout the country speaking at teacher and parent conventions. You can find more of her teaching and parenting tips at

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