Student Apathy, Overcrowding and Other Classroom Conundrums

Teaching is never easy, but some classroom situations make teaching especially difficult.  Following are some of the top issues that make teaching more frustrating than enjoyable for teachers.  Read on to find out more about Student Apathy, Overcrowding and Other Classroom Conundrums.

Classroom Situations That Make Teaching Hard

1. Class Size

Many schools are forced to have large classroom sizes in spite of overwhelming research that class size is one of the biggest contributors to student success. This is especially true for disadvantaged students.

The National Education Association (NEA) recommends a class size of no more than 15 students. The average number in U.S. schools is about 23 students in each class.

Writing in the We Are Teachers blog, Las Vegas teacher Angela Barton notes that large class sizes make teaching impossible and drives teachers from the profession.

“I think all educators would agree that we don’t give a flying flip that some studies by non-educators have found that lowering class sizes isn’t cost effective,” writes Barton. “We know firsthand that teacher and student morale, along with academic and social development, suffer with larger class sizes.”

2. Student Apathy

Student apathy is a common problem. Most teachers define it students who act like they don’t care and express little interest in their schoolwork. Some students show up with no homework done, no school supplies and no apparent desire to do any work.

One thing that puzzles teachers is students’ refusal to get help when they’re struggling to complete assignments or get better grades. This happens in spite of supportive systems in place at schools to help these students, such as study groups or peer tutoring.

Teachers call this apathy. Some teachers have cited several factors that contribute to student apathy:Apathetic student

  • Sense of independence. Some students think they don’t need help or don’t need to do as they are told.
  • Lack of self-confidence. Some students feel that they are simply not smart and there’s no point doing anything to improve their low performance.
  • Time management. Some students are bad at managing their time and assignments, or are over-scheduled with classes, work and activities.
  • Embarrassment. Some students are ashamed of the work they’re producing and don’t want to show it to their teachers.

3. Lack of Support for Low-Income Students and Families

Most teachers say that poverty and parental involvement are two of the key factors that cause poor student performance. The two often go hand-in-hand.

A 2015 Washington Post article cited a survey by Public Opinion Strategies which found that among teachers in low-income schools, “51% said they have spent their own money to feed students, 49% report helping students get new shoes or clothes and 29% have helped them get medical care.”

It’s clear that teachers are going to great lengths to help their students. It’s also clear that more support for low-income parents is probably one place to start helping teachers.

The same survey also found that “over testing” and student apathy were two other things that teachers found especially frustrating

4. Home Environments That Don’t Support Learning

The lack of parental involvement often includes children who don’t have a home environment that supports their efforts.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Involvement Partnership for Learning, children need the following in their home environment:

  • Quiet, dedicated place to study.
  • Limited television viewing.
  • Family schedule and routine for meals, homework and chores.
  • Sufficient sleep.
  • Parents who are willing to ask about homework and offer help.

Unfortunately, there are too many students who don’t get that kind of supervision at home. This results in a low school performance that too often gets blamed on teachers.

What Can Schools and Teachers Do?

Most of these problems point to the same problems that affect under-performing schools in general. Low funding, lack of support for low-income students and large class sizes create apathetic students that lose interest in learning.

A recent issue of the TeachHUB blog featured an interview with educator Kristin Olson, author of the book Wounded In School. Olson studied more than 100 children who were defined as “in the margins,” meaning they were suffering from low performance and apathy.

Olson said that many of these students were simply emotionally overwhelmed by school and that efforts to help them simply backfired because teachers weren’t taking their emotional vulnerability into account. She said that teachers can help by speaking in a supportive way to these students while holding them to high standards.

“Hold your child or your student to very high standards because you believe it is possible for them to grow into it,” Olson said. “My interviewers said that it was that teacher who believed they could do so much more than they thought possible of themselves who really began to change the way they saw the world and their own place in it.”

Those words might be good advice for teaching in general.

An Alternative

  • Are you teaching in a dream school with small classrooms, or is your room wall-to-wall students?
  • Are your students arriving prepared for class, or are you battling with student apathy?
  • Are your students’ parents involved and visible, or MIA?

If you think you’ve got the keys to solving these issues, why not broaden your base and reach large numbers of teachers and administrators.  On the other hand, you may be looking for an alternative to remaining in the classroom.

Either way, take a look at my #1 recommendation. It’s a great resource for learning how to promote yourself, your aspirations, and your special concerns and is the place where I have learned everything you see on this website.

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6 thoughts on “Student Apathy, Overcrowding and Other Classroom Conundrums”

  1. I was never low-income but I did go to a school whose district’s families receiving some kind of welfare was an astounding 52%. Towns like Irondale, Hammondsville, Richmond, Bergholz, and others were part of my district, all in Ohio if you wish to study the income demographics more to get a sense on where I’m going with this.

    Something I noticed was that the teachers in the district were only harder on these students, showing them little no no empathy whatsoever, to the point some teachers even went as far as to perpetually single and call them out on things. Right there, I knew there was a problem, but what could a kid my age at the time have done?

    Nothing, really, especially since I shared some apathy myself, mainly due to fear of embarrassment. This has since changed substantially. 

    Now, I’m not saying these teachers are evil or anything, and I do agree that many teachers will go out of their way to help their students, especially those from lower income areas, but for me, I think the best way to go is for teachers to connect with students on an emotional level.

    While I never worked as a teacher and never plan to, I can relate in a sense as I worked as a personal trainer, and I will say that when you connect, in my case with clients, on such an emotional level, they will open up to you and soon, you’ll get to the root of what I’ll call blockage. 

    At this point, especially when apathy in any capacity is shown, I believe it becomes more than just a student-teacher thing, or a trainer-client thing; it’s a people to people thing. And the more we can help those opening up to us, the more they can start to help themselves. Sometimes, these kids need emotional support and a teacher may be the only place to turn. 

    • Hi Todd, 

      I’m glad you took the time to comment on this article.  I’m also sad that so many students were faced with such biased classroom environments.  I’d like to assure everyone that those attitudes are a thing of the past, but the best we can do is speak out when we observe such unacceptable situations and advocate for the students involved.

      You brought up an excellent point regarding making connections.  It’s vital, but not so easy to accomplish.  Many school districts require teachers to cover a certain number of prescribed pages daily, and time to build these human supports just doesn’t exist.

      As you mentioned, school may be the only place a student can go for much-needed assistance.  In some cases, these needs outweigh classroom expectations.

      According to, “mental health issues effect up to 20% of students in the U.S.”  Of that 20% group, they go on to say that, “70% of adolescents with mental health needs do not receive proper treatment.”  You can view their blog here. Try to get a student to focus in class with that kind of issue weighing on their mind.  Receiving an adequate score on a state test doesn’t even register on their radar.  How can it?

      Schools of today must deal with the same issues facing society in general, and cover grade level course work as well.  Thanks for taking the time to shine a light on one of the important aspects.

  2. Good afternoon,  I did indeed enjoy this article about teachers.  For one, I have always considered teachers to be heroes.  You are the ones that mold Our Generation into what they’re going to be and do within society .

    You give them morals, you give them ideas, you give them encouragement, you give them love. One of the things that always upsets me is teachers should be paid much more than they are being paid in this country.  

    In Europe, the countries treat their teachers much better with a higher respect. In solving the problems that you mention, the only thing that comes to my mind is give the teachers more money.  Give the schools more money. Reduce the class sizes so that the teachers can put more effort into the children that they’re trying to give more encouragement. 

    I am so happy that you wrote this article. I can only hope and pray that many people will read this article;  teachers, congressman, mayors of the Cities in the hope that they will be able to come up with the resources that are needed to help teachers be all that they can be.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation, Earl.  I have to agree that respect for teachers is at an all-time low in this country.

      Reducing class sizes would be a step in the right direction.  Most research shows that reducing the number of students in the classroom gives them more opportunities to work individually with the teacher.  This is always a good thing.  Teachers are able to discover where each student’s strengths and weaknesses lie, and adjust accordingly.  

      More money is a very different discussion.  While more money is nice, I would encourage people to first ask questions about how the money is spent.  Where exactly does it go?  How much ends up in the classroom?  What does it purchase, and are the purchases useful to students and teachers?  Just a few concerned citizens could have a huge positive impact.


  3. Children are the future of this world, the way they learn and grow is the way the world will be tomorrow. I think this is something people should put more consideration in.

    Why wouldn’t you help shape the future? 

    A lot of things can be factored in about the future, but the way a student grows in general should be talked about more.

    Love this article!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Isaac.  You asked an excellent question.  I have a few guesses, but I’m sure there are lots of other factors involved.  

      First, people are busy earning a living, and doing all the other things that must be done to live a successful life.  And, most of us only respond to emergencies.  I believe there is a looming crisis in education, but no one thing holds people’s attention long enough for them to agree on and institute remedies.  

      Secondly, folks tend to go along with whatever the “experts” tell them, without asking questions.  I’m not sure there are any real experts.  There are plenty of people with opinions, but few real experts.  

      To understand what’s going on, people really should take several hours and volunteer in a classroom to see for themselves.  Most of us form opinions about today’s school based on our experiences as students.  It creates a very narrow, one dimensional view point.  The challenges are very different, as are the politics that drive the educational system of today.  

      You’re right.  Kids are the future, and we need to be more involved in helping shape that future.


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