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The boy who was bored

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While driving to meet her mentor teacher for their weekly chat, first-year social studies teacher Jan Murray was still thinking, with some agitation, about the boy who was bored in the second row of her ninth-grade American History class. Jan had been trying to start a discussion of Northern and Southern attitudes toward post-Civil War Reconstruction. She had called on a couple of students and gotten halting replies. She was trying to remember the boy-who-was-bored’s name so she could call on him, when he looked straight at her and said, “This is boring.”  Flustered, Jan had passed over him to call on other students; she had managed to finish the lesson, but without looking over to the boy’s side of the room.  She wondered if he was defying her, and whether she should have insisted that he participate and what he might do the next time she tried to call on him. Here is some perfectly normal trouble:For reasons as yet unknown, a student manages to act in a way that makes a beginning teacher wonder about her role in the classroom.
With some embarrassment, Jan reported these events and thoughts to her mentor teacher, Luis Romero. Luis seemingly saw no cause for embarrassment in the story. He agreed that the boy might have been defying or challenging her. Luis’s matter-of-fact response to the Jan’s story helped to define it as “normal trouble”—nothing to be embarrassed about. 
But then Luis said, “Let’s consider some other possibilities. One is that the boy was just telling you his current state of mind in that lesson—he was bored. Another is that he didn't understand the topic or know what to do in the discussion; rather than embarrass himself by saying so, he put you off. Kids this age fear embarrassment in front of their buddies almost more than anything else. In either of those cases, coming down on him because you thought he was challenging you probably would have made things worse for him and for you.” Talking about those hypotheses eventually lead Jan and Luis into a talk about motivating students to learn about “dates and dead people.” Luis also helped Jan to consider alternative interpretations of the same situation, and then to anticipate the possible effects of acting one way or another in that situation. Needing a way to motivate the boy who was bored was a better problem to have than figuring out how to deal with his seeming challenge.