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Classroom Management Strategies


for Apathetic Students


Nobody but nobody has better behavior and classroom management strategies for apathetic students than we do.

Here's a tiny sampling of our huge array of apathy-busters. Find many more in our books, posters, workshops and online classes.

At the bottom of the page, you can read more about these innovative, more effective behavior and classroom management strategies for apathetic K-12 students.


If You Did Know

motivating school posterDiscouraged students often answer "I dunno" to the question of "What do you want to be?" Typically, adults respond, "Oh sure, you must want to be something!" and a power struggle can ensue.

Instead answer, "If you did know, what would it be?" This answer often catches the youth off guard. Since it allows students to preserve their defenses while looking at other potential futures, you may get an answer or speculation that you might never had gotten with a more confrontational or direct approach. Poster #42 offers another way to help youngsters visualize a better future. You don't need to buy the poster because you can just use a lot of the powerful catch phrases shown on the poster and still get good results.


Future Homes and Gardens

Very discouraged youth may have serious problems imagining any possible positive futures. Play "Future Homes and Gardens." Ask the kids to draw floor plans or make other illustrations of their future ideal home. Becoming able to imagine possible positive outcomes is important to helping shape positive outcomes.

In the Year 2525

Some youth have never considered the possibility of positive outcomes. Expose them to some by asking them to write you a letter describing their lives as though it was 25 years from now. Students who cannot or will not write, can draw, or make an audio or video recording. Many discouraged students will create responses that you would never have guessed they had the capacity to ever imagine. Students who resist, can work with a friend, with each friend creating a letter for the other.

Funny Futures

Some youth persistently cling to negative goals especially if confronted directly. Asking a teen "So, what do you want to be when you grow up," can feel to the student like something uncomfortable and negative even though you intended the query to be benign. Instead, use humor to ease the rigidity. When a youth states a negative goal for when he's grown up, respond with a silly remark such as this comment to a burly teen-age boy: "Well I heard you wanted to become a prima ballerina and move to Iceland." The youth may grin and give a response that is a lot more likely than yours'. Of course, choose your silly remark carefully.


I Won't Need School When I'm a Drug Dealer

Some students believe that they won't need school because they plan to sell drugs. Expose their faulty logic with this tongue-in-cheek comment: " You're right! You especially won't need math because your supplier will be completely understanding and sympathetic when you give him too little money for drugs. He'll understand that you never learned math in school and be quite forgiving!" This humorous strategy can take you a long way towards getting the youngster to re-think their career goals, but the student probably won't let you know that.

My Gang will Take Care of Me

Ask students to find "old" gang members. Assist the students to notice that there are few "old" gang members, and the ones that they do find are usually dead, or "distressed." Include problems such as incarceration, homelessness, injury or poverty as being distressed. Ask students to determine how effectively gang members can take care of them if they are dead or distressed. Ask the students to calculate how often gang members spend time incarcerated and would be unavailable to "take care of me."


I'll Just Go on Welfare

Have students follow news reports to become aware of the possible end of welfare. Students can contact the local welfare office to see how much they could receive on welfare, and for how long. Have students develop a budget for what they would receive and see how comfortably they could live. Help students estimate the date that welfare could cease to exist.

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Answers to Your Questions

About Apathetic Students


Many students are entrenched in negativity, hopelessness and apathy. Their stated life goal is "nuthin," or to be a drug dealer, or even dead. Some common interventions can actually cause some kids to become even more negative.

Negativity and apathy are seldom random events. The child generally has reason to believe that "nuthin" is all he can be, perhaps seeing family members or peers ravaged by violence, drugs or other adversity. Despair is a normal reaction that can blunt pain, but sometimes adults focus on attempting to ease the hopelessness in the belief that before the child will create and work for dreams and hopes, she must leave negativity behind.

Attempting to take away the buffer that despair provides can cause some children to become more determined that ever to be nobody. Hearing "Sure, you can be anything you want" to a child whose life experience has shown otherwise may be a bit like saying to you, "Sure you can win that lottery!"

Restrict your choice of interventions to strategies that expose the child to other possible futures without attempting to take away the defensive despair. The despair will diminish or persist as the child's life experiences warrant.

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