Lazy? Anxious? Overlooked? Teachers Sound Off on Unmotivated Students

By Tanyon A. Duprey — April 11, 2024 5 min read
Bored young man in class.
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Labeling students who don’t do their work and seem unmotivated as “lazy” has transcended generations in the classroom. As time has gone on, and social science research has gotten more advanced, it’s clear that there’s many factors at play. Technological advancement, a pandemic, and an educational system under stress have only further complicated the question of what drives student apathy.

In a recent EdWeek Opinion piece, Kyle Coppes, a secondary school principal at an international school in Germany, wrote about the nuances of “student laziness.” In response to the article, many teachers felt inspired to share their own opinions on the topic. Some agreed that what seems like laziness is often a symptom of another problem; others insist that sometimes, students just don’t put in the effort that’s needed.

Here’s a collection of the most popular themes from what they had to say.

The success of classrooms reflects the system ...

“As an educational psychologist, I strongly agree! But it is not the fault of the teacher. Schools are a mirror of society.”

Edward M.

“The education system—or at least where I teach—is primarily responsible for creating the lazy child. Maybe lazy isn’t the word we need to be looking at, but rather the unmotivated child.”

Anita D.

“I appreciate the philosophy brought into the argument. Furthermore, I very much want to believe the idea here, but this requires a much more practical follow-up question: If the reason students appear lazy, but are not, is that educators are not addressing other issues, how are administrators, school boards, and others in charge of school policy going to change to allow students to get their needs met?”

Nathan B.

“What if this apathy is a result of the school system itself?”

Colby L.

The issue is nuanced

“I can understand my students are avoiding the content by doing many of the things they are doing. I can understand why they are avoiding the content, because they avoided the content during COVID and now can’t handle the content before them.”

Jay V.

“I agree there’s usually reasons behind behaviors that appear to be “laziness.” Unfortunately, many of the times the classroom teacher has little to no control over many of the factors contributing to that ... family issues, lack of food at home, student mental health problems, etc. This is why student support in terms of counselors, psychologists, and social workers are needed.”

Gabrielle M.

“You only have to listen, as students tend to know it’s self-inflicted sleep deprivation from texting, surfing, online games, and chats. They start their homework after midnight—2 a.m., and then have to get up at 7-8 a.m. to make it to school. All this from a group that needs more quality sleep than almost any other age bracket.”

Denell W.

“ALWAYS look further into what is going on with your students. Don’t ever just label them lazy and move on—just like I always try and look when the behavior is defiant—99% of the time the kid is crying for help, attention, love, etc. ... I am not doing my students justice to just label them defiant and move on—however—in this case, there is still that 1 percent that is just downright defiant because they want to be …. “

Jaime G.

“I totally agree with this. And honestly the first person to tell you kids are lazy are the kids themselves. It’s the only 4 letter word totally banned in my classroom. There is a reason behind their lack of motivation. Uncover the reason, address the problem, work gets done. I have spent a lot of my career with kids with school anxiety and avoidance. A lot of teachers just don’t get it.”

Wendi W.

“It is true that knowing one’s students, truly knowing them, helps immensely. But there are some factors at work right now that are totally student laziness.”

Paul B.

“It’s not about blame—mindset is the invisible aspect of teaching practice that guides how we respond to students and how they see us. When we label, even subconsciously, a student, they know it —when we bypass the inactions and speak to the ‘function of their behavior’ we can actually move mountains.”

Joanne O.

Do principals understand what teachers face?

“I’m curious how long this principal was a teacher. We are seeing less and less time in the classroom from administrators. Experience doesn’t mean expertise but it is one of the requirements for it.”

Krystal L.

“This person has clearly been out of the classroom for the past 40 years and most likely spends all of their days in their office hiding from actual responsibility.”

Hamlet J.

“Well, I—like most teachers—agree that we educators can suss out the reasons that a student appears “lazy” and provide formative support ... I would have been more impressed if Kyle talked about how, as principal, he supports teachers in this endeavor ....”

Sarah M.

“This principal will struggle to keep a fully staffed building.”

Jason B.

“I like the overall tone of this but I’m guessing that this administrator has not had to spend much time guiding classrooms lately. There are some systemic things that have been put in place in many school districts where a student can almost never fail ... And then there’s the added element of how something can look like laziness but it’s masquerading a much deeper issue. That’s its own special consideration.”

Renee A.

“As long as perspectives like this continue placing 100% of the responsibility & accountability for learning on teachers, there will continue to be high burnout and turnover rates. Another disconnected administrator missing the mark.”

Craig K.

“Kids tell me they don’t care. They Google the answers right in front of me instead of trying to do the work. He needs to get into the classroom.”

Maranda L.

True laziness can be a factor, some teachers insist

“Some students find anything that requires any effort nearly impossible to do.”

Sarah W.

“I think a better way to put it is don’t assume laziness is the issue right off the bat. Explore other reasons why students are avoiding work. But, sometimes, students will admit to me they just feel lazy ... it can happen.”

Greta H.

“I’m a teacher and sometimes I’m lazy, too. I’m human.”

Cindy G.


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