How do teachers deal with the apathetic?

Posted on January 20, 2012

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I am the adviser to the National Honor Society kiddos at my school. They are smart, nice, leaders. They also have huge time commitments (sports, other clubs). And yet I find them to be disappointingly apathetic.

They want stuff to happen. But they seem to want it all done FOR them.

I’m not sure this is unreasonable: they do a lot for a lot of other people. It would be nice for someone to do something for them. I would love to brag about them. But I don’t know what they do. It comes across that they don’t care.

Then, something happened. Details are below in the letter. I got mad. I wrote. I edited so it didn’t sound as mad. I asked for input, and was told it was too angry, and that I needed to tone it down. I never sent it out to the members. But was it too angry? Do I expect too much from high school seniors busy filling out their FAFSAs who also live in poverty? The juniors are less busy. What about them?

I’d love insight from anyone. Here’s the letter.

An open letter to the members of the National Honor Society
If you had asked me about the Induction Ceremony three weeks ago, I would have told you it was cancelled. Permanently.
Here’s why:
The officers have been given the task of revamping the Induction Ceremony to something you, the members, would like better than the one that has been used before.
(Side note: that was never intended to be THE ceremony…it was used because it was the recommended ceremony from the National Office. Apart from the candle-lighting part, nothing is written in stone. And the candle-lighting ceremony needs to be followed in spirit, not absolutely.)
Anyhoo…
They have worked very hard. Lots of hours. All they needed from you was a biography of some sort to put on the PowerPoint they were making that would be shown during the ceremony. They sent out emails. There are 62 members. Take out the six officers…we’re down to 56. Out of those 56, 15 ultimately responded to the email, and only 8 met the original deadline. Since I’m a math teacher…8/56 = .14 and 15/56 = .27. Translation: they got 27% compliance. They have done quite a lot for you and have gotten very little back.
This made me…not happy.
Then, I heard that the general consensus/opinion of NHS is, to quote, “a joke”…only something to put on college applications.
OK. Let’s talk about that.
We had, earlier in the year, our first mini-service project…to make cards for sick little kids in the hospital. Some were amazing, but all would make a little sick kid smile. Except that “all” was right around that same participation rate: 27%.
Our principal wants the Honors/AP/NHS students to have more of a “presence” on campus. So, verbally, do you. This came out in the form of the AP Revolution. A meeting was held, and well-attended. Things were put out for you to brainstorm. The response to the brainstorm: 1. (It was that Hank should be the AP Revolution Leader.)
One of the things suggested for NHS at the end of last year was to have some place to hang out after school, between school/lab/practice or to have a study group or just hang out. My room, which was available Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, complete with snacks, water, soda, etc., has been used…never. (Tuesday is no longer available.)
Another thing that has been tried has been the little “toys”. They might be awesome; they might be dorky. But we give them out in class, and there are plenty of your classmates don’t get one. The idea: try to make the other students see that you are singled out, simply because you are awesome. The little snowman was picked out by your officers, and the ones I got to give out were received with a bunch of “how cute!”s. I guess comments like that make me believe that they are well-received.
We don’t have meetings. Do you want them? Could you give me an idea of when, exactly? I can’t have them Monday (teacher meetings of some sort). We have tons of athletes who have to attend practices. Most of you are in either Sobobans or Key Club or Drama or other clubs (or combinations of them)…I won’t take you out of them nor will I make you choose. You are all taking classes with tons of homework. Would you like to have less time to take care of that?
At this point, I am not sure what exactly to do. From my point of view, it seems as if a ton of people want a bunch of stuff (activities, “things” like toys and the sashes you wear at graduation, things done for you), but no one wants to put in any work to get it, and yet everyone feels pretty free to complain about all the stuff they don’t get.
Help me out here. What do you want from NHS? Are you willing to participate and put in the work? Or are we sticking with “joke” and going to the way they do things at other local schools, which is the NHS members find out they are in NHS at graduation when they read their name as part of a list in the graduation program?
I would like your answers in the form of emails to me Individual is fine; after discussions, an email signed by those in the discussion would be fine too.
Thank you,

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