How Teachers Must Handle a "Lazy" Student

Student with head down on desk
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One of the most frustrating aspects of teaching is dealing with a "lazy" student. A lazy student can be defined as a student who has the intellectual ability to excel but never realizes their potential because they choose not to do the work necessary to maximize their capability. Most teachers will tell you that they would rather have a group of struggling students who work hard, than a group of strong students who are lazy.

It is extremely important that teachers evaluate a child thoroughly before labeling them as "lazy." Through that process, teachers may find that there is much more going on than just simple laziness. It is also important that they never label them as such publicly. Doing so can have a lasting negative impact that stays with them throughout life. Instead, teachers must always advocate for their students and teach them the skills necessary to overcome whatever obstacles are keeping them from maximizing their potential.

Example Scenario

A 4th-grade teacher has a student who is consistently failing to complete or turn in assignments. This has been an ongoing issue. The student scores inconsistently on ​formative assessments and has average intelligence. He participates in class discussions and group work but is almost defiant when it comes to completing written work. The teacher has met with his parents on a couple of occasions. Together you have tried to take away privileges at home and at school, but that has proved to be ineffective in deterring the behavior. Throughout the year, the teacher has observed that the student has trouble writing in general. When he does write, it is almost always illegible and sloppy at best. In addition, the student works at a much slower pace on assignments than his peers, often causing him to have a much bigger load of homework than his peers have.​

Decision: This is an issue that almost every teacher faces at some point. It is problematic and can be frustrating for teachers and parents. First, having parental support on this issue is essential. Second, it is important to determine whether or not there is an underlying issue impacting the student's ability to complete the work accurately and in a timely manner. It may turn out that laziness is the issue, but it may also be something else entirely.

Maybe It's Something More Serious

As a teacher, you are always looking for signs that a student may need specialized services such as speech, occupational therapy, counseling, or special education. Occupational therapy appears to be a possible need for the student described above. An occupational therapist works with children who are developmentally lacking fine motor skills such as handwriting. They teach these students techniques that allow them to improve and overcome these deficiencies. The teacher should make a referral to the school's occupational therapist, who will then do a thorough evaluation of the student and determine whether or not occupational therapy is necessary for them. If it is deemed necessary, the occupational therapist will begin to work with the student on a regular basis to help them obtain the skills they are lacking.

Or It May Be Simple Laziness

It is necessary to understand that this behavior will not change overnight. It is going to take time for the student to develop the habit of completing and turning in all their work. Working together with the parent, put a plan together to ensure that they know what assignments he needs to complete at home each night. You can send a notebook home or email the parent a list of assignments each day. From there, hold the student accountable for getting their work completed and turned in to the teacher. Inform the student that when they turn in five missing/incomplete assignments, they will have to serve a Saturday school. Saturday school should be highly structured and monotonous. Stay consistent with this plan. As long as the parents continue to cooperate, the student will begin to form healthy habits in completing and turning in assignments.