Overcoming teachers’ biggest barriers to engaging students

7 March 2022 | By viviedu

This post is part of a four-part series connected to an industry report looking at “Using technology in the classroom to better engage students” where 760 teachers shared insights into their challenges. You can read the full report at the end of this post.

One of the biggest barriers to engagement, it seems, is the students themselves. Without interest, effort, and a commitment to learning, the subject matter and delivery make little impact. Several teachers made references to the challenges of maintaining engagement during home learning, while others said students’ behavior in the classroom has changed now they have returned to a face-to-face environment after such a prolonged period away. One teacher told us that students simply “don’t know how to be in a classroom environment anymore.” Another made the observation that while wearing masks in a classroom prevents the spread of disease, it can be very difficult to know which student is speaking.

Distractions were a common theme. Many said there were lots of them inside—and outside—the classroom. Some teachers said students spent too much time gaming or on their phones, which made maintaining any interest in schoolwork a challenge. “Unfortunately,” said one teacher, “a cell phone is more interesting than I am.”

Poor attendance was identified as a problem by some, and others said language and other socio-demographic factors sometimes presented a barrier to engagement. One said: “some of my students do not have phones and have no Wi-Fi at home and so it is a juggling act to try to provide them with the means they need to engage in class without affecting their self-esteem.”

Some teachers referenced challenges with technology. Sometimes there were not enough devices to distribute them on a 1:1 ratio, and sometimes technology failed. Occasionally, students couldn’t get to grips with the technology or, at the other extreme, were underwhelmed by it.

Teachers also mentioned the lack of time they had to spend with individuals. With students all operating at different levels, it was difficult to make content relevant and relatable to all members of the classroom. 

These are all obstacles teachers find difficult to overcome. For many, the solution lies in relationships. Some take time to socialize with students before and after class—making sure to note down important details so they can reference them in future conversations. According to one, the solution “… isn’t about academics. Students will learn what you teach if they like you.”

Others experiment with different formats, trying to mix up lessons to maintain engagement. They spend a great deal of time searching for or developing interesting media and planning for things like group activities and rotation stations.

Read the “Using technology in the classroom to better engage students” report.