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Ask a Teacher: When Students Sleep in Class

Ask a Teacher: When Students Sleep in Class

Q: What do you think when you see a student falling asleep? Do you take it personally?

A: What? My classes are so scintillating no one could ever fall asleep!

In all seriousness, though, this is not the sort of thing that any decent teacher would take personally. Like us, students are busy people. A good teacher understands that her or his students have lots of demands on their time, including (but not limited to) jobs, sports, family, homework, and, shall we say, romantic interests. Also, not every topic is or even can be interesting to every student. Combine that with the sedentary nature of most classrooms, and it's close to inevitable that someone will drift off to Sleepyland.

So—what to do? Well, I could take a page from some of my former military instructors, who would bean you with an eraser, or kick the stool out from under you if they saw you nodding off. However, in the twin interests of avoiding legal action and not being a total prick, I'd rather not do that. I'd also rather not embarrass someone who may have a legitimate reason for being tired. But the question remains.

As I mentioned, I never take this situation personally. Most of the time, I just ignore individuals who start to drowse. If I notice several people looking bleary-eyed at the same time, I would endeavor to improve my performance as an instructor for the rest of the period—if one person is sleepy, that's probably an individual anomaly. If several people look like Mr. Sandman has Tasered them senseless, there's probably something that I can do to make things a bit more engrossing.

Of course, life is never quite as simple as the tidy binary I just outlined. For example, if a student is consistently struggling to stay awake, then it might be time to take that personally—in a matter of speaking. That's the sort of pattern that often indicates a bigger problem. And it might require some investigation; if that investigation turns up some really unfortunate results, intervention of some sort may be in order. So that's how I might take consistent torpor personally—not as an insult, but as an indication that there can be problems outside of the class that could require attention and/or action.

All that said, do your best to get sufficient rest, drink some coffee, and keep your eyes open. Far more often than not, if you miss information, it's only hurting you. Don't make me throw this eraser at you.

Mr. Toche taught statistics, sociology, and human sexuality to college students for four years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He saw, learned, and experienced more horrors than you can well imagine in that time.

Got a question for an English, science, math, writing, special ed, sociology, or PE teacher, or a specific question for Mr. Toche? Send it to!

Have you ever fallen asleep in class? What happened?

Topics: Life
Tags: teachers, school, sleeping, sleeping in class, ask a teacher

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