Kids at school should be energetic. Within bounds. Excessive energy, when kids resemble ping pong balls flying around a room, needs to be channeled or pleasantly suppressed. Our goal is active learners who can manage their “engines.”
Enervated students should also draw our attention. But in a class of overly active kids, the passive students may be a welcome relief. You can spread them around the room to lower the impact of those ping pong balls, right? Ultimately, both overly active and inactive students are at risk for academic and social problems.
Here’s my working definition of enervated students: Kids who are listless, passive, perhaps inattentive, fatigued, and outwardly unresponsive. They don’t laugh at my jokes, which is a sure sign of trouble. Let’s analyze some common reasons for listless behavior that goes beyond an attention disorder. Yes, I am eliminating an attention disorder from this category. Enervated kids could be sick, sleepless, hungry, bored, anxious or depressed, or have a sensory disorder.
In my experience, some of these kids were sleep-deprived and more. One young girl described long nights spent in a parking lot, hanging out with her mother’s boyfriend. Major alert factor there. Another hadn’t eaten for two days. Another major alert. One had strep throat for weeks. Another student claimed to be bored but had a processing disorder which impacted his ability to track classroom discussions. A couple of unidentified gifted students were bored witless. One student was suicidal. In each case, it took a team of caring professionals to instigate needed changes. Sadly, not all the interventions were successful.
I will never forget teaching one totally enervated resource group of five boys. I could have died in front of them and they’d never react. There were no indicators of physical or emotional distress. They had concerned parents who were accustomed to their passivity but understood its impact on learning. They were young healthy zombies. What are the odds? All from different regular classrooms, all struggling readers. I enlisted the occupational therapist’s support. Our working hypothesis was a sensory disorder. My goal? Independent movement. Skipping ahead 6 months, these boys morphed into bowling balls. It still took effort to get them going, but they could keep rolling. They enjoyed our continual movement activities, they started to talk to one another, and all but one made progress in reading. No, they still didn’t laugh at my jokes.