Unmotivated Really?

It is that time of year again, when teachers have flyers in their mailboxes for in-service training. PD specialists are promoting their latest and greatest ideas. “Classroom Management that works!” “Writing across the curriculum!” and “Motivating the Unmotivated!” The flyers seem to arrive the same time every year, just as teacher burn-out sets in just before the holiday breaks. The flyers are tempting to teachers that are stressed about classroom performance or meeting their evaluation goals. The titles seem so tempting and the time could not be better.

BUT are there unmotivated students in anyones classroom? All of the students in my classroom are motivated. The least of my concern is motivation. Some students are motivated by the curriculum. They are in class to learn.  Seeing value in gaining knowledge. They try their best to learn despite their ability to learn. These student get frustrated when they don’t understand ideas. Hands get raised, questions asked.   Learners show up early or stay after class. Learners have recognized motivations.

In my class I also have “pleasers”. The students who want to please their parents. Motivated by the praise and love of their parents. (or sometimes bribes). “Pleasers” work but not for love of learning. Mainly concerned with grades they often are focused on a specific grade achievement. Not often concerned about trying to do their best but just to achieve the required grade.

Then there is the group often labeled unmotivated, the “socials”. Students who treat school like the mall. Teachers are the shop owners who herd them around like cattle. Motivated by their friends. Wanting to make impressions and establish a reputation. School work is not a priority, often not a thought. “Socials” often are the most motivated students in the room. Passing notes, sneaking around to talk. Acting the role of student when teacher is watching while sneaking in the quick text to the friend in the next room.

Of course there are more types and combinations of motivation. Motivation is natural in all of us. What teachers need to figure out is how to focus motivation in all students towards the learning targets. This is the PD teachers need.

The first step is understanding the students motivations. Then we can focus it towards learning.

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Flip the Switch

I am amazed at the number of students who enter my 7th grade classroom already believing they are a failure, dumb, or can’t do any better. Where does this “Learned” mentality come from? Does it come from parents? school? peers? I want to know who takes a child’s natural motivation to learn and turned it off?

My son, Griffin, amazes me everyday. He has apraxia, which has made it hard for him to learn how to sound out words. He did not speak till 3 1/2 years old. Most people don’t notice his difficulties now because he has worked hard everyday to learn to read and speak. He asks the most amazing questions. When watching the World Series this year, he asked about why their wasn’t a DH in the Giants ballpark? He gets frustrated to the point of crying if he can’t understand your answer. He loves to learn and always wants to know more about how things work.

When I see students at school, who feel they can’t learn more, I want to share Griffin’s story. Often they don’t connect. Middle school students are going through a period of self-centeredness that make it hard to connect to others experiences. Making the connection personal seems to work best.

This two weeks ago, two female students did not get a single answer correct on a 9 question vocabulary  quiz. They both are friends and shared that it was “hard”. When I asked if they studies, both answered “NO, because it was hard.” So how can it become easy if you don’t study? “I am just not good at science!”  Wow, what a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy.

A colleague asked if she could help them on the retake. I passed on the need information and the Quizlet link. After being forced to go over the information “100” times. Both girls scored 100%. The next day when I saw them in the hallway they were beaming with pride. “I didn’t think I could do it” one shared. All the teachers in the hallway helped them celebrate the success. This past Friday, we had another vocabulary quiz. These two girls both aced it.

I hope we flipped the switch of self doubt for these girls. Teachers need to focus, one child at a time, on turning the love of learning back on in their minds. It will make all the difference!

What teachers need is time

What educators need in today’s schools is time. The public perspective is that teachers work from 8 to 3 (when students are in school) and they have all of the school holidays with summers off. Most publicly wish they had the teachers schedule. Teachers and Administrators alike know it just isn’t that cushy.

When students are in school, teachers are on every minute. With class sizes are running over 30 in most public schools today, a teacher never stops moving in the classroom. They have to teach the lesson, check for understanding, help students who need it, while maintaining an atmosphere that promotes learning. When teachers are lucky enough to have a prep period, they have meetings, planning to be done, papers to grade, parent phone calls to make and not to be forgotten a much-needed trip to the bathroom. A teacher’s prep period is much like most people’s work.

If that is not enough work for a teacher, when the bell rings at the end of the day, teachers begin preparing for the next. Feedback has to be given on all work turned in. Engaging lessons have to be created. Still more meeting with departments, grade level or special education  providers. Parent phone calls are still needed for those that could not be reached . Run to the store to purchase supplies needed for class. Sounds like a repeat of what is done during prep time, but you can only accomplish so much while students are in school because teachers are often interrupted. Teachers are also expected to help out and attend after school events ranging from band concerts to sports and everything in between.

So after all the school work is done teachers can enjoy their families? Well sort of, most teachers also are engaged in improving their craft. During summers, school holidays and breaks many attend professional development. Most states require a number of PD hours or college credits to stay current.

After all of this is done a teacher may enjoy their free time….. or just take a nap to get up and do it all over again.