Editor's Note: The "Pre-Service Perspective" series continues with this post from Caitlin Doolittle
"Many students don’t see education as a privilege. They see it as a product. And if they don’t like the salesperson, if they aren’t impressed with how it’s packaged, they aren’t buying. But our kids have to learn to be self-motivated because at some point in every person’s life, either at school or in a job or in a marriage, he or she will have to buck up and say, 'This is hard. This is boring. I don’t want to do this. But I’m doing it anyway. And I’ll do my best.'" -Laura Hanby, "How to fix the apathy problem in schools", The News & Observer, June 5, 2016
We've made it through two weeks already, the students and I. Now we're all getting to enjoy a much deserved (or at least we think so) 3 day weekend. The biggest thing I have struggled with this school year so far is being present, and I think a few students have been having the same problem. The class I work with is first thing in the morning, and we're all tired. I'm able to become engaged very quickly, though, having years of customer service under my belt, therefore the training to put on a brave and cheerful face even when I'm exhausted. My worry is, though, if we allow these student to be taciturn, and write it off as just them being tired, will it change throughout the year... or are we just communicating the wrong expectations? We all want to work in a classroom in which the students are engaged and excited about their learning. So, it's our jobs to make lessons that are exciting, diverse, effective, innovative, informative.... the list of adjectives goes on and on. But should this weight really just be on our shoulders? I of course do not have the answers to this yet, but now is a good time to start asking that question.
As education majors, we are taught many ways to shape and change our lessons so that they are accessible to each students' learning style. This is valuable information, as it is of course true that we all learn differently, and what we are taught as education majors has to do with communicating that learning to each kind of student. But just because we know how to teach, does not mean that our students know how to learn. So it does seem like some of the weight of the classroom experience is on the students' shoulders. This just means that we cannot do all of the work for them. That if something isn't getting through to a student, they may need to come up with a new approach, a new way of looking at the problem, or to seek out new resources... just like we have to as teachers. But it seems like less and less does society hold students to these standards. When a student is having trouble, it can be an easy out to just blame a teacher and say they are ineffective.
But to get back to the main point: sometimes it's hard to get students engaged, especially when it's first thing in the morning, on top of being the beginning of the year, when not every one knows each other yet (or you for that matter). As I start to design lessons and make my own efforts to get students fired up, I should use this time to advocate some good learning habits to the students. Right now I'm a bit of a bystander in the classroom, which, as I see it, is the perfect position in which to be that voice in the students' ear that guides them to be more and more independently motivated. I can give encouragements from those sidelines as the teacher is in front of the class doling out that useful learning.
A great article by Laura Hanby called "How to fix the apathy problem in schools" is what initially got me excited about this idea. She talks about how to start small when it comes to encouraging students to become more motivated in their classes. It's ok to start by only giving 100% in one class and by doing this through good note taking methods, organization, or by finding study buddies. These are all things we can easily guide students into doing. Then through these efforts, students may start having success in classes that they otherwise found boring or too hard. "Success breeds success, and success is an excellent motivator."
I highly recommend checking out her article here, it's a very good read.
As the year continues to go by, I'm going to make more of an effort to try self-motivation techniques with students, and promote these ideas as a regular topic of conversation. Then, hopefully, by the end of the year no one will have to be putting on any brave faces. I will report back here both successes and failures!
"Not only does success motivate, but it can also inspire, and here is where we move from sheer determination to passion – the true goal of education." -Laura Hanby, "How to fix the apathy problem in schools",The News & Observer, June 5, 2016