Motivating the Unmotivated

In the academic environment, there are students who excel and who fail, those who do their best and those who remain apathetic, those who are motivated and those who simply could not care less. The latter unfortunately remains an inherent part of contemporary education and poses a considerable issue in raising young adults today. Although these adolescents in question do not, at the time, fathom the significance of education, that by no mean diminishes the effect education, or the lack thereof, can and will have on the remainder of their personal and professional lives. With this in mind, educators attempt to overcome what can sometimes appear to be an insurmountable mental obstinacy. When facing such a stubborn lack of educational commitment, how can teachers, well, teach?

Emphasize rewards.

There are many students in the school system who have never directly experienced success themselves. When a boy or girl has never succeeded before, they have no reason to believe success is a viable option. In light of this pervasive misperception, it is understandable why some low-achieving students opt to harass their teacher rather than complete their work. If they do not believe that success is an option regardless of how much effort they put forth, it is only logical that they would then choose to put forth no effort at all.

In order to combat this, teachers can implement a small-scale reward system that provides an instant, if minimal, moment of gratification. While this practice is evident in lower age classrooms (like when a teacher gives out stickers), it can also be applied to older children. For instance, teachers can give out positive postcards when a student answers a question correctly. This way, the student has a moment of recognition for what they did, and can associate their effort with positive reinforcement. However, this concept of positive reinforcement can and should go beyond mere postcards.

Rather than talk about grades as a motivator, teachers can discuss with students the pride their parents or guardians or loved ones might feel when said student brings home a positive report card. Envisioning the warm embrace or verbal acknowledgment they would receive after doing well has a great capacity to motivate students. As opposed to achieving for themselves, they will begin to achieve for those they love, and when acting as part of something greater than themselves (their family), they ideally will find a greater sense of purpose.

Implement standard procedure.

Just as students with learning disabilities perform better in a classroom where they know what to expect, so too should average students be able to perform better in a classroom where there is an established routine. This way, rather than being forced to deal with the apprehension that is inherent in change, students are able to dedicate their energy to learning. If students understand they are responsible for reporting to class each day with a book, a notebook, and a pen or a pencil, they will be more inclined to do so. By establishing a daily routine, students can fall into and adapt a schedule that works for them, and thus will work for their overall education.

If class begins with a standard activity like silent reading or discussion, students will be better able to shift gears from socializing to learning because they will understand when it is time to shift gears. Teachers could even play music to such activities if they so desire. The point here is routine and established procedure.

The truth is that there are many methods to motivate the unmotivated and these are only a couple broad ideas educators can consider implementing in their classroom. Education is the foundation of society, and although some adolescents may not understand that concept while they’re young, they will most certainly understand it on entering the job market. It is our duty to make sure they set themselves up for success.