Motivation in the Classroom



As a former teacher myself, I have often spoke of learning from and with my students. In the classroom, there are a host of agendas, ideas, and motivating factors that work together mechanically to produce a desired outcome. But sometimes the mechanics are far from functional as often times students are not willing participators, intrinsically or extrinsically unmotivated to perform directed tasks or even less than concerned about their work.

Most of us would agree that the commonality, that one unifying goal and purpose, and that driving force behind the requirement for us to participate in directed and mandated classroom activities for most of our childhood and adolescent lives, is in fact learning. Learning is an arbitrary concept for some but the teachers that stand in the classroom everyday are the leaders on our paths to learning. They are responsible for making learning happen and in their attempts to bring life to various subjects, their tasks always begin with the need to motivate.

What does it mean to motivate? Does one receive actuation of concepts, ideas, and interest from inside our hearts and minds, or is it always necessary to receive incentive from external sources? In grappling with the question of motivation in the classroom, one must not go any further than the very teachers themselves. These teachers’ initial motivations to become academic leaders and trainers that led them to this effectual position should be explored. Three teachers of varying age groups, subject matter, and whose temporal and theoretical experiences vary, shed some light on how their own ambition to become teachers continues to shape the manner in which they instruct and motivate themselves and their students.

Lori Lesutis, high school Science teacher at Merion Mercy Academy for over fourteen years, remembers observing her high school teachers and their intimidating and unapproachable methods which later served as the inspiration to become a teacher herself. Having taught varying age groups and subjects over the last twenty years, Lori’s experience is demonstrative of her desire to change the way instruction can play out in the classroom. She explains, “In high school, our labs were intimidating and our teachers were brilliant. While the intellectual components were present, the objectives were never clear. That is to say, why were we there? What were we really learning? And in our mistakes we were made to feel that learning had halted but I’ve always believed that in those mistakes, learning was taking place, growing, evolving, much like the material we cover in our science classes.”

Lori’s directly inspired approach to motivating her students was her desire to contrast starkly with the way she was herself instructed. She further comments that “Teachers are there to build self esteem, share in the learning process step by step with our students, and incite our students to contribute their unique experience, insight, and collaborative donation. I show them that I, too, make mistakes and can laugh at myself. It takes the pressure off them to feel the need to be perfect all the time, because in perfection is not where true learning takes place, for any of us.” A love for synergetic education also compelled Jessica Hendricks, a second year teacher at Norwood Academy, to find herself in front of over twenty fourth graders everyday.

Motivated by the apathetic and disinterested instructors she had in her grade school years, Jessica explains, “The teachers that I was not so impressed with when I was growing up actually motivated me to become a teacher so I could help future students not have to sit in boring and stale learning environments like I did on too many occasions. My career is rewarding for both teachers and students if the teacher takes the time to be creative and design neat ways to learn, and my students deserve that and I enjoy those moments when a student is literally soaking in the knowledge you just passed on to them in front of me.” So how do these teachers concoct the right formula for motivating, stimulating, and producing academic scholarship?

Both Lori Lesutis and Erin Mitchell agree that enthusiasm on the part of the teacher is paramount. To them, a teacher’s authority and dominion over the students extends beyond lecturing and assigning and involves the rousing of emotional and intellectual participation. Erin Mitchell, a second year teacher at a low income urban school in Philadelphia, faces additional obstacles in motivating her students as she explained to me that “I feel it is harder to motivate my low income students as opposed to when I taught in a very upscale suburban school district right out of graduate school because some of my students now have not been exposed to many things, like the ocean, that are required elements of our curriculum.”

In response to questions related to how she brings her attachment to “personal relevance” as an important tool in her instruction, Erin goes on to say, “I make sure to bring my own personal experiences to each activity and I ask that my students do the same. Making the lessons very visual and interactive, students who have never seen the ocean can listen to the sounds of the waves from an audio or visual clip, for instance. Exposing them to various demonstration aids and utilizing what resources I do have as a teacher, I try to help them connect to the material.”

To motivate is to bring someone or something alive. That is to say that motivation means to invoke and provoke dormant ideas, feelings, and ambition in either ourselves or others. Teachers have a difficult job of approaching this multi-facted task each and every single day. From the teachers’ insights above, it is evident that while not everyone participates in the learning process from the same perspective or with the same ambition, a teacher’s motivation to be there as a role model and leaders is the first step in creating a collaborative and productive environment for which students and teachers alike may engage in the learning process effectively.



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