Daily Archives: June 24, 2014

Inspiring Motivation

For the past few weeks, as the school year has wound down, I’ve been thinking about motivation in students and how we can inspire students to motivate themselves, intrinsically as opposed to relying on extrinsic motivation, such as grades (“I have to get an A!”) or rewards (“If I do well on this, I get candy!”)
In these days where student achievement figures highly in assessing teacher performance, many teachers complain that they just cannot get their students motivated to care about the work, so the students don’t do well, and “make [the teacher] look bad.”  I hear a lot of teachers complain about how “lazy” students are, and I start to wonder, “How do we as teachers model intrinsic motivation?”
In pondering this question, I turned to my own students. “Tell me about a teacher who really motivated you to do better.  What did they do?  What didn’t they do?”  I asked.
Every single response I got had two main points in common–It was clear that the teacher loved what they did, truly and completely and treated the students like mini-adults, as opposed to empty buckets to be filled or gardens to be grown.  As I reflect on my own experiences with teachers, and how I became a Latin teacher, I see these sentiments as well.  My Latin teacher was an incredible man named Nick Unger.  As a freshman, I had placed into Latin 2, since I had taken Latin in middle school, and I honestly believed that I would take Latin through Latin 3 (the last year of the language requirement) and then major in Physics in college.  However, from the first day in his classroom, I knew I was sticking with Latin all the way through Senior year.  Tiny freshman me (yes, I was quiet and shy once) entered that classroom, and was greeted by a big voice saying “Ah!  Salve, Romana!” What have I gotten myself into?! I thought, but his zeal for the subject and passion for helping his students succeed was contagious.
Mr. Unger demonstrated his passions in so many ways.  Class was run like a Roman Society.  You could collect coins and move up ranks, which gave you privileges.  He described the history behind the Latin in such vivid terms that it came to life in your mind and he never missed an opportunity to read Latin meter seamlessly and with the expression of Kenneth Branagh.  And yet, he understood that students had lives outside of his class.  He came to our games, watched us in the plays, and understood when we got back late from a game and could not finish the homework–as long as it didn’t happen too often.
I remember taking an exam for him once.  State Finals Certamen was coming up and, as we took the exam, he typed diligently at his computer.  What had he been doing?  Writing questions to quiz us, the Certamen team, at our final practice before States.  If you thought that that kind of dedication would make us want to study our material, you would be right. We studied like it mattered, because we truly wanted to learn all that he was teaching, and we had a great time doing it.
As a teacher, I try to model myself on his example.  In his experience, in my experience, and in my students’ experiences, the best way to keep a student with even a modicum of interest in your subject engaged in the subject is not through worksheets but through making the language, the subject matter come alive and demonstrating your own love for your subject and what you do.
This probably does not come as a surprise to you all.  For all teachers, it can be hard to remember that we truly love what we do and truly care for our students, especially when we are trying to balance mountains of paperwork, data, and students staying after school.  Not only is this balance good for the students, it is good for the teachers as well.  When I need something to keep me going, I think of this example: One of my students wrote on her “first day questionnaire” that she had always had a bad experience in Latin, but was taking it because she had to finish her language requirement.  At the end of this year, in her final course evaluation, she wrote the following (quote used with permission), “I told you at the beginning of the year that this was my last year of Latin–that I just wanted to get through it. However, thank you for reaching out to me and giving us the projects and the guidance to make Latin fun and interesting.  You pushed me to do my best, even when I thought I wasn’t going on in Latin and stayed after school with me as many times as I needed to get the topics.  See you in Latin 4.”