To motivate near-adults, teachers (and parents for that matter) need to take into account the most important thing in the world to this developing young person; their impending leap into adulthood. Whether they are going on to college or taking a job, in their minds these young people are going full-throttle onto the freeway of real life. Getting them to take seriously yet another year of mathematics they won’t ever use or historical dates and people they won’t ever reference again is a very difficult task. But fear not, there are ways to bring them back into the educational fold.
First and most importantly, this is an age of independence. You cannot tell them what they must do or worse, what you would do. Their choices need to be theirs, and theirs alone. What you can do is give them the most information possible to make the right choice. In this sense, you are adopting a parental support role. But at this point, respect for authority is at the lowest it will ever be, so tread cautiously. Do not provide them statistics (nothing gets the eyes rolling faster than that), but give them real-life examples of successful people in the field that most interests them. Be careful to cite role models who worked hard to get where they are, not “American Idol” winners or Steven Spielberg’s niece.
Second, provide visual media and incite interaction. This generational group is not motivated by textbooks and rote lectures. Show CNN footage and talk about the war in Iraq. Show debates and talk about presidential candidates. It is important to a developing adult to participate in the world around them. You will have students who have opinions, and when they share them, it will incite others to do the same. Don’t tell them what you think, and don’t knock them when they share ill-advised opinions. Gentle steerage toward the facts, not your opinions or that of whoever is in charge, will be appreciated. Nothing will keep a mule from drinking more than slamming his face into the water!
Lastly, find out what your students want to learn about. Remember that these kids have already set their minds toward their futures. They know what class they are in, but they also they know what is a waste of time and what will help them succeed, or definitely think they do! Embrace suggestions from your audience, like any good entertainer does, while keeping their minds on track. If your students have input into what goes on in class, they will be more motivated to participate, and your chances of actually teaching them anything dramatically improve. Good luck! (you’re gonna need it….)