Determining how to motivate low-achieving students is one of the most important questions in education. For a teacher, one of the most tragic things is to see a student perform below his or her abilities due to apathy. Motivating a student and keeping him or her motivated and seeking positive achievement is often complex and requiring of continual work. A look at the path to helping parents in motivating a disengaged pupil:
First, find where the student wishes to end up. Not all students are seeking the same path in life and will therefore not be motivated equally by routine motivators. For example, assuming everyone is on the “college track” will breed apathy among those who would prefer to start working after high school, for those students will feel left out and unmotivated by teachers’ calls to work harder because college will have tougher standards. In fact, non-college-seeking students may feel ignored and disrespected by teachers’ universal focus on higher education, viewing it as a disregard for students not headed to college.
Teachers, therefore, should work on coming up with different ways to impart the importance of academic effort to different post-high school environments. Emphasize how learning and academic effort are important on the job site instead of just the college lecture hall. Many jobs, even blue collar jobs, require incoming workers to learn quickly from presentations, booklets, manuals, and the Internet. Students who may not be planning on attending college immediately after high school may be more motivated to put forth effort in high school if they are informed how academic success and study skills can help get and keep a good job.
Such information should be given to parents, who may be struggling to determine how to academically motivate a son or daughter who does not plan to immediately attend college. Parents, like their children, may have difficulty in answering “why should I learn/study this if I’m not going to college?” Both parents and children should be aware that intelligence and self-discipline, both emphasized by academic rigor, are valued in virtually all jobs, be they white collar or blue collar. They should also be aware that college education can now be begun by applicants of any age, which means that a good high school transcript will always be worth something. A student who does not want to go to college at 18 may change his mind at 21, 25, or even 38, meaning he or she should get his grades as high as possible before graduating from high school. Those grades will be important when considering college later in life.
Secondly, explain to parents that you give credit for effort. Saying something is 100 percent right or 100 percent wrong can lead to many students tuning out and becoming apathetic, figuring that if they are not going to get any credit they should not even bother trying. By giving partial credit for good effort a student may be persuaded to keep trying. Eventually, many of these students may get their academic legs under them, so to speak, and go on to excel. Points for effort requires more effort in grading but may pay off tremendous dividends in keeping students from mentally checking out when the work seems hard and they worry about not getting the right answer.
Parents who are aware of this grading policy can keep their kids trucking along by saying “Mr./Ms. ___________ gives points for trying, so get back to studying!” Students may try to convince their parents that they don’t need to study because the studying “doesn’t even help,” so teachers should also provide plenty of points for notes grades, written assignments, and other non-test work. By knowing that the teacher offers credit for things other than tests, parents can say “maybe you don’t test well, but you can make up those points by doing your best on ________________.”
Finally, communication is key. Let parents know that you are always willing to communicate with them. Many parents may have given up on trying to motivate their students after prior negative experiences with teachers who were uncommunicative. At the beginning of each grading period, reach out to parents and provide your contact information and details about parent-teacher conferences and tutorials. Parents are more likely to try and motivate their children if they know that the teacher will be an agreeable resource both inside and outside the classroom.