By: Vicky Curtin
We Are Too Apathetic to Seek Out Motivation
“The desire to do something because you find it deeply satisfying and personally challenging inspires the highest levels of creativity, whether it’s in the arts, sciences, or business (Teresa Amabile; Professor Harvard University).” The book, Drive, by Daniel H. Pink illustrates how to rethink motivation and transform a new generation starting in the classroom. I chose this book for my own personal struggles with motivation. Sometimes I just don't have the motivation to get out of bed, to drive to school, to sit in class and actually pay attention. What is it that makes students like this? We're not motivated in class, we lack the want to finish assignments even though we know it will affect our grades greatly. Pink is able to show how autonomy, mastery, and purpose transforms our way of thinking and teaching.
The first main focus of this book is our autonomy as a society. What are our deep desires? What truly directs our lives? Before reading the first section Pink states, “In this section I’ll offer some thoughts about how to apply these concepts to education and to our lives outside of work… let’s begin with a thought experiment, one that requires going back in time- to the days when John Major was Britain’s prime minister, Barack Obama was a skinny young law professor, Internet connections were dial-up, and a blackberry was still just a fruit.” In order to have direction in our lives we need to have the basic motivation skills and mindset. As a student it becomes a constant challenge to motivate myself. Especially being my last year in high school, seniors like me are wondering what's that point and why does what I do here matter? It's assignment after assignment, test after test, and projects that we just don't know how to even start. That can be a matter of motivation to become organized. The average high school student is caught up preparing for ACT/SAT tests, a job, and balancing life at home. The average high school student starts to realize they have no organization and have no time to just sit down and relax for once. Everything from conflicts to blessings passes us so quickly and we are just now starting to figure out how these occurring situations fit together.
Some days students want to just sit at home and take a break from stress. Stress comes from all different aspects of our lives. For me, most of my stress comes from college preparation, family, finances, my social life, and wanting to get out of high school. We know we need to get assignments done, but we want all the tedious tasks in the process to go away. I have always wondered why we always wait until last minute to do assignments. Why as students do we find ourselves awake at two in the morning just trying to finish a paper. Our grades continue to decline, but we desire a sufficient GPA. Pink reflects on what Cali Ressler, co-author of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, states about how we define work. "“In the past, work was defined primarily by putting in time, and secondarily on getting results. We need to flip that model,” Ressler told me. “No matter what kind of business you’re in, it’s time to throw away the tardy slips, time clocks, and outdated industrial-age thinking.” After asking a few of my friends related questions of why we're apathetic, they all gave me the same type of answers. It was "I hate the class" or "I don't like my teacher" and "I'm sick of these pointless assignments." As students, we're beginning to get that feeling that what we do is pointless. We are being graded on tasks that involve little to no creativity. The assignments we do are completely pointless until our teachers can show us how crucially important it is. Importance needs to be more than just preparing us for college. For the past 18 years we have been preparing for the next tomorrow. The stress and burdens that are put on our shoulders start to become an unbearable weight. We show how badly we are affected by taking it out on others or completely avoiding the situation all together. Students come home from school and are disappointed from a hardly decent grade on a test that they worked so hard to study for. They are grouchy and irritable. So when parents ask about college and future plans we become outraged and the climate of our households changes immensely. Then after a good fight with the parents we return to school in the same irritable mood. The sight of school is an automatic stress trigger as we approach down the road in our cramped cars. We reflect on our week so far (even if it's just Tuesday) and predict the rest of the week, only wanting to escape from the small town we've been secluded in for eighteen years.
The third and final concept that Pink points out in this book is how we can build and maintain healthy environments. After doing observations in my fifth grade classrooms, I noticed they were more focused on tasks that they found enjoyable. It gave me flashbacks to when my older sister was in middle school and I was doing her math homework. I told her I hated math and she began to bring home coloring worksheets for me to do. She showed me how to solve equations, then she let me color in various shapes that had numbers that matched with the answers she had gotten. Math was fun for me because I enjoyed the visual aspects of the task. I felt like I was actually able to master a subject that was a struggle to me. It was enjoyable because the task was worth seeing the crayon masterpiece come together. Pink described an experiment that was very similar to my experience with tasks. “The monkeys solved the puzzle simply because they found it gratifying to solve puzzles. They enjoyed it. The joy of the task was its own reward.” This concept of making education enjoyable for all types of learners is just a matter of altering a tedious task into a lesson that students will be willing to participate in.
This book affiliated with me as a learner on many different levels. I struggle daily to find motivation to really do anything. I hit the snooze button at least five times every morning before I even get one foot to stick out from the comforter. Yet, I still make it school at 7:10am every morning every morning. Why? I need to finish all the homework I couldn't find the time to do the night before. Another way I connect through this book is by understanding that when I can't focus, it's the task it's not me. I am a very expressive person. I like to write, even if it comes off as ranting brain vomit. With a burning passion more excruciating than the sun's fire, I passionately hate sitting in a classroom watching the teacher try to explain something that makes little to no sense. Especially in math class I get called out a lot for having a constant confused face and becoming frustrated when I can't pull out and solve equations straight out of an algebra book. Lectures and book work is just not how I can learn. I lose focus and every bit of information goes in one ear and out another. Sure, I'm accepted to college but I'm still disappointed by scores that leave me discontent. Then, I come home and I get ridiculed for low grades. Like in this book, sometimes I just want to be reminded of everything I do right and how much potential I have to do better. Part of this is that I lack organization. I badly need a planner, but I know if I get a planner I stick it somewhere in my car and forget it's there for the rest of the year. I have kitty cat pocket 2013-2014 calendar sitting in my trunk, maybe I need a different source for organization.
There are many ways I could have applied this to my fifth grade classroom. Whenever my fifth graders got frustrated over an assignment I told them, "Hey, it's alright. Just breathe, you're overthinking. Let me help you." I actually did not help them. I directed them to a section relating to the question that they struggled with and eventually they found the answer all by themselves. After they relaxed knowing they found the answer, I left them saying that they were doing a good job and I appreciate their hard work. Some of them smiled and went back to work, others would call me back over five minutes later. Slowly but surely they became more confident in the tasks they were trying to overcome. By being in the fifth grade classroom and working with these students, I was refreshed on my purpose for wanting to do what I know I can master. My purpose for wanting to teach is to show students that teachers care about more than just their grades. I want to know what desires and dreams tug at these students heart strings. I want to inspire them to do their best and go after what they want in life. Why should they ever be stopped? That's my purpose, to help students and show them to just take their time in life. I want to master the art of inspiring the next generations. With hardly any assistance and a whole bunch of appraisal, brought a whole new sense of confidence within them. I could tell by the way their eyes lit up and when they got excited about finding an answer on their own. I think we get like that at whatever age we are or whatever situation we're in.
Even finding the answer can be concerning too. One unlocked door only leads to another locked door, did we bring the same key with us from the last time or did we find it useless and toss it away? Great, the student found the fill in the blank to complete the sentence. Did they take that information and apply it to their own lives? Great, that acceptance letter came in the mail. How are you going to pay for that education? Great, you're graduated and have your very own classroom. How do you make sure every student keeps up with their work and apply what they learn to their own lives? Students are so focused on finding the answer, but it's only so we can pass. We don't apply information to our own lives anymore, does that mean we're not learning? Our environments and surroundings are constantly changing in every classroom. Do our teachers even know our names or anything about our lives? Students are becoming more of another face than a normal human being who has hopes and goals for years to come.
The other day I announced to my fifth graders that my stay with them was coming to an end. They all groaned and complained, it depressed me to tell them but I was glad to know I made some type of impact on them. One student asked me why I was leaving. I told him that as we get older we find out what we enjoy the most and what our true passions are. Another boy commented, "Well, we're fifth graders. Aren't we pretty grown up by now?" I laughed realizing that I was not the only one anxious to grow up and move on to bigger and better things. I hope these students don't struggle with the stress of high school as students like myself did. I know I will struggle and face battles I never thought I would encounter. In order to find the will to move on and fight through, I need to gain my own inner motivation. Fifth graders will soon learn this, hopefully sooner than when I did.
My curious mind still wanders to the unanswered questions regarding motivation, especially towards our educational system. How are we actually motivating students to do what they need to do? So many students are so focused on how to get an A that we have been severed from our own independent thinking and unique ideas. Does what we do in our four years of high school depict what common core standards wants us to be or what we want to obtain from school? A teacher can teach us lesson upon lesson and we can learn so much, a textbook can only create a thinking boundary and it limits how far our thoughts can go. My final thought is, how often are teachers actually encouraging their students? If I were to walk up to any student and asked them if they are in a class they study hard for and still have a C average or somewhere near that, they would say yes. Now if I were to ask the same student if that teacher has ever encouraged them to keep working hard, they are likely to say no. Motivation starts within, but students need someone to plant the seed of motivation in them.