The First Year Teaching: How will I motivate my students?

By Matthew Lynch

One of the pitfalls of motivating students is that teachers are too fixated on curriculum. Teachers are afraid that when students fall behind the set curriculum, it will be reflected on external examinations. Your goal as the teacher is to prepare students for their later lives, and to educate and guide them for further learning and fulfillment — which means not everything should be about what a test will show.

Connecting curriculum with the real world

The challenge for teachers to make classroom learning interesting and fit the curriculum has always existed.  Even over a century ago, the reform movement to engage students in school learning was a big goal for teachers and education philosopher John Dewey pioneered this topic. Dewey promoted the idea that school learning should relate to skills and knowledge that will be useful for life outside of school, advocating that students would have a better learning experience by relating the two different world. In turn, students would be motivated for further learning. Dewey believed that a classroom of passive students, with the teacher simply feeding the knowledge, was ineffective and that a mutual effort was necessary for an optimal learning experience.

Dewey suggested that the prevention of classroom misbehavior, and the encouragement of student participation, had to have a link between a student’s classroom learning and current interests and experiences.  This suggestion does not mean that Dewey disregarded school curriculum in support of individual learning – just that learning should not be in a classroom vacuum.  His suggestions and examples are summed up here:

  • Students help teachers select specific reading assignments after they get a clear idea about the goals of the class.  Example: Teachers want to teach students about creative writing and students choose to read a recent bestseller instead of a classic book.
  • Students should be able to decide on and work on topics that are of personal interest.  Example: When learning astronomy, a student can choose to research black holes instead of the conventional solar system.
  • Teachers should be open to learning from students while bringing their own experience and interests to the class.  Example: Students are learning about different cultures, and a student talks about how his family celebrates a certain ethnic holiday.
  • Students should gain in-depth knowledge by participating in the world away from the classroom.  Example: Students working on writing a letter should choose an elected official to address, and on a specific topic.

As you can see, such classrooms have much flexibility.  Although teachers should have plans to meet the goal for the whole class, there should be enough flexibility to facilitate individual students’ goals. This approach will facilitate student willingness to learn effectively. Students do not merely memorize, but gain the advantage of understanding and take the learned skills with them for the rest of their lives.

Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation

Motivation can come from within (intrinsic), or outside (extrinsic), or both. Intrinsic motivation is something that is difficult to change, as it is a somewhat built-in part of an individual and traits are much harder to change than behaviors.  You will need to know how to stimulate students who rely on intrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation to learn is the key to an optimal learning environment.  External motivation occurs when students are absorbed in tasks, challenged and motivated by their own choices.

Remember that your job as a new teacher is not to make education entertaining for your students, but rather to motivate them to seek it out on their own. You want to guide them but to still allow them room to be inspired all on their own.

Check out all of our posts for First Year Teachers here. 

Choose your Reaction!