Many of my classmates in education seem to be anxious over this one common thing: How do we motivate our students? How do we keep them interested? How do we inspire them? How do we get them excited about learning?
Last semester in ECS 100, whenever someone asked a question like that, the response was always the same. “When you find out, let me know.”
But I can hardly blame them. What I’ve gleaned during my almost-year in this program is that there isn’t an answer to that problem because – and here’s the shocking part – we are not robots. We are not the Borg. We are individual people, which means that the techniques that work for one teacher in one classroom in one year may not work for another teacher, or even for the same teacher with a different group of students.
I’ve come to realize that when we ask our professors how we are going to keep our students interested, we are falling into the trap of thinking that we are no longer students. We are still students. In fact, we’re entering a profession where we have to be even better students than our students, because in order to do well at our jobs we need to learn quickly and efficiently all the time and then, every single day, prove and apply what we learned. We need to sit up and pay attention, which I will be the first to admit I don’t always do.
I think that, somewhere in our heads, we all already have some kind of idea of how to answer that question. How do you keep students interested? Well…what kept you motivated? What made you stop chatting with your friends and pay attention to what the teacher was saying? What bored you? What made you turn away or fall asleep? We’ve been witnesses to this profession our entire lives. Now we just have to put it all together.
For instance, when I was in the eighth grade I made a powerpoint presentation on the country of Ireland. It was a terrible presentation – half an hour long or something ridiculous like that. The only advice my teacher gave me afterwards was to not put anything in a presentation that I wouldn’t be interested in hearing about from someone else’s presentation. That is something that stuck with me, and which I still use as a personal standard to measure my presentations and lessons against. If someone else were saying that, would I be interested, or would I silently be praying for the building to collapse on their head?
It’s not always effective. Not everyone is like me. I’m sometimes interested in some pretty obscure things, or subjects that are boring or strange to most people. But until mankind comes up with a way to read minds, it’s something that keeps my wandering brain in check…most of the time.
There is no absolute answer – nothing that says, “If you do this, your students are guaranteed to be interested.” Professors can show you how to work out the problem, here and there, but they can’t fix it for you, because if you’re going to be a teacher, you’ve got to be a student, too. This problem of how to keep your kids interested and motivated – that’s your project; your pop quiz; your final exam. And really, when was the last time a teacher wrote a test for you?