I Like Homework!

We are discussing motivation as a central issue to teaching: how can we motivate our students? But the question was more like, how can we stop un-motivating our students? I am doing my practicum in a primary classroom, where kids just want to do everything all the time really well. It’s when they get older that they lose it, that it gets taught out of them. Younger children are inherently intrinsically motivated; older children have learned to depend on something else to motivate them.

I guess I never grew up because I still like homework. Last year was the first year I wasn’t in school. Instead of basking in free time, I decided to create a project for myself. I decided to create the biggest project possible. I decided to write a novel, which I’ve read on average takes most authors 2-10 years to write, any less or any more so incredibly rare that it is statistically irrelevant. So that’s what I did in my year off. I assigned myself a 2-10 year project.

Now I’m back at school learning how to never leave school and how to convince students to never leave school either. If we really did our job as teacher, students shouldn’t want to leave school, or at least shouldn’t ever want to stop learning. They should fall in love with the act of learning.

I don’t know that I ever fell in love with the act of learning, but I did fall in love with the act of producing. I love making projects, I love writing essays, I love doing homework, I love writing anything. I love drawing things. I love finishing things and handing them in. I love finished products, but I also love drafts. I’ve kept everything I’ve ever done at school. Only a few years ago I threw some things out. I miss them, my PoliSci and History 12 notes, as though if I had them I would read them all the time.

Why am I like this? I like to think that it’s because I’m a writer. School was practice, it was preparing me to write a novel. My fingers have typed enough papers now to write a full-length book. My English Literature brain has pieced together enough book themes to make one of my own. Enough evenings have been spent working at some project that I know what it’s like to plug away.

(image from mtrmedia.com)

And my motivation was never purely intrinsic, of course. Yes, I was working hard at school because I wanted to improve on skills, so that I could eventually, though I didn’t know it, write a novel. But I was also working hard at school because I wanted to see my name on the final product. Because I wanted to see the A next to it. So I knew that what I had done really was an exceptional effort.

And my motivation now is not in itself to write a novel, though a lot of it is. Yes, I want to improve on my skills. Yes, I would be happy if I wrote this thing in a cabin in the woods and no one ever saw it. I would still feel something; I would still have done it. But there’s something else too: I want to see my name in print. I want to see a positive review next to it. I want to be published so that I know I really did do something exceptional.

So right now it’s still weird that I like homework. Right now it’s weird because we’re trained out of liking homework. I hope to bring this love of learning and producing to my students, so we can all be in on it together, this weird thing called motivation.

Learning Standard

As only a recent adult, I’m beginning to learn that once past growing-up, it’s hard to find things I don’t know how to do. If I don’t know how to build something or count something, I ask someone else to do it. That’s fair; we’re not all experts. We’ve even created the term ‘DIY’ for those people who do things themselves.

It’s not that I know how to do everything – in fact I know how to do so few things – it’s that as an adult I run from things I don’t know. As an adult, it’s okay to say “I never learned that,” like learning happens as a child and never after. How many people learn a new language once they’re an adult? How many change careers? How many learn how to drive? Maybe if they have to, people learn new things, but if it’s possible to stick with what we know, we sure do.

Yesterday I bought a car.

The salesman asked me if I was an automatic driver. I was embarrassed to say yes. Yes, of course I chose the easier way to learn how to drive. And of course I never learned the other way, because I didn’t have to.

Sometimes all we need is a large monetary difference between an automatic and a manual car to make us learn new things.

I was humbled to learn how to drive standard (and by all means, I haven’t yet learned it). It was maybe not since Math or Physics class that I’ve felt something was so impossible to do. I bought a car but I couldn’t drive it and I wouldn’t ever be able to. There are cars around me and I’m going to die. I stalled in the middle of an intersection four times.

But learning standard inspired me to go past what I know. Maybe I make goals to approach the things I don’t know most and learn them. Maybe I make myself take a step further into the unknown. Maybe I don’t write about what I know.

All us adults need to stop being so complacent. Try driving standard. It’s so scary.