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.