It’s a good month into the fall semester of my fourteenth year as a full time educator, and I want to reflect not on motivating students, but rather on keeping myself motivated. If you’re a teacher, you know the fears we all share: Will we get burned out on the content, the lessons, the students, the reforms, etc? I’ve always appreciated the Oscar Wilde quote: “Each man kills the things he loves.” For me, I’ve worried that if we do too much of a good thing that we lose our joy for it, that it does in fact become work. Let’s not let that happen.
This school year I intentionally created a game plan to stay motivated and energetic, perhaps more so than ever before. Here’s my plan, and I share it with the hope that it may help rejuvenate others too.
Add, change, and/or cut one lesson for each course every year.
I’m grateful to have had some help on this one. My college’s library introduced a program called “One Book, One College,” with the goal to have our entire campus community read the same book and participate in college wide activities. The book this year is Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and I decided to incorporate it in every communication class I teach. It’s been an incredibly refreshing and rewarding experience. Here are a couple of comments some students made about the book:
At least 3 people in different classes said something like: “I’ll be honest. I didn’t start this until last night, but I can’t believe that I got hooked. I read all of part one in one night.”
“I’m not much of a reader. I’ve never really gotten into books, but thank you for assigning this. I can’t believe how good it is. I’m staying up late and losing sleep just so I can read one more chapter.”
In any classroom, there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking students to read more, and the discussions we’ve had in class have provided a refreshing mental and emotional stimulus to our content. It makes me want to add a different book each semester to my classes—to always encourage students to read more and to always have some variety in our classroom!
Attend your students’ sporting events
I made a goal this year to attend one game from each sport in which a student of mine was participating. After attending the first game, I was sure to find the student after and give him or her a compliment. What was even more amazing: they opened up more in class, shared more about their passions, and seemed more focused on our classroom discussions. I had taken an interest in them outside the classroom, and in doing so, they took a greater interest in my classroom.
It also was nice to see other students attending the sporting events, and I said hello to each one I saw in the crowd. They smiled back, and they had this look on their face: “My professor is at a game!?” It’s clearly not something they were used to seeing, and I think it made a difference in letting them know I do care about them.
Promote your students’ interests in class
I decided I would have students do an introduction speech at the beginning of the class where they, in part, share all of their college interests and activities. Similar to the sporting events, I wanted to know my students passions. Now I try to announce any upcoming events related to such student interests, such as a play or musical coming up if I have a student in it, an art show, a radio program, honors society inductions, and so on. It makes students feel more connected to you and your classroom, and quite simply they seem to really appreciate the promotional plug.
The world is bigger than our classrooms. The more I see the big picture and discuss that, the more motivated I am to not teach just teach class content but to teach students.
Leave the classroom
You have that one lesson you’ve taught one thousand times, right? You struggle to remain enthusiastic, right? On an impulse during one such lesson of my own, I decided we needed to leave the classroom. I had students pack up their books and we went and sat outside on a beautiful fall morning. I didn’t have a board to write on, but I asked students to listen closely and write down notes. Then we discussed the ideas, and I think it’s the strongest discussion I’ve ever had on one of the least interesting parts of my class.
Walk around campus and make notes of possible alternative “classrooms.” I’ve found relaxing and peaceful areas outside and inside, and sometimes I also look for the loud and boisterous areas too. We don’t always have to be the teacher at the white board. We can be the teacher anywhere, and a change of scenery is good for students too.
Begin and end class with humor
This should be true of any lesson, and I try to be a “performer” for my students and find ways to incorporate humor in each lesson. Learning should be fun, after all. However, sometimes we need something even bigger. I know we all fight for each precious minute of our classroom time, but I’ve always been a quality over quantity kind of guy. If I can get my students fully engaged and focused, I can do the same lesson in 40 minutes instead of 50.
So sometimes I see a class that looks tired or bored or just unfocused. Sometimes I’m a little tired too. What do I do? I rely on the hundreds of silly YouTube videos I’ve collected over the years.
“Ok, class. We look a little sleepy today. So I’m going to show you a short video that I hope will make you laugh. I want us energetic in class today.” The first video I showed this year was the “Mutant Spider Dog” prank.
We all laughed, and I said, “All right. If we have an energetic class and finish the lesson in time, I may have to show you another hilarious video at the end of class just for fun. Ready? Let’s begin.”
Like extra reading, there’s nothing wrong with extra humor, especially in the classroom, where sometimes we need it the most.
What are your tips to stay motivated and energetic in the classroom?
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