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The Unmotivated Student
       From the teacher’s perspective, a student that stands out in every classroom is the one who is not trying. When the school year begins, it is best to treat every student as a blank slate. Try to ignore rumors you have heard about the individual students and give each a fair shake. However, no matter how the year begins, some students wind up showing less effort than is expected. The reasons can vary, but the net result is the same. Such students wind up gaining less from the learning experience.
       Some students find they are in a course that is “beyond” them. It may be that their foundation is weak because they had not actually learned or retained necessary material from a previous course. They may have difficulty understanding the material that is being presented. This may be due to factors such as language problems or not being able to comprehend the content of the course reading material. In such cases, they often just shut down, not seeking any assistance because they view it as an insurmountable barrier.
       In many cases, the home environment plays an important role in such situations. There may be family problems that drain a student’s attention or effort regarding academic work. There may be a lack of parental direction or concern regarding education, or students may have a negative influence from their peers and parents find they are unable to overcome that. In some cases, parents defend their children to a degree that prevents a student from actually trying. Students can be so wrapped in the electronic world that it supersedes other concerns. Students may not be getting enough sleep or find that outside responsibilities interfere with taking school seriously. Often, it is a combination of more than one of these aspects.
       One of the most successful ways to overcome the problem of the unmotivated student is by gaining one-on-one assistance. In this situation, a single individual develops a relation that breaks through the existing barriers and gives the student the needed aid while also letting him or her see why education can be beneficial. It requires developing a level of trust on the part of the student and a positive role model on the part of the person offering help. This individual may be a teacher, an older family member, a neighbor or an older student. The problem is finding the person who has the time and is willing to invest the effort.
       When I first started teaching, having not yet taken any education courses, I entered the profession wearing rose-tinted glasses. I wanted to be as successful as Sidney Poitier in “To Sir, with Love.” I quickly learned that the real world is very different from what is portrayed in that movie. Elementary school teachers see their students about 12% of the year. In secondary schools, that drops to about 2%! How can society expect teachers to solve such major social problems? We cannot take the credit for making good students succeed. We are merely helping them along that path. Similarly, we cannot take the blame for students who are failing, though poor class environments can reinforce negative attitudes. Society needs to recognize the limitations of our profession. Personally, I am happy if I can succeed in turning around one or two unmotivated students each year.
       Another important aspect that must also be considered is when unmotivated students are disciplinary problems, disrupting the learning environment in the school. Some are acting out because they simply want attention. For whatever reason, they believe they are unable to succeed academically, but they want attention. They find that negative attention is better than no attention. Often, problems that develop outside of school are carried over to the classroom. While these students need help, the teacher is unable to give them the full attention they desire or need. The bottom line is that the good of the majority of the class must be kept in mind. These students definitely need the aforementioned one-on-one attention, but the teacher cannot offer that in the classroom. Such students need to gain assistance from another source, whether supplied by social workers, administrators or other options. Perhaps a totally different academic environment is needed. Attempts should be made by the teacher to communicate with parents and administrators to find a way to help such students, but the chosen action should never be at the expense of the education of the other students in the class.
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