It’s the beginning of class, and you are checking to see what students came to class prepared, and you get to “that” student (admit it, a name just came to your mind!), and of course, they are not prepared for class today. This is the third time this week, and who knows how many times this month…
All of us have been there at one time or another. It can be so hard not to take it personally. In your mind you may think about the amount of time you have invested in that student, or the help that you provided yesterday to make sure that student was organized and prepared to be able to finish the homework, or maybe you think of the assurances you had from the parents who told you they would help make sure work was being completed. How can we not take it personally?
Of course, the reality is that for the vast majority of our students, they are not doing this purposely (although on the day I am writing this, I did see a student with a t-shirt that said “I’m just here to annoy you!”). In fact, you are probably the furthest thing from their mind when a student does not complete his work. Instead, the lack of completion could be for a lot of reasons (maybe they didn’t understand how to do the assignment, maybe they didn’t want to do it, maybe they thought it was boring, or maybe there was nobody at home to make sure they did it – you get the idea, there are lots of possible reasons). I think logically all of us understand that students are not intentionally coming to class unprepared in an effort to drive us crazy, and yet we can’t help but feel that way.
One of the great beliefs I have about education is that relationships are one of the keys to success for our students. I know that many of you feel the same way. We take the time to build relationships with all our students. We feel invested in each of them. We can’t help but believe that the feeling is mutual. Unfortunately, our students don’t always feel the same way. Sometimes even with our best effort, it is hard to help all our students to feel connected here at school.
When “that” student comes to class unprepared, the simple solution is often to get angry or frustrated. It is much more difficult to figure out the answer to the key question – why?
Finding the answer to the question of why is not easy. The answers that students will give run the gamut – I forgot, I had a basketball game last night, my parents couldn’t help me, etc. A lot of time we see these answers as excuses. Instead, maybe we should look at them as clues. If they say they forgot, are they disorganized? Do they need additional support so that they won’t forget in the future? Could you help them set an alert on the iPad or phone to go off in the evening to remind them of the work they have to do tonight? If they say that they had another activity, can we assess what they do have done to see if they understood the concept? Do they need more work time here at school? We can’t control how their time is scheduled outside of school hours, but we can help control how that student uses their time here at school. If they say they didn’t have a parent to help them, then do they need to have the concept retaught to them? If a student needs a parent’s help to be able to complete a homework assignment, then they don’t really understand the material.
In last week’s post we discussed growth mindset in teachers. An argument could be made that situations like the one described at the beginning of this post could be the perfect opportunity to use some of what we learned about having a growth mindset. Instead of taking it personally when a student isn’t prepared for class, look at it as a puzzle to be solved. Try to understand why the student isn’t prepared. Once you understand the why, it will be much more likely that we can approach a solution. If you don’t have an idea of how to help the student, talk to your colleagues, counselors, or administrators to see what ideas they may have (collaboration = more opportunities for growth!).
If you’re still struggling to come up with a way to motivate the student, come at the problem from a PBIS perspective. Most of our kids who struggle simply want attention of some kind. Getting negative attention is easy, but when given a choice between a positive and a negative consequence, most kids will choose the positive (it’s amazing what I used to get kids to do for a sticker or a jolly rancher!). And if you show them that it is possible to earn that positive consequence, then they find success. Once they show a pattern of success, you can make it more difficult to earn that positive feedback, and hopefully the student will begin to learn that the feeling of success from a job well done is a good enough reward (I know that this process takes longer than we like, but it does work!).
Instead of looking at the unprepared student as the enemy, spend some time thinking about them as a puzzle. If you don’t know what will motivate him, spend some time to get to know him (2 for 10 strategy). Look back on one of our earlier posts: Know your kids – Love you kids for a little more on how a 2 minute conversation can help you learn about your kids.
What success have you had in motivating the unmotivated or reaching the unreachable? Spread the wealth! Share some of your experiences in the comments below.