Skip to Main Content

Motivating Students in Today's Apathetic Society

August 17, 2018 - 3 minute read

Boy with sunglasses and hoodie laying in the grass

One of the formidable challenges inherent in teachers’ job descriptions today is to motivate students to maximize their talents.  Apathy abounds in society and is no stranger in classrooms where students, beginning in adolescence, seemingly lose sight of the value of striving to excel in daily assignments.  Teachers’ professional skills are challenged as students communicate the following sentiments verbally and nonverbally: “Who gives a rip about grades?”… “What difference does this class make in my life?”  Natural motivation levels common in the elementary school years seem to wane or lie dormant as adolescent students sadly exhibit indifference to childhood activities, interests, and values that were enthusiastically embraced.  Researchers posit three truisms about motivation that are worth considering as teachers strive to hone their craft to move students from apathetic learners to motivated self-starters. A teacher’s ability to motivate is arguably the most important pedagogical skill needed to help students realize optimal success in today’s classroom.

Truism number one:  motivation is contagious.  The motivation level of the teacher sets the tone in the classrooms.  If the teacher is enthusiastic about the lesson and the process of learning, it is more likely for students to “catch” similar interests and strive to excel.  Unfortunately, apathy is also contagious where too many students have been turned off to a subject or the entire education process due to a boring and passionless teacher.  A teacher is wise to identify learning objectives and construct lesson activities they personally are excited about teaching. Many students have become motivated to embrace a particular subject as their life-long passion after being inspired by a favorite talented teacher.  

Truism number two:  setting goals enhances one’s motivation.  Successful people set goals.  Champions are not surprised when they receive a medal or trophy for they have been relentlessly planning and training for such achievements.  Goals prevent people from meandering through life where they try something until their path becomes tough and then passively change course to venture in another new direction.  Classroom teachers do students a great favor when they invest time to help students set four-year and one-year goals. A dream is a dream – until you write it down on paper and then it becomes a goal.  Goal setting as young adolescents will galvanize performance today and open up new possibilities in the future never imagined.

Truism number three:  clearly articulating the value of a requested task or assignment will heighten motivation.  Students are frequently asked to do things they perceive as being needless “busy work.”  Life is too short to be doing superfluous worksheets and projects. There is so much to learn and so little time to do it.  Teachers must carefully analyze what they ask students to do to ensure there is inherent value and relevancy in whatever task is asked of them.  If students do not see an advantage to themselves personally in what is being asked of them – they will have little desire to be motivated self-starters.  

Great teachers recognize they are instrumental in motivating students.  A humbling reality is that teachers are second in importance in motivating students next to their parents.  It is admittedly easier to work with students who enter the classroom being highly motivated by their home environment or personal inclinations.  Teachers who wish to leave a lasting legacy in the lives of students take proactive steps to help them set ambitious personal goals and then enthusiastically deliver engaging lesson plans that have clear relevancy.  Impactful teachers motivate in today’s apathetic society.

Dr. Kent Schlichtemeier is the Dean of the School of Education at Concordia University Irvine.

Back to top