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Opinion: Motivation: the magical force

Motivated students enjoy doing what they have to do (yes, even taking an exam).
Image by Sarah Mai

There are a considerable number of articles (and studies) that underline the importance of motivation in a classroom and connect it to academic performance, enthusiasm and persistence, among others. Motivation is the force that keeps students going, even when they face obstacles.

It’s undeniable that motivation does contribute a great deal of energy to the classroom environment. In other words, it adds more spices to a meal called “education.” But the real question is how to find it or implement it in the classroom setting.

Somehow, some people expect teachers to motivate students in the best way possible, but the matter is not  as easy as it seems to be. All students are different, so aside from external or materialistic rewards, finding the appropriate motivation for every single student is hard. Since I am not a teacher, nor have I any teaching experience, I would assume that every teacher approaches motivating students differently. I must admit I rely on motivation immensely in my academic life. 

Although finding motivation can help you thrive in an incredible way, it’s worth noting this immense reliance on motivation comes with its own obstacles. Those who rely too much on it to thrive in a class feel haunted by the mere thought of waking up one morning with no motivation to resort to when needed. This nightmare shakes the core of their academic life. If you are like this, you surely understand the struggle. If I lose my motivation for any class (not subject, necessarily), my enthusiasm cloaks itself in mist dutifully and says, “You go and find us some new motivations. Until then, I shall wait here patiently.”

When I contemplate the reason behind my excelling in specific classes and not doing so great in others, I always end up finding one essential reason behind this excellence: motivation. By excelling, I do not mean getting good grades because, honestly, one has to work for a good grade with or without motivation. I am referring to the feeling itself: waking up every day looking forward to a class because you genuinely are interested in it. Of all the teachers who have taught me from seventh to 12 grade, two of them stand out as the epitome of teachers who know how to motivate and understand the importance of it. Mr. Rodgers (social studies) and Ms. Timmel (Spanish). 

Mr. Rodgers epitomizes the perfect example of how a teacher can motivate students and help them do better in class, even if they have no interest in social studies. My lack of interest in social studies irrevocably metamorphosed into a passion. I felt challenged in that class, and that challenge was a great motivator that kept pushing me to improve and do better.

I was passionate about that class and everything we learned. Hence, I learned and remembered, for example, how a bill becomes a law. That passion was such an odd feeling because I realized even though I dreaded tests in my other classes, I looked forward to taking Mr. Rodgers’ tests. 

Something was fulfilling about taking tests in Mr. Rodgers’ class because they reflected how hard I studied, and not surprisingly, they increased my motivation. I’ve recently found out why I didn’t perceive the class and its exams as being difficult:  “When students perceive a subject or task as being not difficult, they develop higher estimates of their own abilities for the subject or task.” I never believed there was something impossible when I was in that classroom. Every single achievement/dream seemed possible and attainable. 

Now, I ask myself and wonder why.

The simple answer is that Mr. Rodgers, right off the bat, made it clear to us that nothing was impossible in his class. I took it upon myself to work as hard as I could, so I studied a lot. I always found motivation in that classroom. It was as if he knew what worked best for me as motivation and did not hesitate to offer it to me when needed. He supported my academic progress in every possible way.

I remember one day, he showed me a traced map of Africa, and I was so mesmerized by it because whoever did it drew the maps of all African countries, too. It was a perfect portrait, so to speak. Without thinking twice, I looked at him and said with determination, “I will make one like it.” I was intrinsically motivated to trace and draw that map and enjoyed all the hours I dedicated to finishing it. An important thing that I learned in Mr. Rodgers’ class was that students feel more motivated to do better if teachers recognized the efforts they were making because he always recognized my efforts. 

As for Ms. Timmel, she was quite an extraordinary teacher. I took her Spanish class as an experience. I told myself if I did not end up liking it, I would not take any Spanish classes in the future. It was very hard not to notice how enthusiastic she was about teaching Spanish since for her, Spanish was more than a language; it was a bridge that connects people. In next to no time, I adopted that enthusiasm. 

Long short story, she motivated me to learn and made me love the language –– so I worked hard and enjoyed the time I dedicated to studying the class content –– and, in some way or another, she is the reason why I decided to major in Spanish. I learned more in her class than in all my other (high school) Spanish classes combined.

Motivation can make a huge difference in a student’s life, so if you’re struggling with a class, try to find some motivation to help you keep going!

Amina Hasan is a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

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