In 2012 Spokane Public Schools hired a new superintendent and in one of her first opportunities to address much of the staff in the district she shared a children’s book about bamboo, and although I don’t remember much of the story itself, there was one part of the story that stuck with me and has recently come back into the forefront of my mind. Bamboo, when first planted, take approximately 3 years to grow; during those 3 years you must give it A LOT of water or it may never grow. After those 3 years, once the plant is established it can grow several yards in height during the summer months and will spread much like a weed if not controlled (trust me, I just purchased a home last year that has a bamboo wall that I now need to tend).
I’m sure by now you may be asking “what does this have to do with education?” Each year, as a teacher I have multiple students that require constant attention and often struggle with motivation. I utilize many engagement techniques in an effort to improve student success. I am usually pretty successful in getting students to buy-in and successfully complete the course, but after every day I leave school exhausted from the daily battle that occurs between my desire for each student to succeed and those students that fight to do as little as possible while in class. It is on days like this that I think about bamboo and the idea that not all plants flourish right away, some things take time.
Two years ago I was contacted by one of my former students that would battle me daily and wear me down. She was one of those students that you couldn’t leave alone for more than 10 minutes and each task (no matter how menial) would be met with opposition. I tried many of the engagement techniques such as creating academic games, shortening her assignments, and allowing her to give verbal answers for certain problems, just to name a few. The reason for her contacting me was what every teacher dreams about, she wanted to thank me for never giving up on her and wanted me to write a letter of recommendation for her as she was about the graduate from college and become a teacher. After emailing back-and-forth a few times I was more than happy to write her a letter and she is now working as an elementary teacher over on the east coast.
Each and every year I am assigned students that require my very best, they need me to keep pushing them to be their very best. Much like bamboo, they need the constant care even when it’s difficult to see any progress being made. It isn’t always the content that is the important thing, realistically my students can function in life without knowing how to use point-slope form to graph a linear function, but what each of them need is someone that won’t give up on them, that will believe they are capable of success even if they don’t believe they are capable. So even when I feel worn down, like I’ve exhausted every engagement strategy in the book, and like I can’t do any more to reach that kid; I’m going to think of my former student who is working to inspire her students like I inspired her 10 years before and I’m going to think of the bamboo in my back yard that required several years of tending prior to ever sprouting and that now won’t stop growing.
I’m nowhere near an expert on student motivation, just a teacher trying to do what’s best for his students; so share with me what are some strategies you use for those difficult to reach students and what keeps pushing you forward when those unmotivated students seem to be wearing you down?
Aside from teaching, I also coach baseball (JV for the high school and AA for American Legion) and enjoy spending time with my wife and son.
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