On motivation and inside/outside identities

In teaching, there are occasionally moves I make because I want to look like a good teacher, and that’s not a bad thing.  Some of these moves are things I’ve been taught work, and know work, but that are just not my most natural inclination in a given situation.  However, there’s a difference in the delivery when you are doing something to look like a good teacher and when you are doing it because you really believe in your gut that it is the best way toward student learning.  Sometimes the latter is the only type of action that really works with kids, those times when creativity is necessary.  Over time, I’ve had to train myself to believe in my gut that some things that are what “good teachers do” are things I actually believe in.  More experience usually leads to that kind of synchronicity between what you understand you “should” be doing as a teacher and what you truly believe will work.  A good philosophical match between teacher and school can also help bring these two together.

Today it occurred to me that this same phenomenon happens for students when it comes to learning. Sometimes, probably often, a student does something because he or she wants to look like a good student.  That can be an important part of being a good student–trusting that your teachers are directing you toward a way of learning and being that will work for you.  There are other times where a student is doing something because of genuine interest or belief that they will learn and gain satisfaction from it.  The second way is more powerful because the motivation is intrinsic and in line with the individual’s interests.

This train of thought actually comes from a comment one of my seventh graders made in advisory yesterday when we were talking about professionalism in school.  She said a lot of students want to act “professionally” to look good for their teachers and others, “but inside they are bad children.”  This surprised me a bit. [I was expecting more the opposite: on the outside people might not think I’m good, but inside I know I am.]  Because I know the student a bit, I’m pretty certain she wasn’t saying that she thinks the kids are bad inside. She was talking about how the students see themselves.  This seems like a very seventh-grade-appropriate identity conflict and an important relationship to investigate: how others see me, and how I see myself…  We want our kids’ identities as students to be real and lasting, and their interest in learning to be genuine as much as possible.

Teachers, too, need to find themselves.  We must learn from our colleagues and from the body of knowledge about teaching that is available to us.  We also need to teach authentically in a way that is true to our sense of who we are and our purpose in the world.

[image credit: geopad.org]

Related categories: ,