This last article in this series is Robert’s reply to his colleague’s last e-mail in which he mentions pushing lazy students:
Thanks for continuing the conversation. I agree that sometimes some kids need some “nudging”. However, the truly lazy student is, in my experience, a rarity. Once you get through the veneer of uncaring that is in fact a defense mechanism, the real reasons – at least as I have observed students – generally boil down to some combination of the following:
1. The rewards offered by the school system do not motivate this student*.
2. The student does not feel safe sharing**.
3. The student is a slow processor of language and is intimidated by the fast processors – which then ties into #2.
*As I analyze the situation, there are many facets to this issue. Experts in psychology often point to the diminishing returns of external rewards in motivation, yet the entire school system builds on external rewards in the form of grades. Some students simply do not care about grades (for whatever reason), which is a different issue from laziness, and have not developed internal motivation as it relates to school and classes. I know that I would not be motivated by any reward system that relied on coffee as an incentive. We as teachers may have a hard time understanding why a student doesn’t find grades motivating, but there are plenty of those students out there. Part of our challenge is to find what does motivate them and then help them to find sufficient pleasure in our classes that they want to stay and participate.
**The reason the student does not feel safe may have little or nothing to do with the teacher or class per se. For example, I have worked for several years with multiple students who have generalized anxiety disorders and one with significant stuttering. In dealing with both issues, it has helped for the students to come in privately and speak to me one-on-one. My stutterer regularly came in and sat down in his seat while I continued my paperwork; eventually he would just start talking without necessarily looking at me. It was clear, understandable, correct German; had I pushed him to speak in class, he would have been completely tongue tied and embarrassed. Speaking in front of others was not “safe” for him, so he would not do it. That had nothing to do with my class, except that it was large, which created more anxiety.
I certainly don’t believe I have all the answers or have definitively answered anything at all. As I wrote before, I hope that this helps promote conversation that will ultimately benefit our students. Much of this is a certain amount of thinking out loud, though I have also done a great deal of just thinking. Nonetheless, as iron sharpens iron ….
[ed. note: this concludes the 22 article interchange.]