Unmotivated Clients

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11 thoughts on “Unmotivated Clients”

  1. I think medical doctors meet a lot of reluctant (“unmotivated”) clients, and the results are often similar. The doctor prescribes not just medicine but a change of habits because of a disease like type 2 diabetes or obesity; the client isn’t interested in that change, so it doesn’t take place, and no “learning” ever takes place. Doctors can prescribe medication to alleviate symptoms, but the underlying causes are never addressed.

    The difference is that doctors don’t have thousands of clients/patients forcibly marched into their offices for treatment. Some may be forced by a job application, an insurance company, a family member, or another person to see a doctor, but they aren’t all gathered into a single room to be treated en masse. Our profession is unique in having large groups of unmotivated or reluctant clients being served simultaneously so that they can feed off each other and successfully distract from the primary purpose of being there.

    1. ^ I was in emerg– had ANOTHER accident this weekend luckily not serious– and the doc said exactly that. He likes emerg because you “fix” whatever comes in. The GPs however have to deal with chronic bad habits (and bad habits are 90+% of bad health) that never change.

      My unmotivated 2s are still 1000 times better than they would have been under the grammar grind. At least they’re asking for stories…

    2. Another difference I can think of is that doctors aren’t evaluated or compensated based on the health of their unmotivated patients, yet that’s exactly what’s happening to us.

  2. Kind of ironic that this got posted today as there was an email that went out at my school asking all of us what we are doing to help the D and F students do better – tutoring, WICOR strategies, extra time to make up work, etc…I can try to reach everyone, but some kids just don’t care or have other stuff going on. I can’t take the blame for kids getting Ds and Fs if I’m doing my 50%, but they’re not doing theirs. Rather timely. Thanks.

    Waiting for Thursday, soon it’s spring break for me! Yay!

  3. This is at the core of why CI is revolutionary and has so much more potential than we are even aware of at this moment. Disclaimer: I am naive and idealistic.

    What does “unmotivated” or “reluctant” really mean? The roots are under the surface. This label, in the education context or the medical one I think is just a superficial tag. In the medical context, when a doc labels a patient as reluctant or noncompliant, it is not that helpful for the patient. It is a judgement. It is not the docs fault. He is trapped in a system where there is no time for interpersonal communication and real understanding. My hero Paul Farmer did the “unthinkable” when he dared to state unequivocally that AIDS and MDR-TB could be cured in rural Haiti, poor neighborhoods in Lima Peru, and post-genocide Rwanda. And then the communities made it happen, mobilized, built systems, cured lots of people! Paul was the channel, but the energy came from thousands of people who suddenly were seen, heard, valued. He will always say that his most important teachers were the people of rural Haiti. The issue was not that the patients were “non-compliant” but that they had no resources or support. The meds were prohibitively expensive. Some folks lobbied the pharmaceutical companies. Others focused on learning from the very communities they were trying to “help,” turning to the local people who really are the experts at knowing their area, culture, etc. how best to approach people’s fears. Collaboration rather than oh let me walk in and tell you how it is…empowered people. Now there is an army of community health workers that go out to the neighbors and link them with the clinical resources. The main thing is that there are many actions to be taken. We don’t all have to do all of them but each of us can do one of them. It’s very much like what is going on here and in the ACTFL thread. It’s easy to label a patient as non-compliant bc he did not follow the exact protocol of his meds. But if you learn about him, understand his context, home life, realize he has no food to take the meds with, no water, etc. then that illuminates more of the core issues, which really are quite simple. Not easy. Simple. Then you get at the roots.

    Long ramble. Sorry. This is what we do every day in our classrooms. We try to get at the roots. We try to create a safe space so kids will let themselves be seen. It is grueling, for sure, but what are the options? We can’t ram a syllabus down their throats and then when they don’t take it or they gag it up, we dismiss and blame them for not taking our medicine. I know it is not a magic pill, but at least what we do is real authentic effort at reaching the child where he is.

    But yeah, to your original point of “unmotivated” in the sense of “forced to be with us” …absolutely! It is a crazy profession on that score. Yeah, let’s subject ourselves to this battle with a bunch of kids who are basically prisoners. I don’t know the answer other than the practice of acknowledging …yes we are stuck here and what if we reframed “stuck here” as “we get to do this!” I like how Angie framed it in her post…”simple, human, effective…have comprehensible conversations and then make them into readings.”

    I would love any advice on this very concept of the “prisoner” mentality bc I have a bunch of middle school kids in this exact situation! Tricky bc I only see them once a week. Hard to establish trust. I am trying hard to get at the roots of their reluctance to be present. So far they are not buying in. It is definitely a battle. I’m making every effort not to cave in and dismiss them as “unreachable.” They are so young after all!

    1. Jen, your comments highlight another aspect of our situation. Often our students are “unmotivated” simply because what the system offers them isn’t what motivates them. Other things motivate them, and you can see some of these same “unmotivated” students, who won’t do homework or participate in a class discussion, spend hours honing their skills at skateboarding or surfing or video gaming. On a different scale but similarly, I understand this. No amount of coffee will ever motivate me to “perform” because I am a tea drinker (or as I like to joke, a “teatotaler”); I dislike the taste of coffee. In the same way, the “coffee” that schools offer as a reward doesn’t appeal to the “tea drinkers”, so we simply label them as “unmotivated” rather than offering them “tea”.

  4. …I would love any advice on this very concept of the “prisoner” mentality bc I have a bunch of middle school kids in this exact situation….

    I would pick the most “open” kid, talk with him or her in the hallway, find one detail and tell the kid that you want to get the conversation going better in class and can you talk about that one detail in class tomorrow. If the student accepts, get your best PSA shoes on and go for it. Stay ultra slow, never go out of bounds, and act like the fact that he/she has a dog and then use PSA on them in the next class.

    I suggest PSA and not PQA because they don’t yet know how to play. And make shit up about the dog. Three eyes. Try to get someone else to buy into the silly dog that you are making up that is certainly not her dog. Stuff like that. PSA works in that way where PQA doesn’t. See the category for details if you are reading here about PSA for the first time. Maybe others have other ideas.

    One thing is to always invite them to dance but if they don’t want to dance then give them a mess of dictees or silent reading. Check your paycheck before feeling guilty about that. If they don’t want to play they don’t want to play.

    Usually, though, it is some kid, one kid, who is sending the signal out to the others that it isn’t cool to play. So that’s another thing you can do. Win the psychic battle with the non-player. Once that is done, and the others start playing, the non-player fumes and the rest get released from that stupid middle school herd mentality, and the non-player, no longer in power, sulks. Fine, sulk. Be my guest. I am the one in charge of this classroom.

    So that’s two ideas.

    What I have noticed about negativity from students in the classroom is usually connected to that non-player who doesn’t want anybody to play. Sometimes I actually bring it up in vague terms in class in English. One thing is sure – we cannot ignore the negativity. We have to be always conscious of it, fight it with love and smiles in the invisible world of the classroom, and then it goes away. It doesn’t like too much light.

  5. This is a nice repost. I have a class with (depending on the day) 2 to 6 unmotivated clients that saps the energy from the room (at least to me). They are all sophomores in level 2 who, I think, did not thrive in level 1 with the previous teacher, and now feel resentful that they’re “stuck” in year 2 because of graduation requirements.

    There are some better days and some that surprise me how unpleasant it can be with them. It can mess up my speaking speed, my sense of where I’m heading during class, and generally distract me. Today I am focusing on getting my joy from elsewhere and feeling thankful that every day is a fresh start. I mean a fresh start for me — I do not have to be bound by the negativity of only a couple of students! If I was last class, I do not have to be this next class! Smiling with those kids is hard for me but I recognize it would be helpful. I am aiming to get better at these things. I will smile at them today. Not because they earned it – because I really have joy in this language and in what we do in class together. So sorry their attitudes make them, at least at present, unable to enter that fully.

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