A 7th grader asked an interesting question recently:
Which is a better motivator: fear or hope? Which is more powerful?
That’s a fun question for 7th graders to debate, and they discussed it passionately, but it is also a question that every teacher should be able answer authoritatively: hope is the better motivator. All children have hopes and dreams, and some are more realistic than others. Some kids want to be a doctor or an accountant, others want to play for Barcelona or become a Bollywood star, others want to run their parents’ business, or be a teacher! Regardless, we, their teachers, should help them reach for the stars. Let them work hard towards their hopes and dreams — encourage and support them.
Unfortunately, schools have historically used fear as a motivator, and some still do.
Schools used to be full of demerits and detentions, yellow cards, punishments and humiliations, and making kids stand in the corner, facing the wall, with both hands raised, holding two books. Worse, some schools would beat kids with rulers, and the biggest fear of all was the fear of failure – not being “promoted” to the next grade. Luckily, such practices have been unequivocally discredited – they are not only ineffective, but they do harm to children.
There is a teacher in the US who, for the past 30 years, has begun the year by asking her students one simple question: “what can I do to help you?” An interviewer asked her, “what answers have they given, you must have a pretty long list?”
She said, “no, I have a short list. For 30 years, kids have been giving me the same answers such as:”
– Believe in me
– Get to know me
– Trust me
– Support me
– Help me when I’m confused
– Encourage me
These are very wise words coming from 10-year-olds.
Every student walks into a classroom hopeful.
They are hoping to learn, hoping to make friends, hoping to progress and achieve, and hoping for a caring, supportive, and capable teacher.
Teaching is one of the most complex and difficult professions in the world. As teachers, we must be part psychologist, part professor, part policewoman, part coach, part expert, and a big part parent to 24 kids or more.
It is not easy, but if we genuinely listen to learners expressing their hopes and dreams, they make it sound simple!
Mick Purcell is the head of school at KC High, Chennai. He teaches mathematics, creative writing, elementary drama, disc sports, reputation management, and Rubik’s cube.
He has 3 beautiful children and a lovely wife, but he dreams about climbing mountains and getting away from it all. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.