In my last post, I wrote about whether we should use prizes or rewards to get our students to work harder. Thank you to those who commented on my post! I agree that praise or awareness of an accomplishment is a wonderful reward, and I also think social rewards like getting to visit a friend's classroom are a great idea. When I'm trying to motivate myself to work on my dissertation, I use rewards like having lunch with a friend or going out to a party - if I don't meet my work goals, I don't do those things.
But the greater question of what motivates us is still heavy on my mind, and I'll tell you why. I have been traveling a lot recently, and also learning more about Korean culture, as I am preparing to spend the summer in Seoul. I am trying to learn some Korean, and I'm realizing how hard it is to be consistent and stick with a rote memorization task, even if you are reasonably interested in it and motivated to learn. Nevertheless, there are other cultures in which people are capable of amazing feats of effort and perseverance, as you can see in many narratives by Korean writers, and by the brilliant blogger who goes by the alias "The Korean". (I am an ESL teacher and it is easy to take it for granted that people can learn foreign languages well, but when you work on doing it yourself, you realize just what a time-consuming and difficult process it is, and one that is not always fun.) The Korean writes that we are trying to make learning too fun, and we have shied away from demanding hard work from students. I think this is true; it is simply a cultural aberration to demand that students repeat something over and over until they get it right, yet that is what we need to do to see progress in our students. The motivational ideas we could give our students could be:
1) You owe it to yourself to be all you can be, and that requires really hard work.
2) Hard work is a habit that you need to develop. even if you don't end up using this actual material in life, you will benefit from the habits of hard work that you developed studying this subject.
3) Related to #2, if you only do the activities that come easily to you, you won't learn the important habits of working hard and sticking with something even though it is difficult. Push yourself.
4) If you think the economy is bad now, just wait. There are fewer and fewer American students getting jobs in science and engineering, because we do not educate ourselves to a high enough level. With so much global competition for jobs, you have to work hard to make sure you will find a place in the job market of the future.
5) Your parents have worked so hard to make life comfortable for you; you owe it to them to do the same and ensure that you'll be able to take care of them in their old age. Any others I'm forgetting?