Posted in Education, Teaching

Which Came First: Inspiration or Hard Work?

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Hard work pays off.  The early bird gets the worm.”  While old adages may sound fun and inspiring, they lack relevant meaning in our current society.  Although running ten miles in the rain may not kill you immediately, it certainly won’t make you stronger.  In fact, it will weaken your knees and could possibly cause pneumonia.  Spending twelve hours working on a project may pay off because you accomplish the task; however,  research shows that working while tired and exhausted causes your brain to function at a lower level, thus, the work you do later in the day or while tired will be done less effectively.  While getting in line at Target 10 days before their big Black Friday sale will get you in the store first, you may end up being killed in a riot while waiting.  Clearly, what once worked for people no longer applies.

The catchphrases of today include grammatically inaccurate sayings such as “Braahh, Doh! Reeelaaaxxx, and OMG.”  Those aren’t even words let alone phrases or quotes.  Our society has gotten so sloppy and lazy that most people do not write or spell correctly anymore.  Texting has slayed English grammar and speaking.  It’s so sad to read an email from an eighth grade student that has almost every word mispelled or abbreviated.  I say, take the extra three seconds to spell out LOL, for Laughing Out Loud.  However, with this in mind, every once in a while my students work as though they stepped into a time machine and landed in the 1950s.

All year in Humanities class we’ve modelled, practiced, discussed, and reviewed what to do to prepare for a presentation or assessment.  During work periods, many of the students would generally work for about 20 minutes before getting distracted or side-tracked.  We saw this happen early in the year and so we provided the students with strategies to overcome these struggles.  This didn’t seem to make much of a difference.  Then we talked about sustaining a focused work stamina.  That still didn’t foster a change in their work habits in the classroom.  So, now what?  What can I do to help my students see the importance in hard work and dedication?  I was at a loss.  I was worried that my students won’t be prepared for seventh grade because they don’t know how to stay focused and work for long periods of time.  The workload increases in the seventh grade and so being able to stay on-task for more time is a necessity.  I was very concerned that my students would be unable to meet the high demands of seventh grade because they can’t make effective use of their time during work periods.  Then, my mind was blown and everything worked out just the way it was supposed to and my faith in humanity was restored.

Today in Humanities class, the students had two periods to prepare for Monday’s Wax Museum presentation.  The students needed to finish and revise their self-created monologues based on research regarding a historical figure or landmark native to New Hampshire.  They then needed to work on memorizing their monologues based on a plan they created using strategies introduced in their study skills class.  In the past, the work period would have looked like this: 20 minutes of focused work memorizing monologues followed by 20 minutes of talking with a peer about yesterday’s lacrosse game.  Today, however, was a different beast altogether.  Today’s work period looked like this: 40 minutes of focused work including students partnering with each other to practice memorizing their monologues, students finishing and revising their monologues based on feedback provided by the teacher, students reciting their monologues aloud to practice memorizing them, and students utilizing various strategies to memorize their monologues.  In fact, by the end of the period, many of the students had a good chunk of their monologue memorized because they were making such good use of their time.  99% of the students were able to sustain their mental stamina for the entire work period.  While I prefaced the work time with a reminder of their goal– To effectively memorize their monologue for Monday’s Wax Museum– I didn’t review work strategies or the idea of stamina.  They did it all on their own.  After months of practice and review, they finally got it.  They now realize the importance of using their work time effectively.  While things could have gone very differently today, perhaps the boys realized that they are almost seventh graders and need to start acting like such.  Or maybe, everything that we’ve spent all year working on finally clicked today.  Perhaps they figured out that when they have time to work on perfecting a skill or mastering an objective, they need to do it.  Maybe they’ve started to realize that in order to grow as students, they need to put forth the necessary effort.  Whatever the reason or reasons for the awesome transformation that took place in the classroom today, the students are growing and learning.  They are beginning to see the value in hard work and how it pays off.

Now, for the million dollar question, were my students inspired to effectively utilize their time in class today or did they see the benefits that come from hard work?  What caused the outcome?  Which came first, the inspiration or the idea?  In our society today, people are driven by immediate gratification and generally not long term effects.  The students want to be prepared for Monday’s Wax Museum presentation so that they can get a good grade.  The idea of working hard to get there is not the motivation.  They are motivated by the grade and so the inspiration to do well makes them work hard.  As one of my students said in Saturday’s Socratic discussion regarding the state of education in our country, doing well comes down to motivation.  Students need to want to do well in order to be successful.  However, motivation can be fostered through inspiration.  If we can figure out how to inspire our students to want to do well, then they will do well and eventually realize that working hard allows them to be successful.  At the end of the day, a student needs inspiration to work hard for him to see the value in hard work.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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