I’m not lazy. I just don’t care.
I taught 7th grade Geography for the first time this year. As the year progressed, a single word began to permeate my conversations with my colleagues. That word was APATHY. The lack of feeling, emotion, or concern. I began to believe that my students had apathy coursing through their veins. One day to begin class we defined the word apathy. It began a longer discussion than I had anticipated. But one student’s statement stuck with me. She said, “I’m not lazy. I just don’t care!”.
As teachers, we would meet and discuss this so-called apathy we saw. We would talk about how we could overcome the idea of our students not caring. How could we motivate our youth when they seemed not to care? Towards the end of the year the students had written us appreciation notes. Reading through them turned on a light in me, where before I saw only dark. It was not that the students did not care, it was that they did not know how to. To help them find success we had to help them to believe they could. They did care. They just needed a WHY to believe in.
The key to free them from that feeling of apathy was our connection.
It was simple. The one thing that I knew as a teacher I did well I had completely overlooked. It was connection. Building relationships with my students was the key. In all the notes I read one thing stood out to me. The kids were beginning to believe. They were figuring out their own WHY to believe in. The key to free them from that feeling of apathy was our connection. The world of education relies heavily on data for a sense of progress and accomplishment. I do not believe that is always a true measure of success. What I was enlightened to in my classroom was true progress.
It has been hard for me in the past to accept my own success. It was uncomfortable to be praised. Simply because of my lack of self-worth. I was able to experience growth this year by being recognized as a Golden Apple teacher for Tulsa Public Schools. That helped me to realize my WHY. I am just like my students. I was figuring out how to believe that I could succeed. Through my experiences in life I have become blessed to have gained many ways in which I can connect with our youth. In other words, I can relate.
It is that need for human connection that motivates us all.
In my opinion, the most important thing we can do to motivate our youth is to connect. To relate with them. Human connection was a major theme in Geography class. It is that need for human connection that motivates us all. The one thing I feared most in my life, was also the one thing I was spiritually gifted with. I began to realize my strength was in my ability to connect. My students showed me that because I truly cared for them they also cared more than any data would suggest.
I began to reflect on how I translated my ability as a teacher into a motivating relationship for my students. It was in my authenticity. I was real to them. I gained their trust by being vulnerable right in front of them. I became transparent. I let them see my life. I connected my own struggles to theirs with real stories of my experiences. Not only did I say I cared, I showed that I cared. I was able to let them see I was flesh and bones, battered and bruised just as they themselves were. By being real to them I gained their trust. That is the key to the connection. The teaching of Geography, or any subject, then becomes easy. Just like I was, they were realizing that they were also capable of doing and becoming more than they ever dreamed they could be.
Believing that they can and will become all they aspire to be
Here are the steps that I believe we can use to motivate our youth. To elevate them to a plain of success. To help them in believing that they can and will become all they aspire to be.
- Develop relationships – Build a connection with the youth you serve by being real. Let yourself be vulnerable and transparent. Show you care with action. Be fair yet firm. Treat them all as equals. It is easy to get caught up in favoring those A+ students.
- Foster their faith – Take steps of action to help them cultivate the faith they now have in their ability to succeed. Set class and personal goals. Develop a daily tracking system to get them invested in their success. Celebrate their individual success. Be careful of always matching success with a grade, score, or a number. They need to know that if they did their best then that is progress. If the focus becomes giving their best effort and not the end grade, the end grade we hope for as teachers will come.
- Lessons for Life – Find opportunities to tie your lessons to their life. Provide that emotional hook to catch their interest. Make the lessons come alive by sharing how it has impacted your life. Structure it where it will lead to discussion on how it impacts their lives. Make the learning fun. If they look forward to coming to your class then they will learn without even knowing it. Click on Every Kid Needs a Champion by Rita Pierson. Students will not learn from someone they do not like. Be that champion for your kids.
In this past year of my teaching a new subject, at a new school, I experienced a year of incredible growth. I saw my true abilities as a teacher with pride for the very first time. I saw the light of life come alive in my students eyes. Once I got past my own selfish fears I gained a confidence I did not know existed inside of me. I owe a tremendous thanks to my tribe of teachers and administrators. I was surrounded by professionals who love what they do, who fight for their students, who not only say they care but show they care. Their connection helped me to succeed.
An epidemic of apathy run rampant.
Connecting with my students, groups I speak to, friends and family has been a gift I have been blessed with. I never appreciated it before because I thought it did not matter. That no one really cared. That someone like me could not possibly have the ability that other people told me I had. I am not lazy. I just did not know how to care. I wanted to, I had just lost hope. My past has given me the ability to relate. In our youth we may see lack of interest, care, or concern. It is said to be an epidemic of apathy run rampant. I once thought so. I was wrong.
A student wrote a personal letter to me on the last day of school. It read, “You know besides Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Mandela, I think you are one of them too. I saw it like this. A group of 7th graders comes into your class and when they leave they got something to carry with them to the 8th grade. You didn’t just give us school lessons, no, you would give us life lessons too. Keep going, Mr. Shu.”. It was right there in his words. Connection. Our youth care. Develop relationships. Foster their faith. Give them lessons for life. They are not lazy, they do care, they have just lost their WHY.