“Student Motivation … “

Student Motivation Can Lead To Success
By Ray Holt

Education in the United States comes under attack whenever a performance deficit is found, when the U.S. is compared academically to other nations, or when corporate America finds the work force is unprepared for the tasks at hand. Students, parents, teachers and the government have all been blamed for the downfall of education at some point in the blame game; however, the current attacks on education tend to be aimed more at ineffective teachers and poor pre-service teacher education programs. My opinion is that the greatest need in education ties into the current attack on teachers and teacher preparation programs. I find improved student motivation to be the greatest need in education today and teacher motivation and preparedness have a direct correlation to student motivation.

Students do not see their options after high school or the link between high school and post-secondary options. I believe this problem is two-fold. The first part of the problem is the lack of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation instilled into students, and the second part of the problem is the low expectations teachers and administrators have for students. I do not believe that motivation and excellence can be separated. If students are going to be motivated to pursue college or a particular career, they need to be taught how to be the best they can be through excellence in their classwork. They need to see good role models for excellence in their teachers, and they need to be held to high standards for performance. Many students lack motivation to succeed in their homes, so it becomes crucial for schools to be centers for motivation and success.

Motivation of a student can be measured by the desire or willingness of the student to want to reach a positive goal. That goal can be an event, activity, college or a career path. Many students do not have the resources to reach their goals and are more than willing to accept help and guidance if it is available. High school students need to be able to answer the following questions at the beginning of their high school experience so they can have a goal in mind for the duration of high school:

  1. What type of career do you want to pursue?
  2. What subject in school do you like most?

From my experience in working with students in Mississippi, those students who cannot answer these questions do not have a direction beyond high school. These are the students who need academic and career counseling, ways to analyze and pursue interests, coursework placement based on career interests and access to activities that would help the student select the proper career path.

In my current work in southern Mississippi as an extra-curricular teacher of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) courses and projects, I have rarely talked to a student who could answer both of the above questions with confidence. Providing hands-on courses and activities, while emphasizing math and science, has greatly increased the motivation and academic levels of the students. In my experience, many Mississippi high schools seem to encourage students early on towards a trade career or community college without properly directing and motivating the student along their field of interest. In fact, most Mississippi high schools do not even pursue discovering what a student’s interests are, from what I have witnessed, and will put students in elective classes somewhat randomly, just trying to push them through the system.

The thought of going directly to a four-year college is foreign to 90% of the students I have talked with. “Far too many students leave high school without the academic preparation and financial tools to successfully jump the hurdles on the way to a college diploma.”(1) Some students have no idea what it takes to enter a four-year college, and others have great fear of failure and hesitate pursuing college altogether. In my opinion, 80% of the students I work with can or could be mentored at the academic level to be accepted into a four-year college, and many, without this mentoring, will drop out or accept a career doing something much less than they are capable of doing.

Where there is a lack of motivation, some students take the easy path of dropping out and “finding work.” When a student approaches the age of 16 and has no motivation and/or low academic skills, dropping out becomes a viable alternative. According to the website, the published dropout rate in Mississippi is 15.9%.(2) These dropouts become a huge burden to the state’s economic system costing Mississippi up to $458 million a year.

When a student does “catch” an academic or career vision, it is often said “there is no stopping them.” This is very true as the student is now motivated to learn and become teachable. A teachable student can be taught to pursue excellence in all they do academically. Helping a student to pursue excellence involves teaching content but also involves learning to be on-time, honest, and thorough. It is impossible to be successful without having basic academic and behavioral skills.

When I look ahead to what I would like to accomplish in my first five years of teaching, I see the creation of a STEM based institute in Mississippi. I will call this the Rural Robotics Institute (RRI). The RRI will prepare junior and senior high students in the STEM courses with a strong emphasis in hands-on, problem solving, visualization, and creation.

My goal would be to graduate very high quality students in the biological and engineering sciences. I am prepared to do this based on my 30+ years in the engineering and computer science fields; business experience, including owning three businesses; and a Master’s of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction (MACI) education. My recent work in Mississippi has made me aware of the great need and provided the desire and motivation necessary to accomplish this task.

During my last two years in southern Mississippi, I have implemented a model program based on the theme of this essay. I have trained 40 students, produced one state robotics championship team, two state engineering design championship teams, seen math and overall grade improvements, and thus far, no student has dropped out of high school. Attendance in the program is over 95% with many students arriving early and wanting to stay late. The success of this program is paving the way to the full-scale RRI. The RRI will become the center for excellence in all STEM and STEM-related classes and will motivate students to excel in all subjects in preparation for college. Students will be guided toward goals and will be prepared for their college education.

Education in the United States needs to change. We need to increase the graduation rate of science and engineering students. The recent article, “How to Generate 1 Million More Science and Engineering Grads: Proposal” by author Joe McKendrick suggests, “One answer may be to increase the retention rates of STEM students — fewer than 40% of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree.”(3) Mississippi is in a unique, highly visible position right now. Since the state is ranked last in education, it can only improve. Teachers can work with current students toward improvement without expensive and non-researched programs and approaches. I think the RRI is an approach that will work, and my current model program has shown this to be true by producing dramatic results in a short time period.

Helping a student to have academic vision and working with that student to be motivated and to pursue excellence will go a long way toward keeping a student in school. School will take on a new purpose and grades will improve. The students I work with have shown an 8% improvement in math and 4% improvement overall just by helping them see a purpose and a goal for learning. Most of my classes involve a large number of hands-on projects which give the student a practical application to their academic learning.

Improving a student’s vision, motivation and excellence will reduce the dropout rate and improve the college entrance rate. The current educational system with all of its programs, variations of teaching methods, and curriculum has failed the rural student. A new hands-on approach is need. The model RRI program has provided proof that students can excel if they are nurtured in an environment with high expectations and given the opportunity to compete in academically challenging events and activities.