When I was a kid in high school, I used to think that there would be nothing better than an extended vacation that lasted for months. In fact, there were some summers that had been so filled with self-directed learning and activities, that I wouldn’t have minded if school just never started up again. It seemed like, once fall came around, I never had enough time for myself or my own hobbies, but was instead spending all of my free time at school and working on school projects. Every now and then, when I find myself home sick from school, I’d revel in the chance to watch trashy daytime television and read every book that I wanted to rather than those that had been assigned to me. I fill my days with my own interests, and dread the day when I had to be back in class. It’s not that I didn’t like school — on the whole, I actually loved the relationships I developed with my teachers and other students—but I only ever excelled in the subjects that interested me. Finding the motivation to succeed in algebra when there was an entire world to explore outside of those classroom walls was more than just difficult: sometimes it felt downright impossible.
When the quarantine began, there was a small part of me who thought that students might enjoy being home for what I naively believed would only be a month or two at most. I never dreamed that students would be robbed of graduations, of sports teams, of theater performances, and of the classroom setting that—for some students—modeled the only positive peer and mentor relationships in their lives. Apart from that, they’re now lacking the classroom motivation to have faith in their post-high school careers: how, amid all this uncertainty, are they expected to make definitive plans for college?
Stay On it Online
While working with your student at home, you might have noticed that the desire to succeed wears thin, as the weeks grow long. Expert online teachers, like the ones at Mountain Heights Academy, understand why some students naturally succeed in some subjects, while appearing unmotivated in others. To combat this, good teachers often present students with a different take on the subject matter. As a tutor myself, I’ve had students go from feeling as if they’ve hated math, for example—and is more than a grade level behind—to being excited, confident, and catching up to the rest of their class. The really striking cases happen with students who are eager to learn, but just didn’t connect to the content. If you show them how they can use mathematics to be creative—to design models, to develop art, illustrations, and animation, and to express their ideas—then you’ve set those students up for new levels of success You and your student can actively restructure their least favorite classes into their favorites.
Fear and Loathing in Lost Classes
The second category of apathy, however, is tougher to address—the students who seem unmotivated to do well in anything at all. Here, you won’t overcome their reluctance by teaching the content better. These are often students whose parents aren’t modeling a great attitude at home, and who are dealing with a bunch of stresses and problems already (including a pandemic), before adding homework to their list. “Not caring” about much, including school, can be a defense mechanism; they can’t handle pouring their heart into a subject on the off-chance that they won’t excel immediately, “confirming” that they’re unable to succeed. Right now, it’s hard to trust that things will turn out all right. To reach this student, start with building a strong, trusting relationship first and foremost; using that to foster feelings of safety and confidence. Celebrate small successes. As important as the standardized tests are purported to be, getting through this quarantine with a sense of personal accomplishment—no matter the subject—is fundamental to rebuilding self-worth once the lockdown is lifted.
Oh, the Savings They’ll Grow
Before the great social divide, attending a college or university after high school was all but a given for most students: now, with most institutions remaining closed through next year, it’s time to sit your student down and have a real discussion about taking a gap year. Not only does everyone need to have their emotional needs met at this time, but it’s also an opportunity to extend their real-life learning: many businesses are looking to hire some online interns; instead of risking bankruptcy to attend the college of their choice a year (or even two) from now, they can start to build their futures by developing some financial independence.
Nothing feels certain during these uncertain times: the best that we can all do for our favorite students is to strengthen the relationships and bonds that we share with them. When it comes to my own favorite students (my nieces and nephews), I’m working hard to promote their hobbies and interests just as much as I encourage their test scores. After they emerge from the chrysalis of quarantine, I want them to feel like they’ve morphed into a stronger version of themselves.