School? On a day like this…

Students, staff discuss current trends in school-related motivation

School? On a day like this...

In recent years, students seem to have steadily decreasing levels of motivation. Though it has been speculated that the Covid-19 pandemic caused this problem, it has been going on for longer than that. Students and teachers gave their perspectives on why this is and how schools can solve it.


Piece by Piece

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and even before then, teachers have observed a growing apathy in students toward their schoolwork.

“I wonder if the pandemic years made it tough to get in the school vibe,” social studies teacher Kim Thompson said. “The pandemic years of schooling were pretty lean on academic and behavioral expectations. I imagine we’ll see motivations for that increase over time as people get more used to school again.”

Thompson also acknowledged that Covid wasn’t the only reason students lack drive to do their coursework.

“Some are overwhelmed,” Thompson said. “They’re busy people and are motivated in other arenas in their lives, so it just drains them.”

She also shed light on how a lack in student motivation can affect teachers’ attitudes.

“Luckily, I really like what I teach — I love when students learn anything, even if it’s not everything. My job is for them to leave having learned something, even if it’s just about themselves, so that’s kept me motivated,” Thompson said. “The days were starting to feel real long there at the end of our pandemic school years, so that made me scale back a little bit, which might appear unmotivated.”

For Thompson, the most important aspect of her job is utilizing the time she gets with her students well.

“I can only do what I [teach] for the 90 minutes that are in here. Those 90 minutes are 100% my responsibility; however, there are still 22.5 hours in a day when they’re not with me, so part of this falls on students themselves, especially as they get older. And a lot of it’s on families to say, ‘Are we really motivating kids at home? Or are we pressuring them?’” Thompson said. “There’s some happy medium where the three of us can triangulate: teachers, parents and students find a way to make school, for some kids, tolerable. For others, they want it to be exciting and challenging. There are 1600 kids here — 1600 different paths and literally 100 staff to try to navigate all 1600 paths.

Ultimately, the solution to the problem will likely come piece by piece, not all at once.

“Maybe the solution we could solve here at school is [to] celebrate the little victories — we don’t have to be perfect at everything,” Thompson said. “Maybe that would motivate kids to try if they didn’t feel so scared of failing. If it was a lot harder to fail, we might feel more motivated to give something a try.”


Find Your “Why”

The idea of a decrease in student motivation is not a surprise to staff and students alike, especially following Covid-19. 

Though not exclusively responsible, drops in student productivity have been seen after Covid-19 and the return to traditional schooling. 

“Students went from school as they have known it to an environment where you could be wherever you wanted to Zoom for classes, have the ability to not engage in conversations and to do other things while Zooming for class,” Assistant Principal Mollie McNally said. “Then, we finally came back and [the] full-time and old structure was back in place. For some, it was exhausting to ‘do school’ again — [for] teachers as well. This year has felt like we are finally seeing students coming out of the Covid fog and really getting back to the routine of how we do in-person school.”

Sometimes, a supporting factor in a lack of motivation is caused by parents’ tolerance for their student to slack off.

“Last year, many students shared with me that if they didn’t want to come to school, their parents would just let them stay home,” McNally said. “Many of them were academically successful students who said their ability to stay home made it difficult to build up motivation. They would come out on top with their grades in the end, but the motivation was difficult.”

Despite the setback, McNally noted the staff and administration are progressing toward previous academic standards in the Blue Valley community. 

“We are moving in a positive direction. Our teachers are top-notch — they are innovative, creative and most of all, they care about students and focus on building positive relationships,” McNally said. “Those things, coupled with continuing to provide learning opportunities that engage their students and connect them to the world around them, will continue to motivate students. Students have to continue to identify their ‘why’ and find their motivation as well. The responsibility for learning is not just on teachers. Students must also be accountable for engaging in their learning.”


“I can do this later”

Procrastinating in the school environment is common, and sophomores Luke Buglewicz and Reese Keller are just two of many who fall into the abyss of homework that builds up over time. 

To Buglewicz, missing school is the main cause of his lack of motivation. 

“If you get behind and miss one day, you miss so much because you have several classes in one day,” Buglewicz said. “It just adds up, and so I lose motivation.”

Oftentimes, not being at school means a loss of work time, help and lectures, which easily makes students fall behind on their work. This produces a lack of willingness and energy for completing it. 

Buglewicz finds an internal struggle between wanting to have the drive to complete the workload, “but you just don’t [feel motivated. I see] I have missing homework but I just go to bed.” 

Buglewicz is not alone in pushing work aside. Keller feels the same when she feels the lack of encouragement to finish her schoolwork.

“[I go into the] mindset of, ‘I can do this later, or, this is too much for me to do right now,’” Keller said.

She believes her loss of determination is much contributed to by Covid, when school on Zoom was fairly easy. 

“[Online] was kind of a hard thing for students to come back from,” Keller said. “We could have [been] a little bit better [prepared].” 


Differences in Determination

Math teacher Kate Baker has been teaching long enough to recognize when there is a shift in energy at Blue Valley. However, Baker believes not all classes and students have been impacted by this unusual change. 

“I haven’t seen [a decrease in motivation] as much in the honors classes,” Baker said. “But in the regular classes, I feel like it’s just very different from many years ago.” 

A possible cause for the discrepancy between on-level and advanced classes could be the reward of improving one’s grade point average or earning college credit.

“The higher level classes seem to have a little more motivation because they have that college credit option,” Baker said. “But otherwise, the motivation, I definitely feel, is a little less.” 

Baker presumes the drop in effort stems from the forgiving environment created in 2020 due to the pandemic. 

“When Covid hit, I feel like we were just trying to be as accommodating as possible, which lowered expectations because we just wanted to get something out of the students,” Baker said. “I feel like that is kind of where they’re staying — that’s what they were used to, so it’s harder to bring them up.”

The change in schedule organization also impacted Baker’s teaching style and how she organizes her lesson plans.  

“The block scheduling has changed it, too,” Baker said. “I feel like we were able to teach sections of content; now we’re trying to combine sections together or spread them out.” 

This takes a toll on students’ motivation as well because of the extended time they spend in class. 

“They don’t have as much homework as they used to, so they don’t do as much outside practice,” Baker said. “They have so many opportunities to finish work in class, that if they’re assigned something outside of class, they won’t do it.” 

Baker suggests that preparing students for college-level coursework is necessary to incite motivation. 

“[I have to] remind them what our goal is: next year, you’re taking a college-level class,” she said. “We need to ramp it up so you’re prepared for that.”


A Motivated Mindset

Staying motivated and consistent plays a big role in junior Jenae Lee’s daily life in order to combat stress during the school year. 

Lee visits the gym often to help improve her mental health, giving her a better focus on schoolwork.

“I always workout after school to help my mentality before I start studying,” Lee said.

She finds having something she’s passionate about helps her health and staying focused in school. Lee recommends finding a hobby you truly enjoy out of school for anyone struggling with motivation.

“Have passions outside of school,” Lee said. “Remember your future [to] motivate yourself.” 

Low grades are a common stress factor for students that may feel extremely heavy. 

“I have had moments of unmotivation,” Lee said. “Usually how I cope with that is once I see the grades start dropping, that kind of freaks me out, so I communicate with teachers for help.” 

Another way of staying driven in school for Lee is thinking back to all the effort and work she has put into her high school years. This keeps her focused on her schoolwork.

 This type of mindset keeps Lee determined for her future and prevents her from falling off of assignments.

“I have motivation to keep going and not ruin my GPA from slacking,” Lee said.