Into the Mind of Unmotivated Students
Nia Williams, October 2020.
“Great things don’t come from comfort zones.” - Roy T. Bennett
Our bedrooms have become our classrooms, and our beds have become our desks. Our classmates are on our iPhones, and we no longer have backpacks. This is what the year 2020 looks like to students.
Motivation is a term that encapsulates the many reasons we may have for waking up and living our lives every day. It doesn’t always take the same form, however. Sometimes we can be extremely motivated, but allow other forces to take precedence.
We, as students, have participated in distance learning for 268 days, yet it’s easy for it all to still feel foreign - it’s easy for us to climb into bed and stay there, to forget about all our assignments and projects and tests we have coming up. Finding incentive to succeed as a high school student is hard as is, but a global pandemic adds an unimaginable amount of stress to this. Some students thrive in the comfort of their own homes, while others find it incredibly and increasingly difficult to stay motivated.
To make it through this school year and pandemic, it’s important to delve into the minds of the unmotivated and understand what causes the struggle. We’ve got forces working inside of us that drive us to continue and to succeed, and forces working to hold us back. It’s important to cultivate a culture of working with those forces that benefit us, and persevering through our strife.
The Roots of the Disconnect
Clayton Valley senior Joshelyne Zarate described a positive experience in school as a child, stating, “I had a pretty good time, [...] I had a nice group of friends.” As life progressed and Zarate entered middle school, things began to change. “In elementary school I really did excel - I had a lot of A’s - but then in middle school they all started to drop,” she said. It’s very easy for adults or people looking in from the outside to brush this off as an issue with transitioning, or perhaps even as a struggle with maturing. For Zarate, however, this wasn’t the case. “I have no discipline from my parents. I never got in trouble, [and] they didn’t seem to care, so I guess I didn’t really care,” she asserted.
Parents play a big role in our lives in one way or another, but to what extent? For Zarate, the effect of her parent’s nonchalant attitude towards her academic interests presented itself in her disregard for school. For others, parental influence can have exactly the opposite effect.
Alysa Vassallo, a junior at Clayton Valley, considers herself academically motivated, only she’s driven by fear. “I’m motivated by fear of failing, because my parents expect me to do better than they did,” Vassallo explained. The weight from this, she describes, can be extremely discouraging. Vassallo wishes she “could just be motivated by [me] wanting to get into a good college,” but ultimately is driven by a desire for her parent’s approval.
Having a desire to pursue your dreams and aspirations is an amazing thing, but when that desire is driven by the wrong forces, things can get very monotonous, very quickly. The “fear” aspect of motivation is probably a little bit present in all of us, but it’s more prominent in some than others. Sometimes, the fears we face come from within our own minds.
Senior Natalie Seidt says she experiences somewhat fearful motivation in regards to her academic experience, only it’s derived from her own concerns. Seidt enjoyed school as a kid, explaining “it didn’t feel like there was such a heavy weight behind it [school],” but now that college applications and the prospect of starting her adult life are involved, it’s all very heavy. She considers herself academically motivated at times, but faces frequent problems with procrastination. Despite this, Seidt holds herself to incredibly high standards, stating she’s “always aiming for straight A’s.” This is because, according to Seidt, “A lot of the time it’s really difficult to stop thinking about, you know, ‘What do I have to do? When is the next thing due?’ and stuff like that.”
For some students, this anxiety is enough to not only make them lose their motivation, but also to cause them give up.
For Darius Hopkins, a senior at Clayton Valley, anxiety can be the driving force in academic failure. Hopkins explains, “If I see my grades drop, I get worried. When I get worried my assignments pile up, and then I see the pile and get unmotivated to do my assignments.” Hopkins has pushed against that anxiety and cycle of discouragement in recent months, stating that now a “fear of failure [and] getting in trouble” is what drives him to succeed.
These students have failed at times and succeeded at others, but they all described being pushed towards their goals by fear, or simply not being pushed at all. As mentioned before, fear plays at least a small part in everyone’s lives, every day. This is normal, but when we let it be our ultimate driving force, we lose sight of what’s important and ultimately become unmotivated.
The Covid Effect
Everyone struggles with finding motivation sometimes, but the circumstances become special when a global pandemic comes into play.
Since school has shifted to a home environment, Natalie Seidt admits that she enjoys the experience, but notes that distance learning does have its downsides. Her issue with distance learning lies in the newfound difficulties with communication. “Before, it was super easy to communicate and ask your teachers if you had a question, but now you have to go through the whole process of emailing them, and they might not even get to it,” Seidt explains. She does, however, enjoy the aspect of not having to socialize with as many people.
In contrast to this, student Darius Hopkins dislikes distance learning as a whole, explaining, “It’s been a lot more stressful not being able to see [my] teachers and friends and getting the hands on learning that I need. It makes class a lot harder.” He describes feeling less motivated to work and succeed at the tasks in front of him, and ultimately attributes this to the lack of in-person instruction, and the option to disregard class.
Facing a similar experience, Joshelyne Zarate describes school as somewhat of a difficult task since the pandemic began. “It gets really bad when I actually have to attend class,” she explains. “The teachers’ requirements online just really make me not want to go. It’s just hard.” This relatively negative experience with staying motivated during distance learning seems to be nearly universal among students.
During quarantine, Alysa Vassallo says things have “taken a turn for the worse.” She describes an environment in which, “nobody knows what they’re doing, students are pressured to turn in a bunch of stuff when we have other work on our shoulders [...]” Vassallo explains that ultimately, staying motivated and happy was a much easier task when school was on campus.
Getting a grasp on a new and unfamiliar situation, and rapidly at that, is incredibly difficult for everyone involved. From the student point of view, most people seem to be fumbling a bit. Some students, however, are able to thrive in this new environment and develop academic skills that they hadn’t had before.
The Perfect Drive
Oftentimes we see that people who succeed with ease are those driven by positive forces. Even little things that help us stay productive are important in contributing to this drive; no factor is insignificant when it comes to motivation.
Roan Gonzales, a junior at Clayton Valley, struggled academically before high school. Gonzales explained, “Throughout elementary school school I moved a lot because my dad was in the military. [...] The transition from elementary school to middle school was really hard, so I had really bad grades in 6th grade. I had almost all C’s. Then, I was living in a hotel for a while in 7th grade, so during that time my grades sort of dropped and I stopped caring.” It was immensely difficult to balance school and family matters, but Gonzales eventually found her footing, and life changed for the better. “I have this big goal of going to medical school, and having that in my mind pushes me to do at least everything that’s due in a day,” Gonzales explained. Now in highschool, she gets good grades and finds solace in her aspirations to help her stay happy and focused. The pandemic is enough to bring almost anyone down, but Gonzales learned how to stand strong against the negative forces pulling at her.
Gonzales is not a student driven by fear, but rather by her dreams. As high schoolers, it can be mind-boggling to even think about finalizing our choices in regards to our career and life as an adult. Because of this, some students are able to utilize a positive motivation source, finding comfort in the little things, even during a global pandemic.
Student Darius Hopkins, while ultimately driven by a more negative force, finds his footing in small things every day. Hopkins described his home-work environment as efficient, stating, “In the morning before I go to class, I put on clothes like I’m going to school, so it puts me in ‘work mode’. I also have a candle that makes my room smell good, and I play music to keep me focused.” Hopkins explains his desire to be successful in life, and says that’s the reason he does these little things to help him stay happy while working. “These things,” he explains, “are what keep me sane through Covid.”
Sometimes, we find comfort in the things that make us happy. Other times, it’s the satisfaction of making other people proud that helps us get through our struggles.
Senior Joshelyne Zarate describes an appeal to her compassion, saying, “I think about my dad who does want me to succeed, plus he’s home a lot.” Zarate doesn’t have a clear goal she’s working towards at the moment, but is still able to find contentment in her efforts to keep her parents happy. Being stuck at home with practically no escape from her family that lives with her, Zarate recognizes the importance of cultivating a positive living and working environment.
Mind Over Matter
People love to say, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it,” without realizing the weight and implications the sentiment holds. Truly engaging in something, striving towards a goal or dream, takes work. “Putting your mind to it” takes a lifelong stride towards staying motivated, and being in a good, positive environment.
Getting to the point where we have a comfortable grasp on our own strengths and weaknesses - growing to understand how to equip ourselves to deal with hard times - is an incredibly long and hard process. The pandemic made that journey more strenuous for the majority of us, but not impossible.
The life of a high school student is hard, but being distanced and having certain resources unavailable made it considerably harder for most students. Keeping track of our goals, focusing on positivity and happiness, and finding comfort in the little things that keep us going every day are the most important things right now. All of these elements will help us stay motivated, and help us succeed.