“It’s not my job,” she said.

Years ago, while training a new teacher, I began discussing with her the idea of motivation. She began the conversation by saying, “Mrs. Schonfeld, I believe my job is to deliver the information to the students. I will teach phonics, spelling, and how to add and subtract. If they want to learn, they will pay attention and they will learn. If they aren’t interested in learning, they can sit quietly or stare at the window. That’s not my job.”

In reality, motivation is a teacher’s job. Motivation is an essential part of learning and is the way we can ensure that our children continue to be lifelong learners in the future.

Motivation Myths

1)     It’s impossible to motivate him!

The child who sleeps in class or takes out other homework is not unmotivated to learn. Rather, he is motivated to sleep or take out homework. Everyone is motivated in some way; all of our actions stem from some sort of motivation. As parents or teachers, we have to get to the heart of that action and devise a strategy to steer the motivation in our direction.

2)     Competition motivates.

Many educators believe that competition motivates children to do their best. In reality, research has shown that people only participate in competitions that they believe they have a chance of winning. The best competition is competition with ourselves. Helping students recognize their potential and then achieve it, is the best way to ensure success.

3)     He’s motivated one day and unmotivated the next..

Think about motivation for school as a relationship between a parent and a child. You always love your child, but some days are good and some days are not as good. You can’t expect motivation to continuously be sky high in the right direction. Accept the days that are not as great and brainstorm ideas to move forward.

4)     Punishment is great motivation.

Punishment is only effective during the time that the punishment exists. If there is no longer a punishment, the motivation vanishes. Therefore, punishment is not a long-term solution. Instead, children need to find their own inspiration.

Learned Helplessness

The first step in trying to motivate a child is determining the cause of the lack of motivation. Very often, the refusal to invest effort is the result not of laziness or defiance, but rather of an undiagnosed learning disability.

Many children with learning disabilities struggle and receive little positive feedback from their teachers and parents. Sometimes they are misunderstood and labeled as “lazy,” “slow,” or “unmotivated.” Rather than feeling good about what they are able to accomplish, these children often end up feeling shame and frustration because of their academic failures.

These feelings tend to manifest themselves in a lack of motivation, borne out of low self-esteem. Researchers at the University of Iowa and the UCLA found that as many as 70 percent of children with LD (learning disability) suffer from poor self-esteem.  Dr. Marshall Raskind, an expert in the field of learning disabilities, says, ““Over time, children with LD may just stop trying, entering a state of ‘learned helplessness’ where they see little connection between their efforts and ultimate outcomes. ‘Why bother?’’ they may ask. ‘No matter how hard I try, I always end up failing.’”

If a child seems unmotivated, he should be evaluated to determine whether he might have a learning disability.  With a concrete diagnosis in hand, the teacher and parent can work together to devise the proper strategies to help the child overcome the disorder and achieve success.

Motivating the Unmotivated

Perhaps the most important message that I can leave parents with is that no child is truly unmotivated. It’s simply a matter of decoding the child’s behavior and figuring out the best way to help your child maximize his true potential.Perhaps it is a matter of positive reinforcement (such as star charts), or hands-on learning (such as science experiments or field trips), or simply pinpointing deficits in learning in order to support them. Regardless, from my experience, no child is “unmotivable!”

Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld, founder and director of the SOS program, is an educator and educational consultant with specialization as a keriah and reading coach. Serving the Jewish community for close to 30 years, she has experience providing evaluations, G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness.