How Can I Motivate Students Who Do Not Seem To Care?


How Can I Motivate Students Who Do Not Seem To Care?


Original Letter

I’m a senior, and I’m working with a teacher and 4 other seniors to help 7 freshmen who failed algebra 1. That class is required for graduation, so they are taking this class as a remedial course.

We’ve been trying to teach these kids, but the biggest problem they have is that they don’t care. They don’t care if they fail. They refuse to work unless we sit down and force them to do it. I’ve always been a very motivated student and I really love to learn. It’s really hard for me to understand why they aren’t motivated. One of the students the other day said that he’s cheated on every single test he’s ever taken. I asked him what he’s going to do when he doesn’t have someone to cheat off of, and he said he’ll just go find someone. Well, obviously that isn’t always possible, but I don’t know how I can get that through his head.

I came here looking for advice on how to help these kids. I need ways to get them motivated to get their work done. If failing grades don’t push them to work harder, what will? It’s very frustrating trying to work with these kids when they don’t care or refuse to work. Thank you for all of your help!

Elder Response

As a retired educator, I feel your pain! Motivational issues are some of the most challenging things we face.  The problem for freshman is that at age 14 or 15, they don’t know how much they don’t know.  Math is hard for them, they don’t see the point in Algebra 1 and don’t find it applicable. They have likely been able to coast up until now, either with poor to mediocre grades, or by cheating, as that one student shared with you. And, up until recently students have never seen the results of even the state tests they take at the end of the year so there is no motivation to try and do well on those, as they don’t mean anything to them, either. So bottom line, why try? What’s the point?

From what I have experienced, I have two thoughts thay may be helpful.  First, try and see how you can make Algebra 1 relevant to their lives. How is knowing this stuff going to make a difference for them? Show them why it does matter.  And second, try building relationships with these kids. Most of us (including adults) are more motivated to work hard for someone we like and respect rather than someone we don’t care about. On some level, most of us seek approval and want to be liked so if they feel you are there for them and really care, it might help.  There is a saying, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  So make an effort to get to know a little bit about them on a personal level and then go from there. Remember to ask them about their date the other night, or how the movie was they saw.  When they see that you really do care about them you may see increased effort.

Finally, remember that sometimes, you actually are getting through to them but you don’t see it. And if you only connect or get through to one of these kids, you have made a difference. Have you heard the story about the starfish on the beach? In a nutshell, it goes like this:  A man was walking on the beach and noticed all these starfish that had washed up on the shore. He knew they could not survive long out of the water so he began picking them up and gently tossing them back into the ocean.  Another man out for a beach walk saw him and asked him what he was doing. After listening to the answer he said, “You’re wasting your time. There are way too many of them for you to save- it won’t make any difference!” The first man listened, picked up another starfish, tossed it into the waves, and said, “It made a difference to this one.”

So Jenny, hang in there. You can and will make a difference! Let me know how it goes. 🙂

Best Regards,


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