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How to Resist Going Through the Motions

by Joe A. Martin, Jr., Ed.D.

One of the best tips on teaching I’ve ever received was from a colleague. She said, “Put only one label on all of your students…greatness.’” That was a tip I’ve never forgotten.

I must admit that over the years, although the faces in the classroom may have changed, student attitudes typically have not. Most students still rather receive a grade than an education; most students still get more excited when a class is cancelled than when it’s in session; most students would choose not to come to class if they could receive a grade from home – and still pass.

With this being the case, it gets increasingly more challenging to get excited about facing students every day (especially if they’d rather not be there). Ironically, it also becomes easier to label students anything, but “greatness,” especially when they don’t live up to the title.




Every day, however, we must resist the urge to “go through the motions.” Like you, I’m faced with the same challenges as well. I must admit, it takes a lot of effort to keep the fire burning when a class figuratively dumps water on you. Yes, the fire may burn a little less intense at times, but we have to protect the wood (i.e., your teaching gift) at all costs. Once the wood is wet or damaged, we become useless to our students and to our school.

Since I’m often requested to inspire and motivate teachers, I’m consistently asked by my peers and clients, how do I personally keep the fire burning? I simply respond that it’s through developing a positive mindset. Without establishing the right mindset, I don’t think I could last a week in the teaching profession.

As a student, I was fortunate to have teachers who cared more about my potential than my performance. These teaching heroes (I call them) helped me focus on my strengths (not my weaknesses). Consequently, I found it easier to be motivated than not to be. Likewise, I simply try to see each student the way my favorite teachers saw me. This process has been made easier by the fact that I try to schedule face to face meetings with each student in my clas (at least once before the end of a term). This informal interview (usually 5 to 10 minutes) helps me to get to know my students beyond their academic performance.

Then after meeting with each student, I reflect on a simple question: “If this student was my child, how would I want him or her to be treated by the teacher?” My primary focus is to treat and teach every student in my class as if he or she was my very own son or daughter. With that type of philosophy, it would be almost impossible for one to fail, not only as a teacher, but as a human being.


Joe Martin is an award-winning national speaker, author, professor, and educational consultant. His mission is to help students, teachers, and administrators learn, lead, and live with purpose and passion. To find out more visit his web site at


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