Discipline vs Motivation

Perhaps I am not the only one, but my first year of teaching was very challenging for a number of reasons. Primary among those was  my complete lack of understanding of how to create a classroom environment that was conducive to learning. All that I learned in my teacher training was that “You don’t need discipline. You need to create an environment where students want to learn.” Sounds great right? Easy peasy. What it has taken me years to get a handle on, and I still am not sure I have it, is the fine balance in a classroom that needs to exist between structure and creativity.

I think all teachers want what they teach to be motivating to their students. I don’t think that any of us begin our day thinking of ways to make our students’ lives difficult. I think that what I find difficult is how to find activities that are motivating and engaging to all of the kids in my class when they are all so different and have such a broad range of gifts and interests. This is where structure comes in. I need to structure my space and my interactions in such a way that students know what is expected of them, and that they know what happens when what they do does not meet those expectations.

Here’s the rub though. This structure can or come at the expense of student engagement. Research has clearly shown that students learn more when they are engaged in their learning. Kids learn more when they have some element of choice to how or what they learn and learn more when they can reflect on  and share their learning with others.

So, teachers walk a fine line between structure and creativity. Between discipline and motivation. Usually it is a fun journey. Occasionally it is draining. It is never boring.

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