Proof and Motivation

I believe in being nice to people and in helping out when I can. I believe it’s the right thing to do, and I also believe that it pays off in the end so it’s stupid not to.

My philosophical debate of the day is this: does the “paying off in the end” bit cheapen or confirm the “right thing to do” bit?  Can it be logical and good at the same time?

Proof, by Kodama on Flickr
Proof, by Kodama on Flickr

This came to mind because twice in the past couple of weeks, one of my advanced students, C, asked for help sending videos of her little daughter out to family in Mexico, and also with getting her hand-me-down laptop to join the library’s wireless network.

To me, these are life skills, most especially when your family lives far away.  Limited access is a problem, and when I had the chance to address it for even one person, I couldn’t not.  So I had her come in during the afternoon lull and spent maybe an hour and a half total helping her out.

Then Wednesday evening, I had an unprecedented number of new students enrolling, including four men who spoke Spanish but little English. C was there because one of those men was her brother – she brought him in. She helped him understand the application and the mechanics of his test, and when he was good to go, C also helped me with the three other Spanish-speaking students.

So on one hand, what goes around comes around, and it’s amazing to be part of a cycle of such positivity.

On the other hand, I have this very concrete proof that going the extra mile for students yields more students and more helpers.  Does this proof suck any “good” there might have been out of my desire to help my students?

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know where my motivation to serve my students ends and my motivation to serve myself begins.

At least they’re aligned?


One of my adult students has been in the beginning ESL class for a long time.  He’s getting really frustrated that he’s still there.  The problem is that he’s not ready for intermediate.  I can tell from his tests, from talking to him, and from the fact that he had a little kid translate what I was saying to him.

Point! by a2gemma on Flickr
"Point!" by a2gemma on Flickr

The thing is, he has it in his head that the only thing that will help him is to move to the intermediate class.  He seems to think that the problem is with the beginning level class.  I asked him what he needs more of, he said he didn’t know, and he wouldn’t talk about improving the class.  This makes me less inclined to accept his finger-pointing, though improving classes is always on my mind.  He has just decided that he’s going to move up into a harder class even though he can’t pass the easier one.

And since I won’t move him up a level, he has stopped coming to beginning classes, thus ensuring that he will not be ready for intermediate any time soon.  He is also about to lose his spot in the class because of poor attendance – I have a wait list full of students who want to attend class.

I’m just seeing some basically self-defeating behavior, and my questions are:

  1. does he know it’s self-defeating?
  2. would understanding that it’s self-defeating stop the behavior?
  3. what could help him stop finger-pointing and start thinking about how he can achieve?
  4. how can I redirect competent adults from willfully shooting themselves in the foot?
  5. what cultural nuances am I missing that would help me understand the situation more fully?
  6. how can the beginning class be improved?

Regarding this particular situation, we’ll work through it and it will be resolved.  It probably won’t resolve quickly, but that’s ok.

I also see a more universal situation though.  We all do the self-defeating thing to ourselves at some point by insisting on the wrong goals, stubbornly blaming things on external factors and accepting no responsibility, doggedly pursuing paths that aren’t working, expressing frustration by breaking or ignoring our tools for success, and basically doing exactly what I see this man doing.  How can we notice this behavior in ourselves, and what could we do to redirect ourselves back to being constructive?

Maybe if I figure that out about myself, it will help me work more effectively with frustrated students.