Accepting Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

Marc’s recent post on the vague border between motivation and manipulation made me think a lot. I would probably end up with thinking and re-thinking, and overthinking it in my head without making it public if it wasn’t for this after-lunch class I had last Monday. It took some time to accumulate the ideas, and I ended up spending Tuesday morning trying to type down whatever was streaming in my consciousness while I was on my way to work. These are merely my thoughts based on my observations. You might find them controversial. In fact, I’m inclined to think that the majority of teachers reading (hopefully) this post will disagree with me. Nevertheless…

According to various research on motivation, we can expect to face four types of learners: (1) highly motivated, (2) lowly motivated, (3) demotivated, and (4) amotivated. Kikuchi (2012) explained the difference between demotivation and amotivation pointing out that “amotivation concerns a lack of motivation” while “demotivation concerns the negative process that pulls motivation down” (p. 5). In other words, amotivated learners mostly end up dropping out of classes; however, demotivated students would still keep coming to classes and might even engage in some activities if they want. Therefore, we can have an influence on demotivated learners and, by using various motivational tweaks, transform their demotivation into high motivation. As for amotivated learners, there is not that much we can do as they simply do not care.
Dörnyei (2001) offered 20 motivational strategies divided into four stages (i.e., creating the basic motivational conditions, generating initial motivation, maintaining and protecting motivation, and encouraging positive retrospective self-evaluation). There are many other strategies offered by researchers, and I am pretty sure we all tried using them to motivate our learners.

However, to me, it seems like the primary aim of research on motivation is not only to equip us, teachers, with certain techniques, but also to make us think that we must motivate our students. This means that if despite how hard we are trying, some learners stay lowly motivated, it’s kind of our fault. We weren’t trying hard enough. We didn’t read enough books and articles on motivation. We don’t have enough knowledge or persistence, otherwise, we would be able to achieve a desirable result. Now, your feelings do not have to be the same, but that’s how I see it. How I feel it. And yes, it is kind of our fault, but in a different way.

As teachers, we have to acknowledge students’ individualities. As individuals, we have a right to make our choices. Students can choose if they want to be motivated or not. The only thing we, as teachers, can do is to provide them with this choice. There is nothing wrong with trying hard to motivate your students, but the most important is to accept their choice not to respond to your tries. It’s not only about you but them as well, and their choice does not have to please you. In fact, sometimes their choice to stay indifferent can drive you crazy (as it happened to me last Monday when my high-level class declined my honest offer to tailor the course to their needs and simply let me understand that they don’t really care), but it’s their choice. You don’t have to like it or agree with it, but, in my opinion, you should respect it and accept it. And act on it.

Teaching is about respecting your students. Respecting your students is about accepting their choices. And accepting their choices (even when they contradict your teaching beliefs) doesn’t mean giving up. At least, that’s how I see it.

Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational strategies in the language classroom. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Kikuchi, K. (2015). Demotivation in Second Language Acquisition. Insights from Japan. Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.


4 thoughts on “Accepting Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

  1. Cheers for the link, Lina. It was lovely to meet you in person on Sunday, too.

    I have one tiny little disagreement with you, actually, about accepting choices – or is it even a disagreement? Maybe it’s just an addendum.

    Our university students sign up to a programme of study which they know includes English. They are therefore tacitly accepting the need to study English. If they come into class with an attitude that may distract others, it might be better to inform them that their time would be better spent elsewhere. I don’t think that is non-acceptance, just common sense. If they want to remain in the classroom, classroom-appropriate behaviour (i.e. participating in the common activities) would be the most comfortable way to do this for themselves and others.

    1. Thank you for leaving a comment, Marc! And I was happy to meet you in person, too.

      I totally agree with your addendum.
      As long as students’ choice not to be enthusiastic/motivated does not disturb other students, it is OK. However, if demotivated students show some disruptive behaviour, as you said, it’s the matter of common sense to let them know it’s not gonna work like that and they have to either change their behaviour or leave the class. So yes, you’re right.

  2. Hi Lina,

    Thank you for this post. It’s so refreshing to read something that does not simply goes with the flow of what everyone else is saying. Motivation is undoubtedly an essential ingredient in learning anything, but especially in ELT this seems to have often become a form of blame-game, with teachers led to feel they’re always somehow in debt with their students, colleagues, bosses, even themselves, while learners’ agency seems to be denied.

    All the best


    1. Hi Leda,

      Thank you for the comment; it was delightful to read it.
      Yes, we are totally on the same page here; I like how you put it, ‘blame-game’. It is exactly what it is.

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