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G. Discipline, Motivation, and Classroom Management

: What principles do you use to motivate students?

A: I recall one of my college professors discussing this topic in considerable detail. Specifically, motivation is comprised of three critical elements. First, I must always provide instruction that will ensure a measure of success for every student. That is, every student must know that he or she can achieve a degree of success with an assignment or academic task. Second, I need to create a community of learners in my classroom, one that celebrates all its members and provides a supportive, inspirational, and motivational environment. Third, students must see a value in what they are learning. During student teaching, I found that, for motivation to occur, students must know the reasons, rationale, and whys of any learning task. When I provided students with specific reasons on why they needed to learn about the Articles of Confederation, for example, they were more engaged and more motivated. I want all my students to see a connection between what they learn in the classroom and their lives outside that classroom. That's true motivation!

Many prospective teachers mistakenly believe this to be a "throw-away" question, one that anyone can answer. Not so! You need to tell the interviewer that, no matter what grade or subject you plan on teaching, you are aware of the basic principles of motivation and how you will make them part of your classroom curriculum.

: How would you motivate an unmotivated student?

A: I remember Rodney, one of the students in Mrs. Rooney's classroom.

Rodney was a completely unmotivated student; he couldn't have cared less about learning, and he couldn't have cared less about school. He was there only because he had to be. As a student teacher, I was assigned to work with Rodney. My assignment was to motivate him, to get him interested in Life Science specifically and in learning in general. I went back to all those notes I took in college and developed a plan based on five key elements. First, I involved Rodney in a combination of both individual and group projects. Second, I periodically invited him to meet with me and discuss any barriers to his individual learning. Third, I provided him with numerous opportunities to set his own goals in Life Science. We made sure those goals were realistic, and we started with tiny steps before moving to larger ones. Fourth, I always modeled my enthusiasm for learning. I always portrayed myself as an eager and enthusiastic learner. And, fifth, I provided Rodney with frequent offers of help. The change wasn't immediate, but we began to see some improvement in Rodney's behavior and his academic performance after several weeks on this new program. Rodney discovered that he had an innate love for Life Science—especially when we focused on wetlands creatures. I think the whole experience was beneficial for both of us.

Motivation is a critical factor in how students learn. Yet make no mistake about it: You will have unmotivated students in your classroom! Make sure you convey your awareness of the importance of this issue as well as specific ways you plan to deal with it. Always relate your response to an individual or incident you experienced in your pre-service training.

: What is your philosophy of classroom discipline?

A: I would want to establish a specific set of rules for students to follow. This set of rules would be designed to create a sense of order and comfort so that teaching and learning can take place. But, in order for the rules to be effective, I know they need to be built on some very basic principles. These principles would include 1) Students should have a sense of ownership of the rules; they should be invited to contribute a set of expectations about classroom behavior. 2) Classroom rules should always be framed in positive terms. Instead of "Don't hit people," I would say "Respect other people." Instead of "No talking when someone else is talking," I would say, "Take turns talking." 3) I would make sure all students understand the classroom rules through concrete examples, specific anecdotes, and personal stories. And 4) I would make sure my classroom rules were consistent with school rules. Above all, my classroom-discipline policy would be structured on a set of rules that would be communicated in clearly defined terms and language students understand, provide the specific rationale or reason for a rule, and offer concrete examples of each rule as I would want it practiced.

Discipline is one of the most important concerns in schools today. You should definitely plan on being asked a "discipline question" at some time during the interview. Your response should be carefully crafted in terms of specificity and purpose. The more detailed you are in your response the better you will be viewed by the interviewers. Never talk in generalities when responding to this query. Be precise!


Always think about the interviewer, and gear your responses toward his or her concerns. If you can demonstrate how your talents or experiences can address one or more of his or her concerns, you will always come across as an interesting candidate as well as a first-rate teacher. Be outwardly oriented, and you'll always have a successful interview.

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