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My youngest is a junior in high school (in the US) this year and has been struggling with motivation and staying on top of his work.

He graduated from 8th grade during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown and missed all of the best 8th grade activities because of COVID. His graduation was a sad virtual affair that we watched from my laptop in our backyard.

His freshman year was fully online and I don't know any kids who thrived in that kind of environment.

Since going back to school in-person last year, he's struggled to be present in the classroom and to stay on top of his work. I overheard him talking to a friend the other day and they were both talking about how online-school absolutely ruined learning for them and they've been struggling ever since.

We've been trying to take a "we're in this together and we want to help you" approach as opposed to being punitive. Though there are certain things like getting his driver's license that actually have a grade point average requirement.

He goes to a public school now and there's a lot of good about this particular school but it also definitely suffers from a lack of resources. I know that COVID was super hard on teachers too and this school is so big that it's hard for teachers to spend a lot of one-on-one time with all the kids who need it.

We've been talking about pulling him out of public school and putting him in a private school but I don't love that option and fear it will just make things worse.

Does anyone have any strategies for helping him get back his motivation and love for learning?

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  • 1
    Such a timely question, and such a terrible dilemma. I would write an answer if I had one. Have you spoken to actual experienced and not overwhelmed educators about this? This must be something they've seen already... Sep 4, 2022 at 5:15
  • What does he like? What is he good at? What are his hopes, goals, and/or dreams, if any? Please edit your question and tell us. Sep 5, 2022 at 20:50

2 Answers 2

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One high school teacher's take, and not an exhaustive answer.

Most kids get into learning most when they can see that it's important to, and possible for, other people who matter to them: their peers, their family (in teacher's college I read articles on how parent involvement in a school is a good predictor of student motivation), their teachers, and the society they hope to be a part of someday. If you're lucky, you have a kid who needs little enticement and enjoys knowledge for knowledge's sake, but for most students, that enjoyment only comes — if at all — after they've already waded in over their waist for social reasons and start to like the water.

Is the teacher engaged and passionate? Are they able to show it in class? Can you email or call them and ask what you can do to make their job easier? (Maybe you can pick up the supplies for that lesson tomorrow that they just don't have time to get.) Can you ask them for their perspective on how your son is in class and any insights they can share? Can your kid get them to talk about their favourite aspect of their subject? Can you coax a story out of them? Can you get them to show exemplars of their favourite past projects and talk about what makes them so great? If you're particularly social and brave, can you invite the teacher over for a meal?

Is your family a part of the school? Do you go to school events? Do you attend the parent-teacher interviews? Do you show an interest in your kid's teachers and classmates? Do you make connections between what he's learning and what you learned? Do you invite his siblings to share their memories of the class? Do you discuss your son's work, e.g. reading a report at the dinner table or looking at a piece of art or talking about research or listening to him practice his instrument or reading a chapter of his English book or drilling his French vocab?

Does he have friends who enjoy school? Do his conversations with friends turn to what was good in class (could you encourage this as a mental health practice: list one good thing that happened in class each day)? Does he have study get-togethers or only video game get-togethers? Does he ask his friends how they're finding the homework and bring up any questions that confused him? Does he offer to help them understand the topic? Have they compared their lists of things they love when teachers do and things they hate when teachers do? Does he choose to vary who he works with in group projects? Has he ever joined a club or band or a sports team with one or more friends, just to hang out with them, even if he wasn't automatically interested in that club? Has he ever stayed after school with a friend who needs homework help, to keep them company, or asked the same of one of his friends?

Does he know what the purpose of his learning is? Has he looked at university or college programs that need the classes he's in? Has he looked up which math is used in which trades and careers? Has he looked up the pathway to becoming a video game developer, zoologist, athlete, journalist, parademic, diplomat, or what have you? Has he watched interviews with his heroes where they talk about their childhood? Has he read the book or graphic novel versions of his favourite TV shows or movies? Has he watched interviews with his favourite athletes speaking three different languages? Has he watched documentaries about issues connected with his courses (climate, history, justice, military...)? Have you taken him to a museum or art gallery with an excellent exhibit connected to something he's learned — remembering that there are lots of museums about non-historical topics? Has he listened to podcasts and looked up the things they talked about, e.g. a true crime podcast and read about the laws or forensics that made it an interesting case?

Just a bunch of ideas and directions to start with for connecting school to his life. The beauty is that on this side of lockdowns, these things are possible.

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I wonder if he might thrive better in a public alternative school and/or charter school in your city. You can find these using a Web search.

Alternative schools and charter schools are different from each other. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

My local public school board writes on its website: "Alternative schools are safe, highly engaged, smaller school environments. They use non-traditional hands-on approaches to learning the required ... curriculum. Each school has a distinct identity and focus, such as democratic education, holistic learning, physical art, mindful living, entrepreneurship, social justice, community outreach and more. These schools are ideal for students seeking an alternative to mainstream education, and who want to take an active role in their own learning." (Source.)

Maybe a local alternative school would allow him to take a tour, and/or to sit in on classes for an hour or a day, to get an idea of what the school is like.

You could ask him what he thinks, and whether or not he'd be interested in trying a visit to such a school.

Disclaimer: I have never gone to an alternative or charter school, nor have I ever sent a kid to one. I merely have read information about them online. Alternative and charter schools may not be appropriate for every kid. Talk with others, and get advice, before you make a decision.

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  • If there's anything about my answer which you dislike, disagree with, or feel that I could improve, please leave a comment. Thank you! Sep 6, 2022 at 1:12
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