Motivation and the College Instructor

Motivation. Is that asking too much?

The first day of class, I had a standard agenda I would follow:

  1. Introduce Myself
  2. Have Students Introduce Themselves
  3. Lead Class in an Icebreaker Activity
  4. Review the Syllabus
  5. Shock Them
  6. Clarify What It Will Take to Succeed
  7. Assign a Group Activity
  8. Give a Short Lecture
  9. Post Assignment for Next Class
  10. Dismiss Class

Step 5, Shock Them, was my favorite part.  I would complete the review of my syllabus, start to move on, and then interject, “I almost forgot something.  Did I mention that I won’t be teaching you anything this semester?”  Well, maybe I didn’t shock them, but I think I surprised most of my students.  “Why,” I would follow, “do you think I said that?”  It took some Socratic Questioning, but eventually they got the point.  I wanted them to understand that learning is an active process for which they, not me the teacher, were responsible.  My role, as I explained it, was to facilitate their learning.

Step 6, Clarify What It Will Take to Succeed, was my second favorite part.  Back to Socratic Questioning.  “What do you think it will take for you to get a good grade in this course?” I would ask.  I got all the standard responses – study, do the homework, come to class, take notes, read the textbook, etc.  I often got a few wise remarks that were good for a laugh like “cheat” or “bribe the teacher.”

“Let me tell you a little story,” I would say.  Then I would tell them about a study skills class I taught.  Part of the final grade was based on a vocabulary test.  Only three of the 30 students in the class took that part of their grade seriously.  Only three passed the final vocabulary exam.  I would go on to mention that there were three students in the class for whom English was a second language.  “Can you guess which students passed the vocabulary exam?” I would ask.  They knew it was those three, but they weren’t immediately sure what my point was.  I would challenge then, “Why those three?”  A little more Socratic questioning was sometimes required.  “Do you think learning English as a second language came easily to them?”  “Do you think they had to work hard at that?”  “Why did they work hard?”  “Did they really want to learn English”  “Do you think they were motivated?”

Motivating students is a challenge.  I hoped what I said next helped.  “All you need to get a good grade in this class is motivation,” I explained.  “The bad news, my friends, is that if you don’t have it you may not even pass.”


The same is true for adjunct instructors, college instructors in general, for all teachers.  All you need to succeed is motivation.  Motivation to become a subject matter expert.  Motivation to put in the time to prepare.  Motivation to develop your skills as an instructor.  Motivation to care about your students’ success.  The bad news, my friends, is that if you don’t have it you may not even pass.

For more thoughts on motivation


About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.


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