Missing the Grade

Writing Essays

I used to believe that I have strong intrinsic motivation. Why else would I have dedicated countless hours to studying for that biology test or pouring through library books in order to write my essay. I absolutely love school, I am a nerd and I can admit it. I loved my English classes in university, I enjoyed class discussions above all but I also enjoyed the satisfaction of finishing an assignment. Whether it was an essay or a project I loved looking at the completed piece over and over. And then I would hand it in.

I used to think that I was motivated by the process of completing the task. But that can’t be the case. When I try to convince myself that I have a task to complete outside of ‘school’ I can’t seem to motivate myself to do it. I have bought many a canvas and paints to go along for the purpose of painting just for the joy of the process, but I can never bring myself to finish a painting… oftentimes I can’t even motivate myself to begin it. I want to go through my notes from the past 2 years of university and organize them, to pull out the pieces of information that I feel will apply to me in my upcoming career as an educator, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

And why? If I am so intrinsically motivated what is missing? Where is my motivation?

I think the truth is that I have been motivated by something outside of myself. I have been motivated by feedback, and often that feedback comes in the form of a grade. Now I don’t really mean I am motivated by number grades, I always hated being handed an assignment back with nothing (and I mean nothing) but a number written on the top. I didn’t care if that number was 100%, if it wasn’t accompanied by at least a bit of an explanation as to why I deserved that number I would get annoyed. But really, I think I am realizing that I have been motivated by the fact that my assignments have ‘counted’ for something. If I did well on the assignment it would translate to doing well in the class. If I did well in the class it would translate to passing the grade/the semester. If I did well on all my semesters/grades combined, I would graduate.

And why am I motivated in this way? Can I blame the school system for ‘schooling’ me to be this kind of achiever? Or is this just who I am?

Now that I’m stepping into the ‘real’ world this kind of motivation will diminish. I’m learning that feedback comes much less often as an adult than it did when going through school. And especially as an educator, it is more likely that my students will be the ones ‘evaluating’ my projects (lessons) but in a much different manner than I am used to. I fear the feeling of my work being empty because I will not be ‘handing in’ my assignments and receiving immediate feedback. I will not be able to see my accomplishments neatly explained through a percentage written in ink on the top corner of my pages. I will have to adjust to a different kind of feeling of accomplishment, I will need to celebrate the accomplishments of my students rather than of myself. I fear losing motivation because of the lack of “my kind” of motivation, the lack of a grade.

I am going to miss being graded.


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