Finding Motivation in May

As remote learning begins to wind down, seniors are left wondering why they should keep trying.

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Jonathan Ross

There are many reasons for seniors to give up as the end of the year approaches. But there's a better reason not to.

It’s a running joke among my friends that I’ve struggled with senioritis since 9th grade, and it’s not entirely inaccurate. I live by the words “work smarter, not harder.”

It’s no surprise then, that the first semester of my senior year, which culminated in the last truly meaningful report card, was a slow, slogging endeavor. There were a dozen college applications to complete, grades to maintain, and extracurriculars to keep up with.

The start of the second semester promised a respite from the work for me and my classmates who were struggling with similar issues. But, when COVID-19 hit, we got a little more than we bargained for. 

When remote learning was introduced, there were, of course, some issues. There was confusion over attendance, video classes, and assignments. Still, after the initial shock, the administration did a fantastic job in organizing a system to continue providing students with a quality education. Teachers are working overtime to maintain lessons, spending extra time to keep Blackboard updated.

AP Euro and Econ teacher Mr. Mohr says he is “working 8 hours a day or more during the week, a few hours on Saturday, and the whole day on Sunday.” For Mohr, “It can easily take four hours or more to make a single lesson for one class. It takes even longer to make a test from scratch on Google forms.

Teachers like Mohr are working to hold their students–including me–accountable. What exactly are we accountable for, though? 

Even with the teachers’ impressive efforts, I personally have little more than two hours of work in a day–a lecture or two, a few assignments, and on a busy day, a test. I’m not alone in this, either.

Another senior, Nick Marcenelle, claims to spend “about an hour and a half on work while I’m watching Netflix,” and senior Josh Downing takes even less time, clocking in at one hour.

What little work we are assigned seems significantly less important, too. Given the new pass-fail grading system, assignments are significantly easier, as a 60% is equivalent to a 100%–the adage “C’s get degrees” has never been more true.

These developments, in turn, have caused several teachers to tend toward assigning all-or-nothing, completion-type assignments, in an attempt to level the playing field. It’s beyond obvious that the load has been lightened. 

While timed essays, projects, and tests can be tedious during remote learning, I don’t want to let my teachers down because they’re the ones who provide the intrinsic motivation for me to slog through to the bitter end.”

I’m not necessarily arguing against these changes. It’s a tumultuous, anxious time, and students don’t deserve the stress associated with excessive work, particularly when some are currently navigating the issues involved with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It’s laudable, in fact, that the school continues to do so much for students’ health and well-being and is so concerned with limiting workloads.

With that, however, comes the inevitable diminishment of extrinsic motivation. Right now, it’s easy to clock out, neglect school, or, as AP Gov teacher Mr. Maddix described it, “use remote learning as an excuse to shut down.” After all, for most of us the workload is minimal, and we’re already committed to a college or trade school. The token-like motivations in our school, a high GPA, AP credits, etc. are largely moot points. For probably most seniors at North Allegheny, school feels all but over.

Of course, NA students have a notoriously skewed view on school and learning in general. As 12th grade AP and Academic English teacher Mrs. Morris put it, “Over the years, learning has become transactional for [students], and now that we’re operating on a pass/fail system, grades are no longer as valuable for some students. Strip away the extrinsic rewards, and what is left?”

For me, the answer is quite simple: my teachers.  I’ve had the pleasure of having great teachers during my time at NA. They have, despite my tendency toward laziness, introduced me to and helped me improve at some of my greatest passions, from writing and journalism to politics and history–subjects that I’m likely going to spend my life studying. They work long days and long weeks to ensure that I have the opportunity to better myself.

Not taking that opportunity would be an affront to my teachers. And while timed essays, projects, and tests can be tedious during remote learning, I don’t want to let them down because they’re the ones who provide the intrinsic motivation for me to slog through to the bitter end.