Teacher Series: Keeping Students Motivated


This episode with teacher Vicky Tucker is part of our new Teacher series, designed to help teachers share their most effective methods and strategies.

Vicky Tucker is a master at helping children learn by understanding their motivation. You will love her fun ideas for getting high school students motivated in the classroom.

What did you wish you knew before you started teaching?

Taking early education programs, we learned about the facts of behavior but not real application for how that applies in the classroom. I spent a lot of time googling child development theorists to understand how things work in each grade level and how to understand where each grade was at developmentally.

Did the things you looked up online help you?

One of the things that frustrated me going from middle school to high school was that these students were developing personally and at the middle school level they still needed a lot of structure.

Too many options was overwhelming, I had to learn to structure my lessons and expectations. I had to let go of some of the open ways of looking at assignments because they weren’t ready for that.

What are some of the best practices that you have put into place as a teacher?

There are a couple of things. Teaching AVID helps you see how other teachers are teaching across other disciplines. That’s when I started to see some policies that hurt kids. I am pro-positive reinforcement and only uses punitive measures as a backup plan.

I have a monetary system where I give kids “Tucker dollars” for doing anything extra. When they volunteer or do anything extra it helps them to be motivated.

The dollars are used for extra credit on homework, but not big-ticket assignments. Charging phones in her classroom costs Tucker dollars. I use them to get out of detention and things like that when it has been a problem.

Other teachers think it’s hilarious. Kids keep them in their wallets with their other money.

The school tried to adopt the process school wide. It failed miserably school wide. There were varying perspectives about how that should work across the school.

I offer incentives that don’t cost anything tries, and I don't offer dollars for cleaning up in the classroom, but more things like “ninja teaching.”

There are things that they wouldn’t do on their own. It’s providing a motivation for things that they otherwise wouldn’t do. It’s giving value to the students.

I will ask students to share their work out loud and give ten Tucker dollars. It works for them because they get extra credit. The students are still learning from it. Sometimes teachers feel like they are getting away with something, but they aren’t in the way I use it.The students are learning something in order to get that extra credit.

How do you make a difference and connect in the classroom?

It’s challenging in a large class to connect with the students.

For me, with kids I don’t know, it’s always the little things. I always stock up on hand sanitizer and tissue. I reach out to kids and care about if they need to go out. I pay attention amidst the crowd of students.

That’s not something that we’re told in a credential program but students respond better when they know you care.

Find value in anything they produce. Highlight their strengths even if it’s not something on their rubric. It’s time consuming and challenging to do that at times.

What is your favorite book or books?

There are experiences that my students don’t have or vocabulary that they don’t have to express themselves. One of the texts that we used to read was Elie Weisel’s “Night.” We had to talk about being judgmental. It helped us to discuss bigger life issues and get into things that the students wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.

In The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume One, I learned about the strength of a female writer and the stream of consciousness writing. It doesn’t follow that male structure that I was so used to as an English major.

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