About twenty-two centuries ago, Greco-Roman philosopher Ptolemy argued in Almagest that the sun and the moon and the other heavenly bodies rotated around the Earth. This geocentric view remained predominant for 1,700 years until the Renaissance's Nicolaus Copernicus argued for a sun-centered system. In the decades that followed, new-fangled “scientists” like Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei confirmed this heliocentrism using telescope observations and the concept of elliptical orbits.
It turns out that even though the Earth is amazing, it's not the center of the system. And a similar truth applies to you and me: even though our work is important and our efforts are admirable, we're not the center of our students' lives.
Many teachers I meet get frustrated and freaked because they think more like Ptolemy than Copernicus. They take it very personally when a child doesn't behave as though school or Intro to Biology or seventh grade math is the center of all things.
What do you mean you didn't do your homework last night?
What do you mean my class isn't your favorite?
What do you mean you don't find this all as fascinating as I do?
What I love about teaching is that I believe what I teach is beautiful and important. It doesn't just expand horizons — it can create new ones. Education, properly conceived and carried out, is emancipatory. It is one of humanity's best tendencies.
And yet my students, and perhaps yours, don't always see it this way.
And so I have — and you have — what can be an intriguing puzzle. How do I help my students to value the work of my discipline? How do I create an environment in which they'll tend to do work with care — a sphere in their lives, so to say, that exerts a strong gravitational pull amidst many others?
That's the work. When we remember that, it lets us see student motivation problems as natural, expected puzzles rather than unnatural, “how could this be happening!?” crises.
Be Copernicus, not Ptolemy. Your work is important, but it's not the center of a child's universe.