Low Self-Esteem Leading to Low Motivation

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I think I really got lucky this placement, as I was placed with caring teachers and a group of students who encouraged me to love what I was doing and plan lessons that I know they would enjoy. The majority of my students were well behaved and had an interest in their learning, but the school I was placed at does have a population of students who come from a lower socio-economic backgrounds. This students can sometimes be labeled as behavior problems because they act out in school for the attention they do not receive at home. I decided to study a student who  has very low motivation to success in school. He seems to struggle with self-esteem issues, which causes him to make disruptions with other students when he feels threatened. This particular student, who I will refer to as Student C, is the biggest child in the class, and stands about 5'6''. I was in a fifth grade classroom, so this is the age where students start to feel insecure about themselves and begin comparing themselves to others around them.

Student C is a smart student, yet he has been making C's and D's this year. When he talks to the teacher or principal, he is disrespectful and doesn't seem to care about his grades or if he gets in trouble. When he is pulled to the back table for extra support, he just asks if he can leave because he doesn't want help. He seems to get along well with the majority of students, but takes on a defensive attitude when he feels like another student is talking bad about him, even if this is not the case. Student C even chased another student around the room threatening him because the other student was messing with him. While the other student should not have done this, Student C blew the situation out of proportion and did not care if what he was doing was right. Student C does react well to having a classroom job, and he always makes sure he gets his job done for the day. He takes this responsibility very seriously, which is interesting since he does not seem to care about his school work right now.

I think the main issue at hand is how Student C views himself. He is not only causing a problem for himself by not being motivated to do his work and being disrespectful when reprimanded about his behaviors, but he also threatens other students when they act a certain way towards him.

Literature Review

According to Marshall, Parker, Ciarrochi, Sahdra, Jackson, and Heaven, self-esteem can be affected by people taking what others say too literally. If views are taken too literally, this can lead to much distress, especially with those who already have a fractured view of themselves (2015). Marshall et al. go on to state that there is such thing as self-compassion, which can be used to help individuals cope with how they feel about themselves. Self-compassion does not necessarily boost self-esteem, but it helps individuals to deal with these feelings and know that it is human nature to doubt oneself (Neff, 2003, 2009). Learning self-compassion can help take away the negative view of oneself, and can help to prevent against defensive behavior when feeling threatened (Leary et al., 2007). While this approach may not rid an individual of self-esteem issues, it can help individuals to deal with how they feel about these negative emotions, which can overall improve mental health (Marshall et al., 2015). A test was run on ninth and tenth grade students, which showed that self-esteem can be affected by self-compassion (Marshall et al., 2015).

In continual research by Baumeister and Tice, they discuss the idea that students with low self-esteem feel threatened by success, so they are more realistic to be dissatisfactory, and just go for average (1985). The article goes on to state that students with low self-esteem have an initial reaction to failure and only respond to success as a secondary system, because these students feel they may not be able to have this success again (Baumeister & Tice, 1985). Baumeister and Tice describe an experiment where subjects who varied in self-esteem levels were tested to see what motivated them during free choice time working with anagrams. The experiment found that those with high self-esteem had more intrinsic motivation with success, because they were told they did very well (Baumeister & Tice, 1985). Those with low self-esteem had more motivation with humiliating failure, which was when they were told that they did wrong without allowing for excuses (Baumeister & Tice, 1985) . Everyone wants to have success, but individuals with low self-esteem just don't expect to find success like individuals with high self-esteem (McFarlin and Blascovich, 1981).

Low self-esteem can affect how students view themselves, and how they are motivated, but what can low motivation do to relationships? According to Wilson, Zheng, Lemoine, Martin, and Tang, there are three achievement goals students strive for: mastery, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance (2016). Mastery is students striving to learn new material, performance-approach is wanting to outperform others and get peer approval, and performance-avoidance is avoiding looking like you are incompetent (Wilson et al., 2016). Much of how students feel about themselves and how they do in the classroom is related to what they feel their peers think about them. Students who are unmotivated develop lower levels of self-efficacy, tend to take on a more avoidance approach, are often rejected and have a harder time with adjustment (Wilson et al., 2016). The article states that classroom support helps students to go after certain goals while also rejecting other goals (Ames, 1992; Meece et al, 2006; Urdan, 2004).

Case Analysis

Student C has been speaking with the guidance counselor about his lack of motivation, though he doesn't seem to be willing to talk very much. The principal has decided to give Student C a school-wide job of putting up and taking down the flag everyday to see if this will boost his confidence, since he responds so positively to his classroom job. I think he responses confidently to these jobs because that is something he feels confident about. I think Student C would benefit from maybe learning to have some self-compassion for himself, as stated in the article by Marshall et al. (2015). He seems to be struggling with his emotions, and lashes out instead of dealing with what he is feeling. He uses disrespectful language with adults and acts aggressively with other students as a type of defense mechanism. I think it is important to first address these issues, which I think the school is trying to do by discussing his feelings with him and giving him a job where he feels he has a purpose.

After learning how to better sort out his feelings, I think Student C could benefit from engaging instruction to help him love learning again. When I taught my lessons using hands-on activities, such as card games and creating paper airplanes, Student C stayed engaged. He is not a student who benefits from just doing written work. While there is an importance to doing this work, students need engagement. My teachers try and incorporate fun activities into their lessons, but there are some many standards to meet, so it can be difficult. It is important for this student to understand that he needs to listen to his teachers and do his work in order to prepare for the future.

I think Student C is letting his self-esteem sabotage his success, as he was once an A and B student up until this year. Fifth grade is a tough year for students, as they are getting ready for the transition to middle school. I think Student C feels that he only has to go so far, and that is all that is expected of him. He also seeks peer approval, and says what he thinks will be cool to the boys around him. He is social, but has a problem with saying things that can be inappropriate. I think it has been helpful with my teacher separating Student C away from certain other students in seating arrangement. This helps to avoid some distractions in class. Student C and another student are best friends one minute, and enemies the next, which I do not think helps Student C's self-esteem. The are both making half-hearted jabs at each other, which is meant as a joke, but could be taken seriously.

After researching this topic, I truly see how much Student C needs to deal with this now, instead of later on as he progresses through school. I am glad I was placed in a school that sees this in students and tries the best they can to help. I need to make sure to be patient when dealing with Student C because he can often be disrespectful. He has no excuse for this, but getting angry can only make the situation worse. I have learned to give him and myself a few minutes to calm down when he is disrespectful and refuses to do something. Letting him see why his behavior is not alright will help him in the long run, even if he will not admit know that what he is doing is disrespectful.

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Low Self-Esteem Leading to Low Motivation. (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved February 29, 2024 , from

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