Understanding Title 1 Students: Student Motivation

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A Teacher’s Job

Every teacher faces the challenge of getting students to concentrate and work in the classroom. While some students enthusiastically walk into a classroom each day, others need motivation and inspiration to focus on school. Teachers in Title 1 schools encounter students facing life struggles many of us cannot even imagine. Encouraging these students to focus on school can be difficult, but it is necessary to overcome the challenge in order for students to academically achieve.

Why Teachers Face These Problems

Teachers in Title 1 schools face students with multiple distractions. Some have part-time jobs to help families put food on the table; others act as a parent for younger brothers and sisters. Many times these students are faced with real world situations that other students take for granted. School takes a backseat to surviving for some Title 1 students.

Often these students feel it is impossible to break the chain of events. They witness their parents following the same path as their grandparents, and think they are destined for the same journey. Many of these students know someone in jail, have used food stamps for purchases or have gone to bed hungry. At times, teachers of Title 1 students act as more than just teachers. They become a confidant when they need someone to talk to, a cheerleader for their achievements and a mentor when mom or dad isn’t available.

Motivation Methods and Suggestions

Teaching in a Title 1 school can be one of the most daunting or rewarding tasks. As an educator, your heart goes out to a student that tells you, “I couldn’t do my homework because we didn’t have electricity.” Reaching these students is essential to their success in the classroom. As a teacher who once taught in this type of school, I spent a great deal of time getting to know my students and finding out their interests, problems and situations in life. Class discussions or assignments at the end of a class period provide perfect opportunities for them to open up and get some of their bottled up feelings out. Middle school students love to participate in controversial discussion topics. These discussions are often very revealing and often times can help them to better understand their own lives and home situations.

After listening to my students talk about their interests, hobbies, and learning what makes them “tick”, I would then incorporate their favorites into my lessons when possible. This told the students I was really listening when they were talking and that I did care about them. A pat on the back, a high-five, a round of applause in class or a gold star sticker might sound cheesy, but for these students, it’s what they are missing at home. It’s important the students find success early. Creating assignments that are manageable encourages confidence. Then, slowly increasing the difficulty as the year progresses provides the students with growing knowledge.

Another student motivation tactic I used was a prize box or bag. I’d buy cheap prizes: plastic rings, puzzles, bouncy balls, sticky hands, candy and other small toys in bulk. I built up the importance of picking something from the prize bag and reserved it for special or big achievements. I would decorate a tote bag to make it look festive and “special” and would call the students up to the front of the class to emphasize the importance of what they did. The students took pride in their achievements.

Students that have these types of special needs often require a little “push” to grab their attention in academics and school in general. Some Title 1 students are socially inept and some just cannot focus on the task at hand. Either way, if you can figure out what gets their juices flowing, you will have success in the learning environment.


  • Author’s teaching experience.

This post is part of the series: Understanding and Working with Title 1 Students

Title 1 funds assist schools in meeting the educational needs of students living near or at poverty levels. This series examines student motivation, creative lesson plans, difficulties teachers face with at-risk students and proper implementation and documentation.

  1. Understanding the Basics of Title 1 Funds
  2. Ways to Motivate Title 1 Students
  3. Lesson Plans and Tutoring for Title 1 Students
  4. Title 1 Student Struggles and Meeting Student Needs
  5. Student Documentation and Intervention of Title 1 Students