A Motivating Factor All My Students Agree With: I Care

One male and two female adults students looking at a computer screen

I am a mathematician, who is also a textbook author, dean, and vice president. In spite of my busy schedule, I continue to teach one course per semester. In some ways, being in the classroom is my salvation, as I am constantly reminded of why I wanted to work at an institution of higher learning. I love interacting with students, who help me to put the rest of the day into perspective.

As I prepared for a recent webinar on applied mathematics and calculus, I decided to ask my current students about me. In particular, I asked them to identify anything that I do that helps them to be better students.

The first few students talked about some of the techniques I use in class and with the MyMathLab course management system. Students mentioned the ability to retake online quizzes, class materials constructed from recent articles in the local newspaper, and handouts as being important to keeping interest and promoting success in this class. One student, however, changed the discussion when she mentioned that her motivation came from the fact that she believed I cared about whether she passed or failed. The entire class nodded in agreement with that statement. One by one, other students joined in with similar comments about the positive atmosphere in the class.

I was quite surprised that my students noticed that I care about them and that this, in some way, is helping some to strive to be successful. I do genuinely care that they are successful, but in 25 years of teaching, no students had ever mentioned this as a source of motivation.

After thinking about this for a few weeks, I have now come to the conclusion that most of us are motivated when we have people in our lives who want us to be successful. This is especially true when that particular person is a mentor, who goes out of her or his way to help us.

So, as this semester is quickly coming to an end, I smile as I ponder the thought that after many years of teaching, I am still perfecting my craft. Once in a while, I discover something that I should have known all along.

In case you are interested, my recent webinar, “What’s the Purpose and Value of Applied Calculus and Finite Mathematics?” is available for you to view.


About the Author
Dr. Nathan Ritchey

Dr. Nathan Ritchey

Nathan P. Ritchey earned a B.A. in Mathematics with a minor in Music from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. He earned a M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University. He is former chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Youngstown State University and is currently serving as the dean of the College of Science and Health Professions at Edinboro University. He has published articles in economics, honors education, medicine, mathematics, operations research, and student recruitment. Nate is a Consultant/Evaluator for the North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission and regularly participates in program evaluations.

In recognition of his numerous activities, Nate has received the Distinguished Professor Award for University Service, the Youngstown Vindicator’s “People Who Make a Difference Award,” the Watson Merit Award for Department Chairs, the Spirit in Education Award from the SunTex corporation, and the Provost’s Merit Award for significant contributions to the Honors Program.