After completing my Phd in an area in pure Maths and going back to my country, I got a job as a math lecturer at a university, where maths is not the main subject for students there. Maths is like school swimming subject that every student at my university has to learn before moving on to other subjects.

I usually teach 35 hours/week. That sounds a bit crazy for many people, but it is normal here when you are living in a small country with a big population. I love doing reaseach. Spending time quitely, reading papers of other mathematicians, taking note, enjoying the findings, these were what I used to have during my Phd in support from a scholarship.

The problem is that, I am now teaching students who are really unmotivated. It is understandable because maths is not their main concern. Even though Maths here is quite basic, for example calculus or linear algebra, it seems that it is a big deal for them. The students always feel like they are forced to learn unnecessary, difficult stuff. So their reaction is to almost ignore the subject. They go to class, sleep or talk, and let whatever happens to their exams for the future. It is quite stressful to teach these students. I admit that many maths stuff like, surface integrals or Green formula, are really hard to teach for this kind of students. Because they don't like to hear or know how should a theorem be true. On the other hand, if you just tell them that well! this is a theorem, let's imagine it was true and use it. Then the situation isn't better either. Of course, I am not in a position to determine what I have to teach, what not. All the given content in a subject should be taught for students during the course.

These things are bothering me and take me a lot of time. The students may complain if they don't like me. So I should focus on my teaching duty. However, it is killing me since I cannot have time for my reserach. At the end of the day, I am exhausted and feel guity because I have done nothing.

My question: do we have any way or tricks to teach unmotivated students to make them feel easy, feel smart, so they don't complain, but in the same time we don't spend total energy for the teaching? If I run my work properly, I still have time and mental energy for my reaseach.

Any suggestions, even small, would extremely be appreciated.

  • 4
    What do the unmotivated students need from your class? A specific grade to continue to future courses? Just an attendance mark? Jan 26, 2019 at 10:31
  • I definitely have sympathy for your situation, but I couldn't help but notice a couple of things: (A) maths is not the main subject for students there --- Is there ANY university where this is not true? In the U.S. from several thousands of colleges and universities, think 10% to 15% is about the highest percentage of math. (B) is quite basic, for example calculus or linear algebra --- I never taught anything above the level of precalculus (and that course only 2 or 3 times) the first 3 years after my Ph.D. (at a university of over 12,000 students) because so few students (continued) Jan 26, 2019 at 10:36
  • 4
    took anything as advanced as beginning calculus. That said, you might want to ask this in the Mathematics Educators stack exchange (or maybe have this migrated there), as this seems like a good question for that site, although I suspect versions of this question have already been asked there many times in the past. Jan 26, 2019 at 10:40
  • Let's say there are two groups of students in class. Group 1, 40% of the total, who centainly focus on the subject for their grades, so they will get passed the exams. Group 2, the rest 60%, who don't care whether they fail the final exams, because of some reasons: for example, they may fail a certain number of subjects and still be able to move on to the next semester, but they have to pass the failed subject before graduating.
    – Ahmea
    Jan 26, 2019 at 10:40
  • @ Dave L Renfro Thanks so much, I've never known this website before.
    – Ahmea
    Jan 26, 2019 at 10:50

2 Answers 2


Start each session with a quiz. Have students exchange papers to grade. Have full hour tests every 1-2 weeks. Do lots of in class exercises that students work on. (Put the animals to work.)

Emphasize calculations and problem solving. Not theorems.

Emphasize efficiency in terms of grading exams.

Follow the text closely and spend minimal time on your lecture prep.

  • 1
    Possible problem: If the quizzes and tests do not count towards the grade, the unmotivated students will not pay any attention to them. If they do count, the OP will have to grade them, further reducing time and energy for research. Jan 26, 2019 at 10:36
  • Get the quizzes going online (I use moodle, ‘cos that’s what they chose for us), but they can have practise quizzes, marking is automatic, they can have 1 attempt at the graded quiz or you can take the highest mark of two or more attempts... ok you have to build the questions, but bulk import via text is possible and excel can be used to create questions...
    – Solar Mike
    Jan 26, 2019 at 12:11
  • 3
    This might be a way to "get by" but I don't see that it will increase motivation. This seems like a lazy teacher (non) solution.
    – Buffy
    Jan 26, 2019 at 13:27
  • 1
    If you read his whole question, part of the issue was also the time demands. Patricia's crit actually concerns me more than yours, Buffy. But I remain thinking that putting people to work versus trying to be Mr. Kotter is a way to change the classroom dynamic of inattention. I even do the same in long meetings with senior execs. I give them activities, templates to fill out, etc. Put the animals to work...so the lions can't eat you. And get back to research.
    – guest
    Jan 26, 2019 at 18:04
  • I also had a point on problem solving versus theorems. Because I know how these math researchers think. And how students think. The mathies are in love with Rudin real analysis. But the rest of the free world (every applied subject) wants to gain problem solving, calculational skills. "Nineteenth century calculus is alive and well in physics departments."
    – guest
    Jan 26, 2019 at 18:14

to be honest, students will be more engaged if they are able to understand the lessons on a steady-pace not the type of trying to teach all the topics from the syllabus that feels like you are trying to meet a certain deadline and squeezing everything

unmotivated students will continue to be unmotivated if they are not able to understand it in a way that they could fully grasp, they just do not have the energy to listen and think about it

it is fun to hear a teacher teach to make it understandable than rather hearing a teacher teaching for the sake of teaching

students will be eager to learn more, read more and be interested with the next topics if they feel like they understand something about it

trying to complete the topics to teach is just so miserable as there's really none that they are able to learn compared to a steady-pace which they could learn even just one thing :)

Maths will always be present in our lives, they just need to understand that it is comprehensible and does not mean that it does not have any significance

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