Instructors motivate students in a variety of ways. Whether you’re providing meaningful feedback that can help students hone their performance in your class, offering advice about careers in your field, or simply showing your own enthusiasm about the topics you cover, your support and encouragement can plant the seeds of growth, change, and new direction in your students’ lives.

While you know the impact you can have on students, it’s always encouraging to hear what students themselves have to say about the positive effect that instructors have had on their lives. Recently, as part of Cengage Learning’s Student Case Study Program, we asked several students: How do your instructors motivate you to succeed in their courses? We’ve featured their responses below. We hope you find them enlightening and encouraging!


How instructors motivate students like you to succeed in their courses?

I have attended a variety of class-type settings in the past four years of college. The first professor that found creative ways to help me succeed in her course was my Theater teacher. I was in a mixed-mode class, so half the class was online and one day a week was on campus. Being a theater teacher, she began each class with a flourish and extreme embellishments about her current project. Our final project for the semester was to get involved in the theatrical community by either helping with a play, or doing a set design. I opted to help with the annual production. My schedule would not allow me to audition for an acting role, but I could assist with set construction and design on the weekends. I absolutely loved my time on the design/build crew. There is a creative process with set design that I never really thought about until I was put into the shoes and doing it myself. We gave a brief presentation to the class at the end of the show (which was hugely successful, by the way…). All the work that is volunteered for our college’s theater productions helps to raise money for low-income members of our community to be able to attend evening classes at no charge. The college assists with transportation and book costs with the proceeds from our plays. I was not only getting engaged with the class, but also becoming involved in community outreach.

Another huge motivator for me is when professors take time to comment on my individual strengths in a class. I had a physics teacher that would routinely “voluntell” me to write essays for various class-related projects. She observed my composition skills and knew I had the ability to write a winning essay. Thanks to her insistence, I wrote an essay that won for the state of SC, and was given a scholarship to a radiology conference to stand as the SC student representative. There are times (many times…) that I get involved in whatever stresses a particular class presents, and I need that directed urging to participate in the opportunities that are waiting for me. This same instructor is currently one of my biggest cheer leaders and working on strengthening my confidence about my upcoming national registry exam. An instructor that will take the time to see the individual in a class and encourage their particular strengths is an amazing motivational source. That kind of encouragement is what propels me to success in a class. ​

—Joy Springfield, Student, Trident Technical College


…I experienced some amazing professors in my smaller classes who truly care about the success of their students. These classes range from ten to twenty-five students where the professor knows you and can identify a face to name on an exam or paper they are grading. There have been several occasions when I did less than my professor expected of me on a paper and they emailed me about seeing them in office hours to go over the work and make revisions. In a larger class, you must seek out the professor if you are struggling at all as they do not know anything about you. I also had a very unique situation when I was feeling sick all week in class. My professor was able to tell I was under the weather and emailed me saying that I had an extra week to do our assignment and to get better. I did not go out and seek this extra time but my professor cared enough about my performance that they knew I would struggle completing it in this time frame and they granted the extra time. ​

—Zachary Kucera, Student, Northwestern University


As I wrap up the school year and reflect upon all of the influences in my college career, I do see that I have had a great many professors. Those who have been enthusiastic about what they were teaching and had a passion for what they taught really had an impact on me as a student in that I felt as though my understandings and efforts in the course were actually worth something to them. This really does make all of the difference. I am sure students everywhere would agree that the feeling of being important and of our work being important is entirely motivating. So when professors make us feel this way, I think I (and others I am sure) have high goals to do well in the course. I will say though that most of the time motivation has been on my end entirely. My interest and consideration of relevance and importance of the course and materials was always what drove me to do well. Those I liked were more likely to receive more time and careful thought than others, perhaps. I suppose too, though, that in terms of interest in something, the professor and his or her teaching methods play a large role. Motivation really does depend upon the student, however, in terms of their work ethic, interests, understanding of material, etc.

My conclusion from my time in college is though that in terms of work and drive, passionate professors make all of the difference.

—Joy Hamilton, Student, University of Dayton