Teacher development III

There’s a lot of theoretical background, especially from the area of psychology on the topic of motivation. Though we may not be aware of it, according to Zoltán Dörnyei, motivational issues take up a surprisingly large proportion of our everyday talk.

  • In casual conversation, when we talk about likes and dislikes, interests and preferences, wishes and desires, goals and expectations, we are in fact concerning ourselves with topics that researchers have long seen as being main motivational determinants of human behaviour.
  • At work, when we complain about poor salaries, distressing colleagues, incompetent management, or, alternatively, when we are pleased by generous incentives, the recognition of our achievements and opportunities for promotion, we are addressing issues that are at the heart of the field of motivational psychology.

The area of second language education is no exception in this respect. Here we also find that motivational concerns occupy much of our attention, for example, when we consider:

— how to encourage lazy students to work harder, — how to make language classes more inspiring, — how to supplement dull teaching materials, — what wash-back effects tests and exams have, — how different rewards and incentives work.

In short, the concept of motivation is very much part of our everyday personal and professional life and, indeed, few would ignore its importance in human affairs in general.

These two last years have witnessed an increase in research on how to motivate learners. This has proved a crucial factor for the continuity of education itself, especially at the higher levels.

But we all know that defining motivation is in itself somewhat complex. The term ‘motivation’ presents a real mystery: as mentioned before, people use it widely in a variety of everyday and professional contexts without the slightest hint of there being a problem with its meaning, and most of us would agree that it denotes something of high importance. Yet, when it comes to describing precisely what this important ‘something’ might be, opinions diversify at an alarming rate — researchers disagree strongly on virtually everything concerning the concept, and there are also some serious doubts whether ‘motivation’ is more than a rather obsolete umbrella term for a wide range of variables that have little to do with each other.

Perhaps the only thing about motivation most researchers would agree on is that it, by definition, concerns the direction and magnitude of human behaviour; that is:

  • the choice of a particular action,
  • the persistence with it,
  • the effort expended on it. In other words, motivation is responsible for
  • why people decide to do something,
  • how long they are willing to sustain the activity,
  • how hard they are going to pursue it.

The issue of teacher motivation has received little attention in educational psychology. There are few publications discussing the nature of the ‘motivation to teach’ (although some work has been done on related issues such as teachers’ job satisfaction, stress and burnout). But we know that the teacher’s level of enthusiasm and commitment is one of the most important factors that affect the learners’ motivation to learn. Broadly speaking, if a teacher is motivated to teach, there is a good chance that his or her students will be motivated to learn. Furthermore, I believe that this principle does not only apply to the overall level of motivation but also to more specific aspects of motivation: for example, if a teacher finds a particular academic task meaningful rather than pointless drudgery, this task attitude is likely to be communicated – either directly through deliberate action, or indirectly by means modelling — to the students, who will in turn adopt a similar position.

But how can we conceptualise the ‘motivation to teach’? In what way is it different from the motivation to pursue other activities?

In the most general sense, the understanding of teacher motivation requires no special treatment since ‘teaching’ is just one type of human behaviour and therefore general models of motivation should be applicable to describing it. Indeed, scholars have argued that teacher motivation can be best understood in the light of expectancy-value theory, expectancy theory, self-efficacy theory, goal-setting theory and self-determination theory— that is, the various approaches closely reflect those in general motivation theories in terms of the underlying principles and their diversity. Researchers have also highlighted the relevance of social contextual factors and temporal variation. This suggests that motivational psychology is no less complex than the understanding of motivation in general.

The other side of the coin, however, is that with such a specific professional activity as teaching it might be realistic to expect to find certain unique motivational characteristics — for example, to identify some factors that have a special significance in terms of their impact on the motivation complex underlying teaching. Indeed, a review of the literature suggests that four motivational aspects are particularly feared with respect to teacher motivation:

  1. It involves a prominent intrinsic component as a main constituent.
  2. It is very closely linked with contextual factors, associated with the institutional demands and constraints of the workplace, and the salient social profile of the profession.
  3. Along with all the other types of career motivation, it concerns an extended, often lifelong, process with a featured temporal axis (which is most clearly reflected when talking about career structures and promotion possibilities).
  4. It appears to be particularly fragile, that is, exposed to several powerful negative influences (some being inherent in the profession).

The intrinsic component of teacher motivation

So, the first aspect is intrinsic motivation. The fact that teaching is more closely associated with intrinsic motivation than many other behavioural domains may not come as a surprise to many readers. ‘Teaching’ as a vocational goal has always been associated with the internal desire to educate people, to impart knowledge and values, and to advance a community or a whole nation. ‘I always wanted to become a teacher’ is usually the most frequently endorsed reason for entering the profession. The intrinsic rewards of teaching are the most satisfying aspects of the profession.

What are these intrinsic rewards?

  • the educational process itself (i.e. working with students and experiencing the changes in the students’ performance and behaviour that result from the teacher’s action);
  • the subject matter (i.e. dealing with a valued field and continuous integrating new information in it, thereby increasing one’s own level of professional skills and knowledge).

Now, there are three basic human needs that are related to intrinsically motivated behaviour:

  • Autonomy (i.e. experiencing oneself as the origin of one’s behaviour)
  • Relatedness (i.e. feeling close to and connected to other individuals)
  • Competence (i.e. feeling efficacious and having sense of accomplishment)

Teaching, ideally, satisfies the first two of these human needs: a teacher is fairly autonomous in dealing with a class, and the school community (both staff and students) provides a rich and intensive human environment. The critical issue, then, is ‘competence’ or, using a more technical term, the teacher’s sense of efficacy, which refers to ‘their belief in their ability to have a positive effect on student learning’

Although the intrinsic interest in and enjoyment of teaching is a primary constituent of teacher motivation, researchers reason that - in line with the main tenets of goal-setting theory instructors will be most persistent when they also have clear and feasible goals to achieve. This makes sense, since in the case of such a complex process as teaching, one needs explicit guidelines and standards to keep one’s behaviour on track. However, they also emphasise that wise goal setting alone will not necessarily improve performance or increase the motivation of a teacher, because frequent performance feedback is also needed to obtain good results. Combining this with the intrinsic factors discussed above, we have a picture that is in accordance with the dominant view of work motivation in organisational psychology, which maintains that work will be more motivating when:

  • it is meaningful (i.e. it requires a multiplicity of skills, is a whole unit rather than an unintelligible part, and is clearly important to other)
  • it allows autonomy (i.e. the worker is given control of what, how, and when the work is done)
  • it provides feedback (i.e. the worker has knowledge of results)

In sum, the intrinsic dimension of teacher motivation is related to the inherent joy of pursuing a meaningful activity related to one subject area of interest, in an autonomous manner, within a vivacious collegial community, with self-efficacy, instructional goals and performance feedback being critical factors in modifying the level of effort and persistence.

Teacher motivation and social contextual influences

A second aspect is the influence the social context has over teacher motivation. A characteristic feature of most vocation-specific motivation constructs is that they concern a peculiar situation whereby the individual is paid to act according to an externally imposed job description within an organisational framework. And even though young people are often encouraged to select a job that suits their personal interests and intrinsic vocational desires, organisations are ‘achievement-laden environments’, and as organisational workers, teachers make ‘commitments to produce that are sustained on the basis of inducements that the organisation offers’. Thus, even with the best possible match between a profession and an individual, one’s intrinsic motivation will be inevitably ‘tainted’ by the impact of the external conditions and constraints of the social context of the job. Accordingly, theories of job design in organisational psychology assume that the environment plays a fundamental role in job motivation that is, it is the work, not the worker, which affects persistence and performance.

Traditionally, extrinsic influences on work motivation have been considered as one broad domain whose salient presence typically caused dissatisfaction but whose absence did not significantly increased job satisfaction. Thus, these contextual influences were seen as the potentially negative counterpart of the positive side of work motivation, the intrinsic domain.

Two levels of contextual influences on teacher motivation: macro and micro

Similarly to social motivation in general, we can separate macro and micro contextual influences on teacher motivation. The former, that is macro, is associated with the general work ethos prevalent at the societal level. This macro dimension is particularly featured in the case of teaching, because the profession is to accomplish one of the most prominent societal functions: bringing up and educating the next generation of people. For this reason, teaching is exposed to external influences from every layer of society, we well know the criticisms we receive on a daily basis.

Micro contextual motives, on the other hand, are more closely related to the organisational climate of the particular institution in which the teacher works and the characteristics of the immediate teaching environment, that is, the classroom and the learner group. Particularly important school effects are exerted by a number of factors such as:

  • the school’s general climate and the existing school norms
  • the class sizes, the school resources and facilities
  • the standard activity structure within the institution
  • collegial relations
  • the definition of the teacher’s role by colleagues and authorities
  • general expectations regarding student potential
  • the school’s reward contingencies and feedback system
  • the school’s leadership and decision-making structure

The temporal dimension of teacher motivation

A third aspect is time. Teacher motivation is not just about the motivation to teach but also about the motivation to be a teacher as a lifelong career. A career perspective highlights the temporal dimension of motivation in vocational engagements. ‘The interlinked consecutive steps on a career path defined by Raynor as the ‘contingent path structure’ - energise long-term achievement strivings in a very effective manner because they capitalise both on the intrinsic pleasure of being involved in one’s profession and on various extrinsic rewards that career advancement brings about. However, if the career path is ‘closed’, that is, present achievements do not create future career steps, this will have a marked negative impact on the individual’s work morale. This issue, as we will see below, is of particular relevance to the teaching profession.

Blackburn (1997) emphasises that the marked steps in a contingent path include not only ‘rational, long-range, discernible plans in accordance with anticipated career stages’ such as advancements in wealth and rank but also ‘personally meaningful, idiosyncratic events’ such as honours/awards, appointments, grant/travel opportunities (e.g. conferences or study trips), memberships in professional societies, the possibility of preparing teaching materials and professional publications, etc. That is, the availability of seemingly secondary factors such as an award for ‘excellence in teaching’, a recognition in, public ceremony or a certificate/plaque is crucial in outlining vocational contingencies.

Pennington (1995: 209-10) presents a ‘sample career ladder’ to demonstrate that possible advancement contingency paths can be established even in the field of education. Some steps in this structure include:

  • the increased variety of courses taught
  • contribution to curriculum development
  • monitoring role with new faculty
  • being in charge of developing new courses/programmes
  • making conference presentations and/or preparing professional publications
  • serving as teaching consultant within and/or outside the institution
  • conducting teacher-training workshops
  • developing materials for use in the home institutions and elsewhere

If management assigns officially recognised titles and responsibilities to these (and other) developmental steps/stages, the resulting tapestry of ‘personally meaningful’ advancement opportunities and career sub goals can be sufficiently intricate to serve as a powerful motivation dimension. Some examples of such possible titles include team leader, management team member, curriculum group leader, committee member, director of studies, head of supervision, public relations secretary, international secretary, staff development officer, timetable organiser, academic coordinator, etc.

Negative influences on teacher motivation

A last aspect to analyse should be the negative influences that deter teacher motivation.

  • the particularly stressful nature of most teaching jobs.

Teaching is one of the most stressful professions (bureaucratic pressure, lack of adequate facilities, low salaries) but one contributing factors is that teachers have to spend most of their working hours with groups of children, teens or young adults.

  • the inhibition of teacher autonomy by set curricula, standardised tests, imposed teaching methods, government mandated policies and other institutional constraints.

The experience of frequent stress contributes significantly to the weakening of intrinsic motivation, but a factor that is perhaps more potent in undermining teacher motivation is the increasing limitation of teacher autonomy. As has already been said, education in an area that has a high social profile, and governments, educational authorities and various district school boards regularly impose normative constraints on schools in an attempt to bring the behaviour of teachers in line with some a priori criteria of effectiveness. This regularisation process can take the form of introducing nationwide standardised tests and national curricula. Whether these attempts are justified, it can be concluded from a purely motivational point of view that if the measures that are intended to produce better results introduce growing centralised control, this will impede teacher autonomy and will therefore lead to increased demoralisation of teachers.

  • insufficient self-efficacy on most teachers’ part due to inappropriate training

Competence is one of the basic conditions for intrinsic motivation. Do teachers have sufficient competence to go about their jobs with confidence? The answer is usually no. Teacher education has traditionally taken a very one-sided approach by placing most emphasis on subject-matter training, accompanied by some (rather limited) participatory experience in an instructional context that is supposed to provide the practical skills, ‘teacher-training programmes do not as a rule include any awareness raising about how to manage groups (e.g. they do not cover the main principles of group dynamics and effective leadership strategies, and do not offer any training in interpersonal skills and conflict resolution). As a consequence, most newly qualified teachers are hit hard by the harsh reality of everyday classroom life, often referred to as the ‘reality shock’. They are at a loss when something ‘goes wrong’ in the class, and because they lack any explicit skills in how to handle such inevitable crises, many of them change their original student-centred teaching behaviours into a more authoritarian way.

  • Lack of intellectual challenge
  1. content repetitiveness and limited potential for intellectual development

In a typical school setting, many teachers teach the same subject matter year after year, without any real opportunity from teaching to discover or acquire new knowledge, skills or abilities. A recurring complaint I have heard from classroom practitioners is that if they simply do their job they get tired of it after a while and ‘lose the spark’. Indeed, meeting the prescribed requirements and covering the imposed course content in the same specialised sub-area of the curriculum does not allow many teachers much leeway to include variations and ‘intellectual detours’, and the classroom procedures can easily get routinised. Naturally, there are exceptions to these generalisations, and successful teachers show a remarkable resourcefulness in making the time spent in the classroom rewarding for the students and for themselves, but for the average instructor teaching can easily become dreary work.

  1. Inadequate career structure

We have seen above that teaching can be — with some exaggeration — a highly stressful and intellectually numbing process in which under-skilled practitioners try to survive against the odds under the suffocating constraints imposed on them. Unfortunately, this is not all; there is another major motivational impediment with regard to most teaching jobs: the lack of an appropriate career structure or professional contingent path. For someone who wishes to remain a classroom teacher rather than going into management there are usually very few areas of advancement or further goals to attain. As a result, teachers often feel that they ‘got stuck’ or ‘reached a plateau’, and thinking about the time ahead of them before retirement causes absolutely no tingle of excitement. In other words, teaching offers a ‘closed contingent path’. While this situation is also characteristic of a great number of other occupations, I believe that teachers — with their high qualifications, ambitions and intrinsic job involvement — find it particularly difficult to live with the notion of ‘futurelessness’. On the other hand, I also believe that this ‘no-career-ladder’ situation could be changed to some extent. Although educational settings will probably never be able to offer such an elaborate advancement path as there are, say, in the military or in certain business areas, we can envisage a sufficiently intricate future-oriented reward system of titles and responsibilities even in educational domains that can potentially fill the motivational hiatus caused by an inadequate career structure. A recognition of the importance of this issue, several countries have recently considered introducing titles such as ‘super-teachers’ or ‘master teachers’ within the educational hierarchy.

What do we need to enhance our motivation?

We are certain that teacher motivation has become an important issue given their responsibility to impart knowledge and skills to learners. It is agreed that satisfied teachers are generally more productive and can influence students’ achievements. However, measuring the determinants and consequences of work motivation is complex because these psychological processes are not directly observable and there are numerous organizational and environmental obstacles that can affect goal attainment.

Teacher motivation depends critically on effective management, particularly at the school level. If systems and structures set up to manage and support teachers are dysfunctional, teachers are likely to lose their sense of responsibility and commitment. Teacher motivation is anything done to make teachers happy, satisfied, dedicated and committed in such a way that they bring out their best in their places of work so that both students, parents and the society will greatly benefit from their services.

As we have mentioned, teachers have both intrinsic and extrinsic needs. A teacher who is intrinsically motivated may be observed to undertake a task for its own sake, for the satisfaction it provides or for the feeling of accomplishment and self actualization. On the other hand, an extrinsically motivated teacher may perform the activity or duty in order to obtain some reward, such as salary or promotion. Extrinsic motivation plays an important part in people’s lives. It is pre eminent in influencing a person’s behaviour. Therefore, the aim of the organisation should be to build on and enhance the intrinsic motivation for teachers to teach effectively and at the same time supply some extrinsic motivation along the way for school improvement.

The lack of motivation is perceived to be determined by different factors such as work environment and the rewards for teachers. Lack of motivation among teachers has been manifested in teacher unwillingness to participate in school activities, poor attendance, unexpected absence, late coming, lack of additional training, uncreative and non stimulating teaching, lack of interest in meetings, unhelpful attitudes when assistance is needed and we could go on.

But we have to remember that the emergency validated our work more than ever. Teachers acted quickly and as efficiently as possible and showed an incredible amount of adaptability.

Different people have different needs to keep motivated. Work motivation has a collective as well as an individual dimension. So together, with our partners, we can work on the collective dimension and create a support system such as initiating teaching networks. We have to evolve with the times.

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Sandra Dezi

Sandra Dezi has a Teaching Degree in English as a Foreign Language, a Bachelor’s Degree in Educational Technology at UTN, a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics in the field of TEFL at the European University of the Atlantic and Universidad Iberoamericana, Spain.