What Motivates Teachers

What Motivates Teachers

What Motivates Teachers – Competition?

There’s no question that some people are motivated by competition and measure themselves in comparison to others.  Measuring in comparison to peers is, I think, the fundamental orientation of our business community today. 

Competition in business

Take retail clothes shopping, for instance.  Demand for clothing and home goods doesn’t change by that much in any given year, but our business mindset says everybody has to grow.  Wal Mart, Target, Dollar clothing stores, Penny’s, Kohl’s, Macys etc can only grow the way Wall Street wants them if they both take their share of any general growth, and also take some share from someone else.  Further, the tools they have at their disposal such as sales, how they display the clothing, customer rewards programs, customer service etc are all well known and available to everybody.

The result is a scarcity mentality where all the players compete for sales that are rightly perceived to be limited.  A great quarter for Proctor and Gamble is when Tide takes 1% of the market share from All or some other competitor.  Thus people who work in these businesses are taught/encouraged to be hyper competitive, team oriented, win/lose.

Competition in Sports

We can see this even more clearly in sports.  Someone wins and someone loses.  There is no win-win in football.

Competition in Schools

Are schools anything like this?  Nope. 

  • First of all, a given child has a really broad range of possible learning outcomes, especially the younger they are.
  • Second, if a given child progresses really well, that’s certainly not at the expense of someone else’s learning; in fact it might even help. 
  • Third, I doubt that many teachers are drilling their kids to do well on tests so that the teacher can boast to her friends that her kids did better than Mrs. A’s kids on their New York State standardized tests.

Teachers become teachers for a broad variety of reasons.  A lot want to spend their days with kids.  A lot want to teach.  Some want the hours so they can get home to their own kids.  Some want the security that (used to) come with the job.  Some want the benefits, which are still outstanding etc. 

Somehow I doubt that many of them became a teacher so that they could prove they were a better teacher than their peers across town or across the hall. 

What Motivates Teachers?

One implication of this analysis, in my view, is that business approaches to schools predicated upon school personnel being motivated by a competitive desire to win are simply misguided. 

A second implication is that if we want schools to improve, however we define that, we need to understand what is going to motivate the people actually delivering the lessons. 

PD as Motivation

I have this enduring fantasy that principals will take their PD time to ask to everyone something like this:  What do we need to do to be as excellent a school as we can be and work effectively with the things that are in our control?  We can’t control poverty, we can’t control a culture that glorifies stupidity and not learning, we can’t magically give you more money or job security, we can’t control family stability and we have limited influence on family involvement in education.  But what can we do within our sphere of influence so that every child can learn?

It is genuinely rare in business that management ever asks “what can we do so that the customer gets what he or she really wants, even if they don’t get it from us?”  But a school should be culturally equipped to ask exactly what any given student needs.  

Your School

What would motivate your school? Is it even a question of motivation? Are teachers motivated, but not equipped or supported enough?

Lend your voice! Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.  

Jared Gellert is the executive director of CITE.

CITE is the Center for Integrated Training and Education . For over 25 years, CITE has and continues to train TEACHERS (Early Childhood, Literacy, Special Ed, Grad Courses, DASA); COUNSELORS (School, Mental Health Masters, Advanced Certificate); and ADMINISTRATORS (SBL, SDL, Public Admin, Online PhD) in all five boroughs of NYC, Yonkers, and Long Island.

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