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Teacher motivation at a challenging time
By Richard Fielden-Watkinson
We sit at home, our lives so much different in form than they were a few long weeks ago, and yet the content - the need for work, for closeness and continuity is still with us, it’s fundamental.
The virus that is sweeping over the globe will bring out the best in us and it will also cause a lot of pain. We will be able to pause and reflect, but while we do so we will see images and statistics that curdle as we consume them. It will push us to teach and to interact in new ways, but in the process it will disrupt and displace.
What does it all mean for those of us involved in teaching and learning? Most of us want and need to be working, in a time when work seems to be a lower priority. If and how we continue to work depends on the institutions and individuals we work with. It will most likely require the use of technology, which we may or may not be well-versed in. That is slightly frightening, perhaps. On top of the shock of this unknown and unexpected situation we need to learn new skills and adapt, or perhaps risk losing income.
I wanted to write about motivation. I wrote a draft of this blog piece a few weeks ago that now seems less relevant. It was about the various useful theories and models of motivation, such as Herzberg’s dual-factor theory (1964), which talks about how hygiene factors such as reasonable salary levels need to be in place for us to function but only motivators such as personal growth really motivate us, and Vroom’s expectancy theory (1964) which reduces motivation to the equation: motivational force = expectancy x instrumentality x valence. I made light of this, in my original blog, because I wanted to contrast the coldness of an equation with the reality we see each day -- the messiness of people operating spontaneously in an unpredictable world. Actually, an equation that gives us the outputs based on some knowable inputs could be quite comforting at this moment.
The rest of the blog post was a story about myself, about the factors that have motivated me the most over the several years I have been involved in English language teaching and learning. The cause of my personal motivation, aside from the realities of Maslow’s hierarchy, Vroom’s equation, or Herzberg’s motivational factors, has been working with dedicated teachers. Teachers who continually show a commitment to learners, which most often displays itself in strong rapport-building and skillful lowering of the learner’s affective filter; it has been the education managers who have displayed energy and positivity in times of adversity, and the bright minds of support staff which have amazed with their insight and flexibility.
And, the community. In my original post I mentioned how at the school in which I did my CELTA I jealously observed from the photocopier the vibrant inter-lingual communication between teachers in the staff room, and it represented a community I wanted to be a part of. That motivated me to do more and to get a job in that school. My motivation today still comes from the community of teachers and managers I engage with, those that today are adapting and showing great resilience in a challenging moment. This is twee, but true, for me at least.
I was fortunate to work with excellent teachers in my first teaching role in London, at the school where I completed my CELTA. I was lucky that my CELTA trainer displayed complete dedication towards our cohort. I had a good managerial mentor in Dr. Larry Davies. I worked in various contexts, each time able to work with committed teachers and managers and able to learn new skills from them. Now I must learn some more and I must try to motivate and support others as they need it, too.
That all said, there are more important things at the moment than teaching and work, such as our general well-being. So if we don’t feel motivated or interested in teaching at the moment, that’s OK. We know that motivation has its own natural ebb and flow. And we can anticipate that things will eventually get better.
In English language teaching we certainly have a strong community. We work to help people and we try to create a community in which everyone can fit, everyone is welcome. Today more than ever, ‘community’ is important, and should be seen as something we push to expand and to contribute towards. What motivates me today is the same thing that motivated me ten years ago as I glanced over at the teachers in the school where I did my CELTA, it’s the thing that motivates me today to take a deep breath and grapple with the new ways in which we need to work in order to continue to provide a good education for our learners and to support each other. In my isolation I ask myself what motivates me and I hear the response: It’s the people, stupid.
What motivates you?