Teaching is challenging. As David Labaree (2004) says:
“[T]eaching is an extraordinarily difficult form of professional practice. It is grounded in the necessity of motivating cognitive, moral, and behavioral change in a group of involuntary and frequently resistant clients.” (pp. 55-56)
In our study of teachers, we (Clive and Clare) have been struck BOTH by the many challenges the teachers face AND how well they maintain their morale despite the challenges. Of the original cohort of 22 who began in 2004, none have quit teaching (though 2 have left the study) and none have experienced a substantial, permanent decline in motivation, though they have their ups and downs. When in 2012 we asked them explicitly about their motivation over the years, their responses were as follows:
Average Motivation of Cohort 1 (18 interviewed) Over Their First Eight Years (Scale 1-5)
Interestingly, their highest motivation was in year 1. Though they were stressed and exhausted, they were excited to be doing what they had dreamed of for so long.
As for the strategies they used to keep up their morale, we noted the following:
- Acknowledging the inherent challenges and limits of teaching – “it’s not just you”
- Taking a broad approach to teaching, so it’s more social, meaningful, enjoyable
- Becoming more skilled and effective as a teacher
- Maintaining a work-life balance: having a life beyond teaching
- Remembering why you became a teacher in the first place (see quotes below)
“Teaching is getting harder, and I’ve changed in that I would no longer recommend it to everyone…. However, I like it because I’m a doer, I enjoy being creative, and I like being challenged.” (Felicity, year 7)
“I’m happy to go to school [because] you just never know what’s going to happen; it’s always a new day.” (Jody, year 8)
“When things were going in a wrong direction [recently] with my school administration and in the school district, it brought me back to why I was there, why I wanted to be a teacher: working with the kids, dealing with their issues, getting down to the fundamentals of teaching them.” (John, year 8)
Great strategies! Good for teachers – and teacher educators too!