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Teacher in front of secondary pupils

Teacher motivation is vital – and COVID-19 may be hurting it

During the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping students motivated as classes move online has been crucial. The role of student motivation in the process of learning is well known and is supported by research.

However, the area of teacher motivation has not received as much attention. Even teachers themselves sometimes overlook the importance of their motivation in the profession.

Before the pandemic, I carried out PhD research with 23 secondary school teachers in Spain to investigate the factors which lead to motivation and demotivation in their daily teaching experiences.

My findings can help us understand usual negative influences which have an effect on teachers and how these challenges could be more important during the pandemic. The pressures of the pandemic may have exacerbated the factors which cause teachers to lose motivation, and negated the aspects that teachers find motivating.

Demotivating factors

Teacher motivation is closely linked to student motivation, and teachers who are motivated to teach can trigger students’ motivation to learn. Teachers can have an impact on students for better or for worse but if teachers are motivated, this influence will be more positive.

The factors that might lead to teachers losing enthusiasm for their work will sound familiar to many. Teachers are often said to not receive enough social recognition for the work they do and are understood to carry a heavy workload which leads to stress and demotivation.

In my study, I found that most of the sources for a loss of motivation among teachers were extrinsic – beyond their direct control. These factors included their workload, salary, lack of resources, a lack of social recognition, and curriculum limitations.

Teacher smiling at pupil in computer class
Teachers drew motivation from satisfaction in helping students. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

COVID-19 may have accentuated well-known demotivators, such as the lack of support teachers receive from administration and the work overload they can face, which may have a negative impact on their work-life balance and their wellbeing.

Researchers have already identified some of the challenges teachers have faced during the pandemic – from a reduction in high-quality interaction with students, to a lack of support and challenges with technology.

On the other hand, I found that the teachers were motivated by intrinsic factors – a sense of reward which came from themselves, such as their enjoyment or satisfaction when teaching. It is well-known that teachers like their profession because they can help and educate learners and shape the future of our society.

The altruistic value of the teaching profession is a key factor in guaranteeing teacher motivation to teach, but it is not the only reason why teachers choose this career and remain in the profession.

The teachers in my study referred to teaching as a profession in which they can keep on learning. As one commented:

When I learn, when I know something new, or I discover something I didn’t really know it was that way, I am motivated, I am happy, and I am satisfied.

Participants described a motivated teacher as someone “who does not stop learning”. The teaching profession allows them to be engaged in a lifelong learning process. The teachers I interviewed expressed that they like to be exposed to new ideas and to be intellectually stimulated, and these factors give them a drive to teach.

During the pandemic, teachers have had to figure out how to teach online and many have engaged in training to improve their performance and make sure they are ready for the challenges of online teaching. In a normal situation, you would expect learning new teaching skills like this to increase teacher motivation.

However, the pressure of the pandemic may have not allowed teachers to enjoy this learning process. Some may have found it a challenging and inspiring experience – but it could also have been a frustrating opportunity in which teachers were put under pressure to learn something new in a limited time.

Teacher addressing class using video call
Teachers have had to adjust quickly to online teaching. FamVeld/Shutterstock

In a normal class, teachers must juggle between teaching, checking students’ understanding and answering questions. Now, simple actions such as sharing your screen and seeing your students at the same time, replying to messages in the chat while teaching or switching on and off the video and microphone, may become stressful challenges for those new to online teaching.

Teachers have also had to invest more time in adapting their resources without forgetting about their students’ motivation and engagement when learning online. But we cannot forget about teachers and their motivation.

Schools and other institutions need to provide support for teachers as they do their jobs under the extra strain of a pandemic. It is also important that teachers focus on their wellbeing and practise self-care – and remember the sense of satisfaction they have gained from their profession.

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