What Motivates Teachers - and everyone else?

We still live in a world where old fashioned carrot and stick incentives are used to motivate people. Even top bankers and CEO's of top companies seemingly have to be motivated by bonuses. Are their jobs so unfulfilling and undesirable?

For repetitive, monotonous jobs there is an argument that such incentives can be useful, but they can backfire, for example when people focus on maximising the incentive at the expense of doing a good, honest job.

Research* - much ignored, perhaps because those in charge are afraid of what they think might happen if they relinquish power and control - shows that human beings are actually naturally motivated to 'do a good job'. However, upbringing, education and the world of work slowly but surely turn a lot of us off from being 'self-motivated'. In all these places we are taught to do things in response to the notion that human beings do most things reluctantly and therefore have to be driven by punishment and/or rewards in order to get them to do things..."if" you do this "then" we will do that.

Watching young children at play, we can notice how easily they become fully absorbed in what they are doing. They like to try things for themselves, will do things just for the sake of doing them and keep doing them repeatedly until they are satisfied. In that play are the ingredients of 'intrinsic motivation' – motivation from the inside. Teachers tend to have that, though so often it becomes stifled by the demands of the environment they are in. In turn this can lead to stress and burn out, or to leaving the profession. (Government statistics record that around 40% of new teachers leave the profession within 5 years of qualifying).

Teaching is a job that has all the potential for fulfilling the requirements we have as human beings to lose ourselves in intrinsic motivational tasks. Research shows those requirements to be:

Autonomy – a high degree of control over what we are doing.
Mastery – a desire to get better and better at what we are doing.
Purpose – doing something fulfilling of and in itself.

Extract from a Guardian Teacher Network survey, October 2011.
'Teachers who have come from other professions wonder openly about the lack of trust in their professionalism. One former solicitor, now questioning the sense of a career switch, said:"There is a profound lack of respect by senior staff and parents for the quality of work and quantity of work undertaken by teachers.

"I have never worked in a place where I have not been treated as a professional. My every move is monitored. I am not trusted to do the job I have trained and gained qualifications to do. It has had a great impact on my confidence to do the job. As a solicitor I was trusted to do my job once I had the qualifications and the experience, why is this not the case in teaching?"

'Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University.....is not surprised by the findings. "Global evidence is clear – lack of control and autonomy in your job makes you ill. It is stressful to be in an occupation where you feel you have people looking over your shoulder and where you can be named and shamed.

"Teachers want autonomy and respect – the people who go into it have a real vocation; they don't do it for the money. We should train all our headteachers in engaging their staff in the decisions that affect their jobs, and the government needs to stop dictating top-down to teachers and instead discuss ideas with teachers. It should then undertake systematic pilots of ideas, which are evaluated. It needs to start treating teachers as professionals."'