teacher motivation killers

Recently, we posted a quick poll on our WeAreTeachers Facebook page asking teachers to share their motivation killers and fill in the blank: One thing I wish I could change about my school for next year is _______.

We thought you’d appreciate reading their answers. After all, the more you know as a principal about what teachers wish for, the better you can do.

Unsurprisingly, many of of our teachers’ biggest concerns aligned with factors that have been cited for years in the corporate world as damaging to employee engagement. Take a look. Do any of these motivation killers resonate in your building? Then use this summer to plan for how you can improve.

1. Unprofessional behavior

Problems like bullying, rude language, and inconsiderate behavior by fellow staff members were on the top of teachers’ minds.

According to teacher KR, “The staff’s cliquey behavior has to go!”


RN agreed, “Sometimes our working environment feels more like middle school than a professional community of people.”

Employees who have a friend at work are happier and even more productive because there is more on the line. Consider how you can combat unprofessional behavior and encourage strong relationship building amongst your team.


2. Lack of collaboration

When it comes to modeling a collaborative working environment, many teachers feel their school falls short.

JS wrote, “The lack of actual teamwork among teachers is so frustrating! Many talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.”

New teacher AV added, “I wish teachers were more generous in sharing new ideas, and more receptive to learning from one another.”

KD went so far as to write, “The teachers in my department share nothing and do not communicate. It’s petty and it directly hurts our students.”

Peer-to-peer collaboration is essential for a school in both teachers and students learn and grow. Admins are in a powerful position to make idea sharing and cross-classroom development the norm.


3. Favoritism

One motivation killer that seems to grate on many teachers is the perception of the “chosen few,” or as CM put it, “the small group of select teachers always getting praised and getting what they want.”

SM added, “I would like to see an end to the ‘in crowd’ among teachers. Just like our students, everyone needs time to shine.”

Especially when it comes to spotlighting certain staff members as leaders, teachers seem to be particularly sensitive.  Wrote TS, “Stop hyping up certain people chosen to be leaders that the staff does not like, and shoving it down our throats.”

Being a school leader means managing a very large team. It can be easy to accidentally overlook the needs of some of your staff. But a simple shout out, inquiry into personal well-being, or pat on the back for a job well done can go a long way.


4. Inconsistent expectations

CB passionately described another peeve. “Teachers who everyone knows aren’t teaching or following rules. They allow students free rein of the class, yet they are always the ones getting all the praise by admin because kids love them. Of course, they do: no discipline, no rules, everyone gets a great grade for doing nothing. And when you get that teacher’s kids the next year it’s obvious they were taught none of the basic to succeed and then parents attack you because last year their kid was a freakin’ genius.”

What teachers would like to see is a culture of professionals working together for a spirit of mindfulness throughout the school and talking about challenges rather than hiding and grumbling.

Share decision making is also important. “Shared leadership should be a big part of every school,” wrote KS, “along with justice for all. Admins come and go; teachers and staff should be more cohesive and supportive.”


5. Lack of discipline and consequences

“We need stronger behavior support for unruly students,” LO wrote. “And consistent consequences for extreme behaviors,” added AP.

Without consistent support of admin to manage discipline, teachers often feel they have nowhere to turn.

“It’s frustrating,” wrote LM, “Teachers hesitate to write referrals because they know that nothing more than a ‘talking to’ will happen, and the blame will be directed back on them.”

This lack of consequences can sometimes be related to the principal’s delicate position as mediator in parent-teacher disputes. It’s a tough line to walk, but it’s important for admins to gain the perspective of their teachers first and foremost.


6. Lack of parent support

Having the support of a parent community that trusts teachers have their children’s best interest at heart makes a huge difference for teacher motivation.

AB wrote that she wishes for “parents who expect their kids to earn a grade and work for success, and support their child’s academic growth.”

A school is a community, and it’s important that all members are on board. Here are a few ideas for getting parents more involved.


7. Lack of respect from admin

DD summed up the sentiment of many teachers, “I wish the administration would be more sincerely respectful of the instructional staff and share this sincere respect with the community we work so hard to please.”

“Treat us like professionals,” added CM, “No micromanaging! We are tired of being treated like children by administrators. We are not children, we TEACH children.”

Parents and admin are not the only purported source of disrespect for teachers. NK called for a “renewed respect for the teaching profession from the public and our state legislature that won’t fully fund basic education.”

With just 29 percent of teachers reporting they’ve been recently recognized for good work, it’s clear this is an area of improvement for many of us.


8. Lack of funding

Speaking of money, “It would be nice,” wrote librarian PH, “if we had a budget to purchase books instead of coming up with creative fundraising efforts and personal donations to run the school library.”

TK feels the pressure too: “We’re a high school with nearly 100 percent disadvantaged students, nearly 40 percent SE and ELL students, many far below grade level. We need more money to provide the support systems that they need.”

And beyond having the system in which they work fully funded, teachers struggle to maintain their own standard of living. “Our district’s pay freeze is killing morale,” wrote NC.

No matter the industry, employees feel more motivated when have the tools they need to do their job well. Decreasing budgets are a challenge facing many schools in our country, and we all feel the squeeze. Here are some out-of-the-box fundraising strategies that may help.


9. Standardized testing

And finally, no list about teacher motivation killers would be complete without vigorous complaints against standardized testing. Many teachers simply wrote “too much testing.”

“Focusing on test scores has not resulted in improvement,” reports KE, “perhaps breaking the shackles of what will ‘result in better data,’ and focusing on the learning itself, will be more universally beneficial for teachers, families, and especially students.”

Join our Facebook group Principal Life for more conversation about and insights into the challenges of school leadership.