Education Corner 14 - Motivating Teachers

23 MAR 2016

In the last EC column we promised to continue with the question –how do we motivate teachers to do a good job? Please be prepared for several EC’s as the topic is so very important to improving our children’s education.
Last issue I responded briefly to the reader who wrote- “I have a friend who is a public school teacher and like many of her colleagues is suffering from depression as a result of a lack of inspiration and motivation; low/poor pay and an insecure tenure with the new short term contracts now in place, being a major factor.” She had asked how can we inspire and motivate our teachers. I tried to stall and wrote her I would ask some teachers and principals that very question. What would motivate you to do a better job?
Moreover in education we would consider a good teacher job is evidenced by students learning the school subjects well. Students should be learning to read, write and do math. But too they should be learning the sciences and the social studies. That’s a good job so how can teachers be motivated to want to do an even better job? How do we motivate teachers to embrace “being professional”? Professionals follow a path marked “Continuous Improvement” so just how do we get more teachers on this path?

As promised I did meet this past week meet with four different groups as I was going to different schools. As we might expect higher pay was always the first response. I usually followed with-“If I can double your pay can you double my grandson’s learning?” The teachers would laugh and usually say “yes”. I would then ask “If I can give you $1.00 more per paycheck can you double my grandson’s learning?” More laughter but this time, while still laughing, they said “no”. This broke the ice and the teachers then did offer a few interesting thoughts. (They also agreed they could not double my grandson’s learning if I doubled their pay.) But to some the pay matter was more than just more purchasing power. It was linked to respect somehow. It was a reasonable argument “If the public respected us more for our most important job of teaching the children—we would be paid more.” I countered with a “Do you respect your Pastor or your Priest? They usually make less than teachers, don’t they? Do you think they are respected because they are doing God’s work?” I added “If that’s the case they should be the one’s’ to make the big money-right?” The whole experience even with just a few teachers was enlightening and at the same time sad. The idea that when one has lots of money one gets lots of respect or that money can buy respect is a notion with which I have some difficulty and begrudgedly accept as true for some.
Nevertheless the respect issue did not stop with money. Some teachers felt unappreciated and that was linked to respect. Some teachers said only a chosen few were rewarded and they felt the day-to-day work went unnoticed and teachers were noticed when it was time to blame and scold. I said to that idea “What if the public thinks that lots of teachers are not doing a good job? What if the public sees there are lots of teachers that are teaching because they could not find another job? What if the public sees the teachers that miss so much work and there is no one at school to teach? What about schools where graduates cannot test into high school or high school graduates that cannot go on to college? These conditions used to exist a lot. When they did the public rightfully said— these teachers are making too much money. Thankfully our education environment is much improved and this negative scenario does not characterize most teachers and most schools in Pohnpei today. But there was some truth in this perception in past years.
The idea that many became teachers because it was at least a job—is true. When compulsory education (all kids to 16 must be in school) came into effect there were few qualified teachers. Any Associate Degree and the ability to stand upright in a class would land a job. Many taught for a few years and moved on. Most all of our early Pohnpeian leaders began as classroom teachers and later became Presidents, Governors, Congress Members and hold or held governmental posts of all levels. But too, many stayed in a job they neither chose nor even liked. They went to summer school because they were forced not because they wished to be better teachers. That was the past—not today and not tomorrow. But today education and teachers still bear the burden of the past and must stand up and say “Times have changed.”
Today’s new teachers and many of the old are ready to shed to past and get on with a professional future—one that means improvement. We can never improve student learning until we improve our teachers and motivate them to be better.
We will continue next EC and remember it’s a simple idea-motivation. It is just is getting someone to do something. People either do things because they want to do something or they have to do something. People are motivated by success and not motivated with failure. People are motivated to fulfill wants and needs. People have difficulty deciding what are wants and what needs are. There are always more wants than needs and usually more needs than resources. Exploring these ideas next issue will help us some (I think) unravel how to inspire and motivated our teachers. At least I hope so.
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