Supporting the Motivation to Stay in the Classroom

In K-12 schools in the United States, we employ nearly four million teachers. Somewhere along the line, every one of these people made a choice to enter the profession. What was their motivation? Surely it wasn’t the financial reward. Going into teaching for the money would be like becoming a plumber for the glamour.

Over the years, conversations with hundreds of good teachers often led to a discussion of the reasons why they entered the profession:

  • “I always enjoyed being around young people.”
  • “There is nothing more rewarding than helping another person realize their potential.”
  • “I became a teacher because I loved the interaction and seeing kids grow up.”
  • “I love to help people discover who they are.”
  • “I went into teaching because I had so much to learn.”
  • “I love learning and wanted to be able to share that love and instill it in others.”
  • “I love being around the energy of teenagers. And I love helping them channel that energy to achieve their dreams.”

In the ideal environment, teachers have a chance to maintain this wonderful passion as they move through the years. Unfortunately, the majority of our schools provide far from the ideal; nearly 50% of teachers leave the classroom within their first five years. This dichotomy can be illustrated with a simple “Motive Spectrum”:

Motive Spectrum 

Needless to say, the reasons for leaving are varied and more than a little discouraging. Remaining in the classroom requires an exceptionally high tolerance for compliance requirements. The teachers who leave feel disrespected, disempowered, and generally overworked. In short, the public school environment does not support full expression of the motives that led our best teachers to the classroom.

An Unintended Effect

One of the sad realities of today’s educational environment is that federal and state accountability programs are unintentionally aligned with the reasons good teachers leave the classroom, rather than with the positive motives that pulled teachers into the field. For example, it would be hard to find a teacher anywhere who claims he or she entered the classroom to become a data collector for the state.

Likewise, even though high school teachers generally hope their students will continue with education beyond 12th grade, very few teachers want to get involved with preparation for the SAT or ACT. Such preparation is invariably surrendered to private enterprises, which only accentuate the socio-economic bias inherent in college-admissions testing.

Contrary to good management practice, mandated programs are generally imposed on teachers with a “like it or lump it” work order. Teacher input is neither solicited nor welcome. This approach contributes to teachers questioning whether they want to continue in the classroom.

Changing Negatives to Positives

Doorway to College Foundation (D2CF) has developed a Trained Educator ProgramTM (TEP) that involves teachers in determining how to best address the requirements in mandated programs within their classrooms. By being included and empowered, talented teachers will find ways to align those requirements with the positive motives that pulled them into the profession. The TEP will turn negative compliance into positive application, encouraging good teachers to adhere to the lofty motives with which they first entered the classroom.

The first stage of the TEP is to identify elements in mandated programs that feed one end or the other of the motive spectrum. The TEP then explores ways in which teacher inclusion might change the negatives to positives. Working directly with teachers, Doorway to College Foundation will help them turn negative mandates into positive opportunities.

Although teachers are not free to reject mandated requirements, they are free to adjust their attitude toward each program. When the emphasis is placed on the aspects of the program aligned with positive teacher motivation, the likelihood of long-term success is greatly enhanced—for all of the partners in the system.