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Searching for Teachers’ Motivation in Favoured Schools

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By ROLI S

“ It takes a big heart to help shape little minds.” Yes, it also takes a strong will, a ready mind and a happy outlook to teach little children. Teachers are at the heart of it. In our country, teachers of government schools are notorious for absenteeism, lack of motivation and what not, but in my experience as a school reviewer and educator, I have found that principals and school leaderships complain about the lack of motivation among teachers even in some favoured schools of our towns and cities. This has left me sometimes surprised and confused as to why the teachers having world class infrastructure around them still lack motivation? The important thing to notice is that teachers do not say that they don’t like doing their job enough and also say that they want to keep doing it, but the lack of enthusiasm is writ all over their actions during the lesson observations. Dead and lacklustre classes and low student engagement give the impression that teachers’ hearts are not with the job. How will they then shape the young minds? The psychology of human motivation has taught us that, when it feels like doing a job is a reward in itself, people approach their work with the greatest enthusiasm, passion and commitment – and they derive the greatest satisfaction from it. But this doesn’t just happen – as research into the psychology of motivation has demonstrated – feeling as though work is intrinsically rewarding depends upon whether the environment nourishes our basic psychological needs. So, I have often found myself asking these questions to the teachers while interacting with them. Does your work allow you to feel like you are good at what you do, or do you constantly feel as though you are failing?The answer that I get is, “We try our best and many times we feel that we are doing a good job but the marks that our students get always disappoint us.” Are you able to express yourselves through what you do, or do you simply feel like a pawn at the mercy of somebody else’s agenda? The answer is, “We feel bound by so many things and we have to fit in so many things that are demanded from us in terms of teaching methodology, completion of syllabus, checking of assessment papers and notebooks that we at times feel there is nothing in the school that we can control!” And does what you’re doing make you feel valued and cared about in a larger sense? The answer invariably is, “We feel valued only when our students get good marks or improve their test scores.” Not surprisingly, the answers that I have got to these questions are not very encouraging and I have found with my own research that when teachers’ basic psychological needs are suffocated in the school’s atmosphere, this translates into their dampened interest and enthusiasm for students. I realised that lack of a good salary and poor infrastructure are not always the reason for lack of motivation in Indian Schools. In fact, there is every reason to believe that some of the educational policies that we are carrying over from the past are actually stifling teachers’ psychological needs. Hopefully, many new initiatives taken by the policy makers to improve the education system will yield results and, in future, issues will be sorted to some extent. But the matter of the fact remains that focusing on marks, exams and tests all the time has invaded teachers’ working lives so much that they have been completely robbed of any sense of personal autonomy. Teachers often say that all of the most powerful teaching methodologies they use every day are no good to them because they take up too much time and don’t help children get ready for the tests and exams quickly enough. In fact, oftentimes I have felt that the whole concept of motivated teachers is a flawed one because most of the time it is understood that such a teacher is the one who is regular to school every day, follows official protocols blindly without questioning and, if necessary, provides the information that management or the leadership team wants, and gets down to the drill of teaching where the focus is majorly on reading and writing so that students can reproduce the learnt subject during their exams! When this happens in a school, the real focus shifts from different psychological needs of teachers and students to complying with orders as found fit by the administrative department, thereby relegating teachers to the mere status of puppets who have no voice, and students to personalities that have an exam to write and get good marks! As teachers have to comply and students have to regurgitate, the whole process seems like a mundane task leading to disheartened and unmotivated teachers who are only appreciated when their students get good marks. The situation for the teachers is “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. No wonder the teachers are not motivated, because they are neither empowered nor is there the required professional support for them.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai.)