Teachers: George Cronin, Dawn Digsby, Todd Beard, and Karen North. (Katrina Schwartz)
Teachers: George Cronin, Dawn Digsby, Todd Beard, and Karen North. (Katrina Schwartz)

A recent Gallup poll of 170,000 Americans — 10,000 of whom were teachers — found that teaching is the second most satisfying profession (after medicine). Ironically, the same Gallup poll found that in contrast to their overall happiness with their jobs, teachers often rate last or close to the bottom for workplace engagement and happiness.

“Of all the professions we studied in the U.S., teachers are the least likely to say that their opinions count and the least likely to say that their supervisor creates an open and sharing environment,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, at the Next New World Conference.

This is a troubling trend at a time when schools need to continue to attract high quality educators. “If the perception in our country is that teaching is not a great profession to go into, we certainly aren’t going to be encouraging really talented young people to be thinking about the profession of teaching,” Busteed said in an interview with Stephen Smith on the American RadioWorks podcast.

That will be especially problematic as baby boomer teachers begin to retire. “What our research reveals is an important nuance that teachers rate their lives overall very highly; they love their lives,” Busteed said. “They love their work. They love what they do in terms of helping encourage young people.”

But they often dislike their bosses, the policies they must abide by, the tests that govern their lives and the low pay and lack of respect often shown by other adults. “It’s a big opportunity to try and get this right across school systems, but also a tragedy in that all these people who otherwise would be off the charts with their performance if we could just improve their workplace environment,” Busteed said.

MindShift readers discussed openly what motivates them to keep teaching, as well as what changes they’d make to the system.

“I’m motivated by the curiosity of my students,” replied Lewis Marshall A. Elaine, in a Facebook call-out to teachers to weigh in. “Being able to collaborate with more teachers who possess these qualities would make my job better: professionalism, positivity, and competency.”

Teacher Dana Smith wrote: “The students are my motivation: love those crazy middle-schoolers! A better salary and being able to teach without headaches and heartaches from mandatory testing, nonsensical paperwork/computer work, and crazed administrators would make my job perfect.”

Vix Cee Kreidel wrote: “I am motivated to teach because I believe that every child deserves to have someone who believes in them. I love to watch the light bulb go off in a child as their eyes light up when they have an idea or ‘get’ something. Teaching would be easier if I got paid more to make up for all the things I buy for my classroom. Also if we were held accountable in other ways besides the test.”

We talked to educators from across the country, some at the recent ISTE conference, about what they love about their jobs and what they’d do to improve their work environment. Listen to their stories.

What Motivates Teachers? 30 July,2014Katrina Schwartz

  • Darcy Hill

    Great article. Excellent to hear the voices and hearts of those who inspire and challenge the next generation. Teaching is about optimism for each new day in the classroom is full of promise and possibilities, wonder and curiosity, and affirmation. It has been the career of my dreams, and after 30 years learning and sharing in the classroom, I have retired. Please see “On Retiring” at http://imaginationcollaborationteacher.blogspot.com.

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  • acn0211

    Teaching is among the most fulfilling professions. Teachers are sacrificing individuals. Teachers help inspire the doctors, the astronauts, the nurses, the lawyers, the scientists, even the politicians of the future. Yet, the first people who are derided by management, politicians, and parents are teachers. If the country just recalls the statements made by many powerful politicians, and management, in these recent years, it will be evident where our nations priorities on education is. Even, they’ve gone to the extent, to say that teachers are overpaid. Expecting individuals with a masters degree to stay for an entire career at salaries around $40,000, isn’t realistic. Most public schools haven’t given teachers a raise in over 5 years. In fact, many have had furloughs and lower salaries. And, we expect the very best and qualified individuals to become teachers. There are numerous factors that motivate teachers, but, teachers need to make a living too. Imagine, school-systems stopped school-supplies for teachers.

    In addition, we have become a nation that discourages rigor in education. Especially in public education, we have become soft. Management and authority have become politically convenient to appease parents. We don’t hold parents responsible, in the education process, to create responsible individuals, of their wards. Teachers get blamed, for the slackness of students and parents. Only if authorities, management, politicians and parents stand with teachers, could the b motivated

  • Courtney Curtis

    It’s like McDonald’s…I’m lovin’ it! Hey, amidst all the crazy, messy chaos of the school day (testing, admins, parents, trainings, meetings, issues, standards) one small place sure stays ordered and structured. My classroom is my utopia. Its seriously my sanctuary. Unlike my home, I keep everything in order in my classroom. My instruction is structured to my liking. It’s probably the most professional atmosphere these guys ever experienced. These kids know I want the best for them because I tell them so every single day. But i also I hold very high expectations for the way they behave and perform and I never never let down my guard. In turn, it takes a few months but the majority of the kidos display respect and admiration for the time and attention I put into everything including their educational experience. Its like one of those classrooms at Hogwarts…structured and engaging. Its like magic. As the year progresses, they know the drill and I don’t have to work so hard at the discipline stuff. In fact work becomes easy-peesy and about 2 months in, I can just focus on the really fun, teachery stuff like my lessons and the important things these guys need to succeed in life.

  • Ann Dickerson

    Dana Smith hit the nail right on the head! I am one of the most high-energy, positive individuals when it comes to teaching. I LOVE what I do and who I do it for: the kids! The ridiculous amounts of paperwork that prove nothing and bog me down are my biggest weakness and only procrastination point!

  • Elyse S. Scott

    wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Hope you’ll add my book Secrets From the Middle as another avenue of voice!

    • MaryAnn Tomaszewski

      Excellent points were made from these educators about how
      fulfilling teaching is as a career. I
      still feel highly motivated after 17 years in the classroom. Teachers can be allowed to be more efficient by
      providing them with more time in the day for collaboration, reflection, planning
      and communication. Simply hiring support
      staff to cover things like bus duty, playground duty, copying, etc. would free
      time up in an already hectic day to allow teachers valuable time for the
      necessary and important tasks that directly relate to teaching.

  • Susan Jones

    free tool to reduce teacher’s trouble http://bit.ly/1kjPqRH

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  • Regina Guastamacchio

    It was really inspiring to listen to all of the educators at the recent ISTE conference and hear what motivates them as an educator. As a second grade teacher I am motivated by the fact that in this profession we are always working on improving our skill set and finding what works and what doesn’t work with our students. It is one of the most amazing feelings to teach a lesson and incorporate all of the right components in a lesson and to keep our students engaged. One of the most difficult parts of teaching is trying to always make sure that we are teaching lessons that are motivating and engaging to our students. When our students are motivated to learn and are personally invested in what they are learning then their learning is increased exponentially. I also completely agree with a previous post from Ann Dickerson regarding all of the paperwork. There are sometimes endless amounts of paperwork to fill out and it’s very difficult to keep up with all of it. One thing that I enjoy in our school district is we have PLC meetings about twice a month and also instead of a staff meeting we have something called a “Teacher Tuesday”. These meetings are great ways for our grade level to collaborate and share ideas. I learn so much from my colleagues and I love taking these ideas and implementing them back into my own classroom. During our PLC meetings we also choose a focus for each month. We create pre-tests, probes, and post-tests and are able to share data, what’s working, what’s not working, and goals to improve our student’s learning.

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  • Veteran Teacher

    43 years in education and I have seen a steady decline in parent involvement and a steady increase in government interference. Education today is BIG BUSINESS. The corporate mentality has permeated the halls of Congress and state legislatures and been shoved down the throats of school systems. Constant testing does nothing but line the pockets of testing companies and so called “educational guru’s”. Accountability should be a part of the retaining of educators, but it applies to parents and law makers as well. Most teachers do love what they do but hate the interference and constant “pointing of fingers” in their direction blaming them for problems they have NO control over and NO power to correct.

  • mvrentchler

    I identify with this from the article, “Teacher Dana Smith wrote: “The students are my motivation: love those
    crazy middle-schoolers! A better salary and being able to teach without
    headaches and heartaches from mandatory testing, nonsensical
    paperwork/computer work, and crazed administrators would make my job


Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She’s worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She’s a staff writer for KQED’s education blog MindShift.

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