Research Proposal: Teacher Motivation

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Teaching is one of the professions that many and indeed probably even most people enter with a large measure of idealism. They seek out education as a profession not for the salary or the benefits (despite the belief of many non-teachers that teachers are primarily motivated by the long vacations) but because they feel that teaching is their vocation, their calling. And yet despite this initial strong motivation to teach, many teachers leave the profession after a short time, often after only a year in the classroom. For example, about twenty percent of new Vancouver teachers leave the profession after their first year (Richmond, 2005), which is about middling, with some regions losing up to fifty percent of their novice teachers after their first year (Richmond, 2005).

Such a high attrition rate is bad for everyone. It is bad for those new teachers who have put considerable time, effort, and money into teacher education programs and who find themselves unemployed, often bitter, and unsure what to do about their professional futures. It is problematic for schools, who must constantly recruit new teachers, thereby expending a great amount of institutional energy simply to stay in place. And it affects the education of students, who are faced with new teachers each year and so a lack of continuity as well as a lack of the expertise that more experienced teachers could offer. Clearly, Vancouver secondary teachers, schools, and students would all benefit from higher retention of teachers at all levels. But the problem of teacher retention affects not just new teachers (although it is worse for them) but all teachers, who may find themselves overwhelmed and burnt out at any stage of their careers.

So what would induce teachers to stay in the profession? And what would keep teachers who are in the profession happy enough so that they do not become burnt-out? The simple answer is that they would be more likely to stay if they were more motivated. Of course, at some level that answer is simply tautological: Motivation is key to retention as well as dedication in any profession. But I argue that the simplicity of the situation does not in any way negate its value. Teachers who are sufficiently motivated will stay in the profession.

So the question then becomes: How can teachers be motivated? Where would the locus of teacher motivation be? In programs of teacher education? From the school districts? From the schools? From the unions? Or does each teacher have to find sufficient motivation within herself or himself? Or what would be the appropriate combination of all of these factors? Another way of looking at this question would be to ask to what extent is teacher motivation a personal matter, something that can be inculcated and nurtured -- and sustained -- by the individual (with some help from a range of institutions) and to what extent must teacher motivation come about through structural changes and supports.

The following overview of structural problems in Canadian schools at large suggests that structural problems must at least be seriously considered when looking at ways to motivate teachers:

The real metaphor of mass public schooling is not the teacher as lighter of fires, or the teacher as planter and nurturer of beautiful flowers. It is the school as factory, the teacher as production worker (Whitehead, 2007).

I cannot imagine that many people enter the teaching professions with an eye towards becoming the analogue of a factory worker. At the same time, I find Whitehead's analysis to be an accurate one. Schools run as bureaucracies, as Canadian schools tend to be, are subject to a range of ills that dramatically and directly affect teacher motivation.

[Researchers have] pointed out man's inherent propensity to resist formalization, and impersonalization, and they showed the organizational "pathologies" that result from excesses in this direction. The dysfunctional consequences take various forms: the ossification of behavior, with the automatic rejection of all innovative ideas, the mistreatment of clients, increases in absenteeism, high turnover, strikes, and sometimes the subversion of the operation (Mintzberg, 1983).

Given this kind of suffocating environment (and this is indeed the kind of world in which many teachers spend their days) it is hardly surprising that many teachers leave the profession far earlier than they had intended to and those that stay find far lower rates of job satisfaction than they had hoped for.

What is, then, surprising is that many teachers do find ways to stay motivated about their jobs year after year. This thesis is an investigation of what factors help keep teachers motivated, including an examination of how different psychological models of motivation might be best employed to bolster teachers in their jobs. This project thus blends two different tasks to answer the essential questions that I am posing. The first task consists of gathering data to determine the specifics of the conditions for teachers, from their average age to what services schools and the government provide to support teachers. The second task for this research project is to examine the different theories of motivation. The final step is an integration of these two tasks. Such an integration should be helpful in understanding the current situation that teachers in the Vancouver schools face as well as -- and this is the more important of the two tasks, I believe -- facilitate the development of programs that will improve the situation for teachers in the future. The current state of public education in Vancouver is far from perfect, but it is also far from irredeemable.

1.2 Rationale for the Study

Traditionally scholarship is seen to be something abstract -- the collection and analysis of knowledge for knowledge's sake. And I agree that an examination of the world around us is an essential first step to scholarship for we cannot begin to analyze and interpret the world if we do not have the basic facts that we need. But I do not believe that scholarship should stop at the collection of knowledge -- or at least I do not believe that it must stop with the collection and analysis of knowledge. Rather, I believe that scholarship can be both "pure" -- in the sense that facts are gathered in an accurate and disinterested way -- and also be applicable, providing the information needed by a particular community to help them improve their lives.

Of course this kind of research -- which can be seen as providing a sort of quid pro quo to the subjects of the research -- can be problematic, depending on the nature of the subjects. (For example, one doesn't want to help pirates do their job better!) However, in the case of teachers and other stakeholders in the world of public education I believe that it is fully appropriate to pursue research that is scientifically rigorous but also can be used in vary practical ways by teachers. For the benefits of having highly motivated teachers in a school are widespread.

Not only do teachers who are motivated tend to find greater satisfaction in their own work (and this is something that they certainly deserve to have) but the sense of greater competence and agency leads them to be even better teachers (which leads in turn to a greater level of motivation, for the process is an iterative one). This benefits their pupils, of course, creating a positive ripple effect as each generation of students arrives and departs.

1.3 Research Questions

The topic of teacher satisfaction is a large and complex one and can be approached from a number of different perspectives and with a number of different emphases. I have chosen the following series of research questions to ensure that this project is sufficiently bounded. I have also chosen the following questions because they are consistent with the focus that I bring to this research and my assumptions about which are the key extrinsic and intrinsic variables to consider in assessing the level of teacher motivation in the Vancouver School District. In determining this focus I have combined my personal knowledge of the school district with background information available about the district from school and governmental sources along with research that has already been done in this area.

1.3.1The first question that I wish to answer is the most fundamental one: What is the level of teacher motivation among secondary school teachers in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada? Without an accurate sense of the baseline of motivation the rest of the research will be on shaky grounds.

1.3.2 The next questions follows directly from the first: Are there significant differences in levels of motivation among secondary school teachers working under the British Columbia District determined by their socio-demographic factors such as age, gender, marital status, education level, year of experience and present subject taught?

1.3.3 I am also interested in determining if there are significant differences in the level of motivation among secondary teachers working under the British Columbia School district due to collective bargaining agreements. Thus my next… [END OF PREVIEW]

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