15 ways to stay motivated to teach

1. Set yourself goals One of the things that can make teachers lose motivation is the whole thing becoming a grind of lesson after lesson with no clear final aim. There is another whole article on possible goals to keep yourself motivated on TEFL.net. 2. Bring in something you enjoy Perhaps because it reminds them […]

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net

1. Set yourself goals
One of the things that can make teachers lose motivation is the whole thing becoming a grind of lesson after lesson with no clear final aim. There is another whole article on possible goals to keep yourself motivated on TEFL.net.

2. Bring in something you enjoy
Perhaps because it reminds them of more self-indulgent teachers, serious teachers often need to be told to do something in class that they enjoy like designing a worksheet to be used with their an extract from their favourite book or video. A well designed task and the enthusiasm of the teacher for the material usually make up for any lack of previous knowledge by the students.

3. Teach your students something important
Another great demotivator is the succession of minor language points and readings on amusing but trivial topics that don’t seem to add up to much compared with the subject matter of a biology, ethics or law teacher or lecturer. It can take some effort to tie it in with language presentations and skills development, but the fact that our subject is language means that it is actually easier for us to pick and choose the big, interesting topics than it is for teachers working their way through the philosophy syllabus.

4. Learn something about/ from your students
Another thing that can turn into a blurred sequence is the procession of new students coming in and out of your classroom. One way to stop this feeling is to find out as much about them as individuals as you can, but the thing that is more likely to stick with you over the years is if you manage to learn something new about the world from them, e.g. by asking them to do projects and/ or presentations on their hometowns or hobbies.

5. Read
As the aim is to read for inspiration rather than directly for a promotion or qualification, if you don’t have the time, energy or patience for an Applied Linguistics book, try dipping into a book with more practical ideas; a TEFL magazine, website or blog; a popular science linguistics book; a popular paperback on language like “Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson; or even a self-help book.

6. Write
Even writing a diary on how your teaching is going can make it more interesting and show you ways out of whatever hole you in, and if you can get yourself published that can give you a real buzz and a way of stretching yourself that has a clear progression from game ideas on the web to getting your name on the front page of the most popular TEFL magazines and publishing a book that can keep you going for years, if not forever…

7. Go to workshops
As useful, convenient and (sometimes) cheap as reading and writing are, if you want a sense of perspective and a little push, there is no substitute for hearing other people talk about having the same problems as you. If your temporary drop in motivation means you are likely to lack the energy for a full blown course, a workshop or two might just give you the pep you need.

8. Give workshops
As teachers, most of us learn more from teaching than studying and live off the attention of standing up there at the front and getting approval, so giving workshops can be an even better way of coming up with new ideas than going to someone else’s. An easy start is to give a 30 to 50 minute workshop on practical teaching ideas in your own school.

9. Take a break
Like sports training or anything else, sometimes a bit of a break is what you need to get the best out of yourself. If you can’t afford to take extra time off or think a break on your CV will set your career back, a little time in a management job, teacher training job, ELT publishing job or in a summer school can be almost as refreshing as a complete break from TEFL.

10. Use teaching to learn about the world
TEFL can get to seem like a small, incestuous world where the things you learn after the first couple of years take you further away from people who haven’t got a head full of specialist jargon. You can reverse this effect by using your reading and your classes to widen your horizons, e.g. by reading business and management books if you have Business English courses, expanding Applied Linguistics reading to include more general books on psychology, childhood development or neurology etc.

11. Take a qualification
Not only would I recommend taking a qualification like a Diploma or MA when you are feeling unmotivated, I would suggest leaving those qualifications until you are feeling stuck in a rut and so can really appreciate being told to do things differently. The only difficulty is getting your energy levels up, which the other tips here can help with.

12. Show yourself how far you have come
If you feel like you are treading water, it could be because you can’t see the river banks and so can’t notice how far you have come. You can show yourself this by re-reading a book you read during your teacher training or early in your career, watching a video of or observing beginner teachers, re-reading some of your old coursework or trying a lesson plan or worksheet you haven’t for ages and see how much better it goes now.

13. Peer observations
Although a good DoS or teacher trainer can sometimes give you the little pointer you need to shake your classes out of boredom for you and/ or your students, the whole build up to it, the paperwork and the fact that you might be judged on a lesson on a bad day, week, month or term for you can make you less than receptive to the whole process and the feedback. One way of getting the positives without sapping too much of your remaining energy is to swap observations with another teacher. Watching someone else’s lesson can be particularly motivating- it’s an effort-free way of picking up new ideas, and anything you see which is not so good is a great ego-booster for you.

14. Do the opposite
Humans being what they are, it can sometimes be when everything is going exactly to plan, e.g. you have finally got that all Business English schedule you’ve been asking for, is when you start to get bored. If so, what you need is a bit of cross pollination, in the form of seeing what complete beginners can teach you about teaching Advanced, what monolingual classes can teach you about pairwork in multilingual classes etc.

15. Do something you hate
If touchy-feely Humanistic language teaching (for example) is something that makes your skin creep just to think about it, make yourself try it. You’ve got nothing to lose- if it is as pants as you expect, you can feel better about what you usually do in class, and if it is okay you have another whole area of teaching to explore.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net
March 2008 | Filed under Teaching
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.