09 May 2013

Motivating Teachers

A few years ago I read the Dan Pink TED talk about motivation. It inspired me to start doing 20% time, among other small changes to my teaching. (Check out the original blog reaction here.) Just now I watched a video that revisits the topic:

According to Pink, external incentives only work for rudimentary tasks, and the more complicated, cognitive tasks must be internally motivated.

In teaching, it means that all those hoops we jump through in order to keep our jobs really only motivate us to do the rudimentary tasks well, such as handing out packets that contain the state-mandated information. According to the data Pink refers to, merit pay cannot and will not ever work. So what will?


The fact is, most teachers already have all three, built into the job. You want autonomy? I get observed twice a year by a member of my administration. We have meetings, I have state standards to teach to, but otherwise I'm given full freedom to teach my class the way I see fit. That's autonomy.

How about mastery? We get to rework our curriculum every year, sometimes twice or even three times in one year. We get to try out as many new ideas as we can come up with, keeping the ones that work, tossing the ones that don't, until we become Yodas, Miyagis, and Beldings.

And purpose. Everyone you meet will either admire you or pity you. Usually both. And both kinda make you feel cool, right? Like you're making a difference in a way few others can.

So, why is teaching not the hot job that it could so easily be? It's the pay. If you watched the video, you might have noticed a little fact in there about money. Although it can't be used as an incentive, there must be just enough that people don't go wanting.

My summer plans.

I've said it before, and I'm saying it again. Matt Damon's even saying it. Pay teachers more, and you'll end up with much better teachers. The job already has everything else a perfect job needs.

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