NIE study says students key to motivating teachers

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Teachers become motivated if they have more autonomy and if students are hungry to learn: NIE study

A Teacher's Day card is nice but what really motivates a teacher is a student who is keen to learn.

And such a teacher is likely to be more driven to teach, a National Institute of Education (NIE) study found after 1,549 secondary school students and 221 teachers were surveyed last year.

It starts with the teacher creating a conducive environment for students to feel motivated to learn in, said Professor John Wang, who leads NIE's Motivation in Educational Research Lab, a centre that translates research findings on motivation into practical guides for teachers and practitioners in Singapore.

"The source of motivation for the teachers comes from the students. When we go into a classroom, if we feel that the students are eager to learn, that gives us the energy to do more for them," he said.

To create the right environment, teachers have to understand their students' needs, explain the rationale behind certain tasks and provide avenues for students to seek help, he said.

While most studies have focused on what motivates students, teachers' motivations have been largely ignored.


The findings showed teachers are also motivated when they have more autonomy in their teaching and methods, and this leads to a better understanding of their charges.

When we go into a classroom, if we feel that the students are eager to learn, that gives us the energy to do more for them. Professor John Wang

On the flip side, stress on the job can negatively influence the level of support a teacher gives his students.

The usual stress factors came up in the study - students' performance, time constraints in covering the syllabus and pressure from school authorities.

The study proposed that teachers be evaluated based on their teaching and not on their students' performance.

"We do have to empathise with the role of a teacher a little bit more," said Prof Wang.

"If we keep on piling up the administrative work and all the other things, it is difficult for them to do their core job well."

The study, which began in January last year and was completed last month, looked at factors influencing the teachers' motivational levels, which can affect the learning climate they create in the classroom.

The students were asked a series of questions, including how much they enjoyed a particular class and the pressure they felt in that class.

The teachers answered questions on their personalities, perceived job pressures faced and perceptions towards students, among other things.

"Teachers draw energy from their students when they are teaching," said Prof Wang.

"If they can focus on creating a conducive learning environment, both teachers and students will experience the joy of teaching and learning."

Mr Bernard Lim, 59, a former teacher with about 20 years of experience, said students' persistent desire for more of any subject "would definitely drive the teacher to work harder".

He said teachers need to be entrusted with more autonomy. "Curriculum also has to include relevant and purposeful activities, which enhance students' life skills," he added.

Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said the role of a teacher is no longer primarily a dispenser of knowledge.

"Their role must transform to that of a curator of learning content, life coach in values and character building, and designer of effective learning experiences."