7 Ways to demotivate teachers

Some times the best way to achieve positive results is to consider the most negative possibilities and do the opposite. Much has been said and written about how to motivate teachers. Perhaps more can be learned by thinking about how to avoid the negative. In that spirit, here are seven ways that are sure to demotivate teachers.

Be unsupportive when dealing with difficult parents
On the three occasions when I entered a school as its new head, I asked my teachers what they expected from their head. At the top of the list was always that they be supported when conflicts arise with parents. Too often teachers feel, sometimes with good reason, that their administration always sides with parents when they complain about a teacher, sometimes without even giving the teacher the opportunity to tell his side of the story. Human nature being what it is, parents will often go directly to administration rather than first trying to resolve issues with teachers directly. Teachers expect their administrators to make every attempt to get parents to deal with them first, and only become involved if the parent and teacher cannot themselves come to a satisfactory resolution. 

Impose excessive administrative demands and meetings
Teachers are extremely busy with lesson preparation and delivery, marking, supervision and co-curricular responsibilities. Any other demands should only be made of them if really necessary.

In many schools, parent reporting has become extremely burdensome. Report cards are often expected to include extensive narratives to explain student progress and difficulties. While these narratives can be helpful in providing parents with a more nuanced understanding, teachers should not be required to make them so long and detailed that they take an excessive amount of time to write without necessarily adding much useful information.

Likewise, the tendency to convene unnecessary meetings must be reined in. Meetings should be productive, devoted to discussing issues of general importance; forging solutions collectively and collaboratively and providing advice to colleagues and leaders. 

Have overly large classes
A key reason parents send their children to independent schools is the expectation that classes will be significantly smaller than in public schools. That, in turn, allows teachers to give their children a great deal of individual attention. When classes are too large, teachers are frustrated by their inability to meet expectations and provide students with the best possible educational experience. 

Make classrooms inclusive without adequate support for students
Increasingly, many independent schools strive to be more inclusive of students with varying learning profiles. This shift often reflects changing philosophy, where it is believed that a more diverse environment is good for all students. A second, less idealistic, motivation relates to concerns over maintaining enrolment and the temptation to accept every applicant. However, it is self-defeating to enrol students whose needs cannot be properly met. Not only does that student suffer, but there will be a negative impact on the rest of the class if there is not proper support, and the teacher will be under considerable pressure and stress from unhappy parents.

Where a class includes students whose abilities, learning styles, and achievement and learning difficulties are very disparate, teachers cannot effectively differentiate assignments and assessment tools without appropriate support. In some cases, especially with younger children, a teaching assistant may be required to assist some students with their work and sometimes behaviour management. 

Unless appropriate supports are provided, “inclusive” admissions result in poor outcomes and much teacher frustration.

Keep classrooms dirty and ill maintained
A classroom is the workspace of teachers and students. Maintaining them properly signals that teachers and students are respected. Dirty, ill-maintained rooms send the opposite message. They also make a very poor impression on current parents as well as potential parents and donors. When the building has been thoroughly cleaned during the summer, and some painting and renovations done, it is immediately noticed and appreciated by everyone returning after the holidays. Investing the necessary resources to keep the facility clean and properly maintained is essential to the reputation of the school and the morale of those who work and study in it.

Use autocratic decision-making processes 
Teachers expect to have meaningful input into decisions that affect the educational program and school operations. As highly educated professionals, they should be encouraged to participate in decision-making – to offer their ideas, insights and perspectives. Messy and time-consuming as any collaborative process will be, it will typically result in better outcomes. Yes, there will be contention. There will be a clash of ideas. The debate will be vigorous. But the consequence will be a better and better-run school, with a more engaged, loyal, energized and committed faculty.

Ensure that teachers’ employment is insecure 
In many independent schools, teachers are on year-by-year contracts, or at best, two or three year contracts. It is rare for independent school teachers to have tenure in the same way their public school counterparts do. Furthermore, most independent school teachers are not unionized and do not have the protection from dismissal that unions provide. A consequence is that independent school teachers’ employment tends to be relatively insecure. It is vital that they feel that their administrators will protect them and that an aggressively and unfairly antagonistic parent will not be able to achieve their dismissal. Nothing is more destructive of teacher morale than feeling they must accede to every parental demand, no matter how inappropriate, to maintain their job security..

Whether by considering the positive or the negative, it is clear that ensuring good teaching conditions and appropriate support is by far the most powerful way to keep teachers’ motivation and morale high.

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