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Uncategorized   |   Nov 15, 2011

Why aren’t most educators motivated to learn?

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Why aren’t most educators motivated to learn?

By Angela Watson

There’s a lot of talk right now about how students are naturally curious and want to learn about their world, but the performance-focused atmosphere of school squelches that desire. The concept that child-centered ed reformers are pushing is this: if we give kids more freedom to learn what they want to learn the way they want to learn it, they will eventually master the skills they need to and be successful in school and in life.

I’ve never fully bought into that idea, as much as I like it on a theoretical level. And the more I analyze the behavior of educators, the more I’m convinced it’s not completely true.

Because most educators don’t learn just for the sake of learning. We are just as disengaged and apathetic as the kids are.

Anyone know an educator who went into this field for the money? Of course not. We’re all working in schools because deep down inside somewhere, there’s a desire to make a difference in the lives of kids. There’s some aspect of this field that we are inherently passionate about and are emotionally invested in.

So why are so few educators on Twitter or using social media to expand their repertoire of best practices?

Why don’t they attend conferences regularly, including ones that are totally online and completely free?

Why don’t they read the latest books about educational research and discuss them with others?

Why are so few educators engaged in self-directed professional development in their free time?

Most teachers, coaches, principals, and other school workers that I know in “real life” don’t read professional books or engage in conversations with other educators online. For them, work stays at work whenever possible, and there’s zero crossover to their personal lives if they can help it. They hate the professional development they’re forced to attend but don’t seek out answers to their problems on their own. Some may do a Google search for lesson materials on occasion, but they’re not looking to explore the latest educational trends or find ways to transform the way their students learn with 21st century teaching methods. They just want a printable worksheet to go with tomorrow’s activity.

Education is one of my my primary hobbies and I genuinely enjoy the time I spend reading, writing, and conversing about it. I’ve always been a “teacher nerd” who loved to devour Fountas and Pinnell in my free time and comb the web for new ideas. I realize that not everyone has that personality type, and some people would rather pursue other interests and hobbies in their limited spare time. But if we’re all supposedly curious at heart–and all interested in the field of education on some level–why don’t we all invest in our own professional learning? Where is the natural curiosity and desire to grow?

If we as educators don’t exhibit a desire to learn and improve, how can we expect that of our students?

This post is the closest I’ve ever come to teacher-bashing, and that’s SO not my intention here. Obviously, I’m not talking about YOU–the very fact that you’re reading this proves I’m preaching to the choir, because the 85% of teachers I’m referring to wouldn’t visit my blog, anyway. I’m just feeling a little disheartened and disillusioned with the fact that so many great ideas in education–ideas that could change the world for our students–are just floating around in an echo chamber. What’s the solution? Or more precisely…what’s the problem?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
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  1. I think a huge problem is the work load for many teachers during the school year. Teachers are asked to do so much more beyond what is contractually required ( for those who work under a contract) that anything having to do with their professional development is put on the back burner.

    1. Hi, Ms_Teacher! Good to see you here! Yes, I agree workload is a big part of the problem. I think people in general, not just educators, are wayyyy too busy these days. There are so many things pulling at us from all directions.

      I guess my thought on it is this…we make time for the things we truly value. We steal a few moments whenever we can for the things we enjoy. Why isn’t learning and growing as an educator one of those things? Why isn’t it something so enjoyable that we carve out time for it whenever we can?

      This also brings me back to the issue of our students. How can we assign kids 5 worksheets a night for homework to improve their skills when we wouldn’t dream of spending 5 minutes reading a blog post that would improve ours? Kids are busy, too. They don’t want to think about school when they’re not there, either.

      So many thoughts…thanks for chiming in and giving me more to think about….:-)

  2. This is something that frustrates me also. I often hear my teacher peers complain that they’re having trouble with something, and when I suggest a book I know could help, they wave it off like it’s so difficult to page through to find a solution to the problem! I’m not saying I have all the time in the world (as a first-year teacher I’m trying to stay afloat!), but I spend a lot of my free time paging through professional development books trying to make myself a better teacher at every possible opportunity.

    1. Jill, I commend you for doing what you’re doing as a first year teacher! Awesome!

      A lot of people now are talking about work/life balance and separating work from personal time. I have found that the opposite works for me. I am rarely truly working and rarely truly relaxing in the sense that my brain is “off-duty.” I am ALWAYS thinking and reflecting about all different aspects of my life. I enjoy my “work” and don’t view it as an encroachment on my personal life.

      I’m not talking about things like grading papers or filling out forms–I’m talking about self-directed stuff, projects I take on and ideas I explore because I enjoy them. I’m not counting the seconds until I can finish this comment and get away from my blog. This is fun for me! And I want to see other educators experience that same sense of purpose and enjoyment from growing in their practices. I want learning to be something that they look forward to doing. Ditto with our students…

  3. I am going to have to agree with Ms. Teacher and Jill. I also feel that many administrators do NOT want their teachers engaging in authentic learning, but rather would like to see their teachers spending time on district PD or activities. The teacher that I partner up with and I started a “Book Club” with some parents at our school (We read and discussed “The Game of School”) and we were told to stop because parents were starting to ask questions about policies and procedures. I tried to get our administrator to read “Read-i-cide” and I was told, “I don’t even want to know about it.”
    I still read tons, follow blogs, twitter, facebook – but, I keep what I learn within my classroom.

    1. Tom, you’ve made a great point about teachers keeping their learning to themselves. I wrote a post about that awhile back called “Collaboration, Feedback, and the Fear of Scrutiny”: https://truthforteachers.com/2010/04/collaboration-feedback-and-fear-of.html.

      I’m a bit horrified at your principal’s reaction to Readicide (which I think is one of the most powerful and relevant books in our field right now) and can totally relate to wanting to keep innovative practices under wrap. Many times it is not advantageous for teachers to share their ideas or try to promote change.

      I think teachers in your situation have all the more reason to do exactly what you’re doing–develop a personal learning network outside of school. The internet is sometimes the only place where teachers are encouraged to share new ideas. It’s wonderful that you’re seeking those opportunities on your own. I’m glad to be a part of that. 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  4. I agree that the workload has a LOT to do with it. I think for many teachers, personal professional development takes time away from their current workload, and most new ideas add even more to that workload. Especially because so many teachers have a family to go home to at night (or they’re a new teacher with even MORE work to do), it’s just one more thing to put on the plate. I mean, I love reading and learning more, and sometimes I still have a hard time fitting it in.

    I also think that some of the issue is the technology. Not all of the teachers are comfortable with twitter, so it makes sense that they’re not immediately going to go in that direction. Plus, if you’ve never done it, it might be hard to imagine what a great tool blogs and twitter and other online resources can be.

    I think the biggest problem is the same thing we see in students all the time. If students get boring, irrelevant reading lessons day after day, they will grow to see reading as boring and useless for them. The same thing happens to teachers. So often, professional development is presented as something we HAVE to do, and when we go, it’s boring and irrelevant. I think it conditions a lot of teachers to avoid professional development because it’s rarely done well or engages teachers in a way that does anything but tell the teacher what to do and give the teacher more work. At our school, a few teachers are balking at the way we’re being asked to implement literacy work stations- because they have NEVER done things this way and it’s daunting to start something so completely new! Change is scary, and it takes a LOT of work!

    I’m not trying to make excuses, but I do think it’s a more complicated issue than just a lack of motivation for all teachers. There ARE those frustrating teachers who just don’t seem to want to try new things, ever- but all in all, I see more teachers that feel stretched too thin and professional development (as they’ve come to think of it) just isn’t a priority.

    1. Wow, Luckeyfrog, you have given me soooo much to reflect on tonight!

      “I think for many teachers, personal professional development takes time away from their current workload, and most new ideas add even more to that workload.” Yes, educators avoid learning about new ideas because those ideas are likely to create extra work for them. What an important point to make! Finding out that there is something else you “should” be doing can be depressing and guilt trip-inducing.

      “I also think that some of the issue is the technology.” Most of the self-directed PD opportunities are based on web tools, good point. Even 13 years ago when I was a new teacher, the internet was the basis of my learning (chat boards mostly.) Educators who aren’t comfortable with tech are left with reading books (which are hard to find out about if you’re not connected to people online) and discussing them (which means you have to find interested parties in your own community, which is hard.) Big barrier to learning and an important cause of what appears to be lack of motivation to learn.

      “If students get boring, irrelevant reading lessons day after day, they will grow to see reading as boring and useless for them. ” This might be the most important point yet, and something I never considered. Teachers assume that even self-directed PD will suck because their college courses and mandated PD sucked! LOL! Once you’ve had some bad experiences with something, it can be hard to believe that a good experience is possible and your enthusiasm for it is dampened. Seems like we need to change teacher’s perception of PD…

      “I see more teachers that feel stretched too thin and professional development (as they’ve come to think of it) just isn’t a priority.” This needs to be addressed at a systemic level. PD has to be made a priority so that a culture of innovation is created in the school. We’ve got to get administrators on board with this. Unfortunately, they’re often more resistant than the people they’re in charge of leading.

      Thanks for your detailed comment. THIS is why I love blogging…it’s wonderful to hear the different ideas and perspectives that I never could have come up with on my own!

  5. I feel this way exactly!!! I am just naturally curious about what ideas are out there. I am a total “teacher nerd.” I always wanted to be a teacher so I love to read professional books and blogs during my “free” time. I just wish other teachers were as passionate about seeing what other ideas are out there.

    1. Hi, Vanna! It’s good to hear from fellow nerds. 🙂 That makes me think…the traditional “nerd” type doesn’t typically try to convert “non-nerds” to his/her way of thinking, but instead forms close relationships with other “nerds” who share the same interests.

      I guess that’s what we’re doing online. In some ways it’s good to step back and be grateful that there is a way to connect to others that are passionate about the same things that we are. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to care about the same things we do at the same level. Even if we are all in the same field and theoretically have a love for education in common, that doesn’t mean we’re all going to dive into that interest with the same intensity.

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