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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 created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. In many years of teaching and leading schools, I have found that if the school has a culture of professional growth and teachers are given opportunities to grow within the school (so that they do not have to look for what is available and so that they can collaborate with their peers), they are enthusiastic and excited. That means staff meetings are not business meetings but learning meetings . Staff days exist for true learning and are differentiated. Coaches exist to help a teacher work toward individual goals. None of it is easy but it can happen.

    1. Hi, Jane! Thanks for drawing attention to the importance of having a culture of innovation. I love the idea of learning meetings instead of business meetings. I work as an instructional coach and agree that it’s a powerful way to help create change in a school by coming alongside teachers and supporting them instead of just throwing random PD at them.

  2. …because they’re trying to run a classroom, raise a family and have some semblance of a social life…

    …while others are publishing books.

    1. Ooh, push back, I love it! But I wrote “The Cornerstone” when I was a full time classroom teacher and “Awakened” as an instructional coach so that comment doesn’t really apply to me. 🙂

      I think your indignation at this post points back to my original point…the level of engagement, enthusiasm, and self-directed learning we’re wanting to see from our students may not be a realistic expectation in our busy world. Our kids are trying to have a life, too (I consider play an important part of a child’s life.) Should we expect THEM to spend their free time completing homework when WE don’t want to think about school after 3:00, either? And if they are given control over their learning and allowed to follow their natural curiosities, will most of them respond the way that most teachers do–which is, nah, I don’t have the time and energy for that? What implications does educator disengagement have for student disengagement?

      I don’t know the answers to these questions. That’s why I’m blogging about them. 😉

      1. Hi Angela,
        I love your use of wisdom 😉

        Just wanted to chime in for a sec. I totally agree with the unrealistic expectations that we place on students. Although I’m quite a teacher nerd myself and fill my leisure time with reading up on best practices to grow me as an educator, I detest having to do anything required by the district/school that I perceive as mundane busy work that’s only going to be in effect for two years!

        Honestly, when I get home I’m exhausted and don’t want to look at anything that is “required” work. I prefer to work on my own lifelong learning goals as an educator. For this reason I have cut the amount of homework I give this year. My students are tired also. They’ve been in school all day just like me. They go to after-school programs, sports practices, and other events. Some are even taking care of younger siblings and managing households until their parents get home. They deserve to have a life. Their doing homework does not help me to assess their understanding of a topic. I do that through formative assessments within the classroom.

        I don’t have answers to the questions either. However, I can say that many students don’t have enough exposure or experience with anything in life to even have natural curiosity! It is my job to reveal these “jewels” to them and open up their curiosity. They should then be allowed the opportunity to explore them further.

        1. Hi, Lynette! Thanks for chiming in. I love this statement that you made: “However, I can say that many students don’t have enough exposure or experience with anything in life to even have natural curiosity! It is my job to reveal these “jewels” to them and open up their curiosity.”

          This is a really important point and has major implications for student disengagement. Just as many teachers have never had any positive experiences with PD, many students have never had any positive experiences with learning! In many ways, the system of school has cut off kids’ natural curiosity (and often a lack of stimulation at home contributes to this, too.)

          If one of our main goals as teachers is to “reveal these ‘jewels’ to them and open up their curiosity,” then maybe that should be our same goal in terms of opening up teachers to their own potential to enjoy and learn from self-directed PD. Not to say that every teacher needs to take on the responsibility of being a social media evangelist, but we can certainly share the great stuff we learn with others and let them see how much being connected energizes us and improves our practice.

  3. Very thought provoking post. I am in my late 30’s and I am switching careers – almost done with my masters in elementary ed and will be student teaching in January. Like everyone, I also have a very busy life (four kiddos, masters program, etc). Because I am not in the classroom full time, I can only offer a point of view from someone about to step in (and I can hardly wait!). I am becoming a teacher because I cannot imagine doing anything else. My classes have been boring. I have read extra books on my own because it was completely necessary to fill the void of boring grad classes -this brings me back to someone’s point regarding teacher college classes needing to be more relevant and exciting. 🙂 For example: imagine a class using “The Cornerstone” instead of the latest textbook on Classroom Management (yawn). Hmmmmm… Anyhow, I am eating up books like yours (love it!), Debbie Miller’s pure gold books, The Sister’s awesome books, Wong, Love and Logic, Debbie Diller and scores of others. I read blogs, transfer fabulous ideas onto my Pinterest board, and have scored dozens and dozens of Mailbox magazines which I have subsequently ripped up and placed into files. Why? Because I want to learn everything I can about teaching.
    If teachers do not regularly attend extra conferences, I personally don’t think they are not continuing their education. Teachers learn great gobs from talking with other teachers on a daily basis. Frankly, in my humble opinion, the best ideas come from teachers themselves, NOT “experts”. Where have I, an elementary grad student, learned the most so far? Teachers, teacher books, and teacher blogs. None of those people are “experts” in the field. None of them were on the speaker list for the latest online teacher conference. Not that one cannot learn wonderful things from experts, but let’s not forget the “experts in the trenches” on a daily basis who truly deal with all life throw at them…
    The teachers I have observed and come to know as friends do not blog, nor do they even have a Pinterest account. They have all been teaching forever and do a great job. I have mentioned things like “The Daily 5” to them, and they have never heard of it. I think they are completely missing out (like not having frosting on your cupcake), but they are still getting the job done wonderfully.
    When I am teaching, I will be super busy and will have less time for the blogging/Pinterest world. However, I will always seek them out, even if it is less and less, because I am hooked. I want to know as much as humanly possible because I want to be the best teacher I can be. Don’t think I would be as crazy to go to a teacher conference if I didn’t think the content was relevant to me. That’s the key. Why would I care about X if my classroom isn’t affected and my energy requires me to stay focused there?

    1. Hi, Anne! Thanks for taking the time to add so much to this discussion. That was me who mentioned that college courses are often boring and set the precedent for teachers that future PD will be boring…but there are an ever-growing list of universities that ARE using “The Cornerstone” in their classroom management courses! I would love to see more college training based on the experiences of teachers. Most of the authors you mentioned are still in the classroom and writing books about what they do everyday. Exciting stuff!

      Regarding conferences…I never attended one until I left the classroom (after 11 years.) I didn’t understand the point or see them as important. Now I am absolutely hooked! They are an incredible place to meet like-minded people and learn about new ideas. Conferences are NOT an essential part of growing as a teacher, and informal learning was always a bigger part of my learning. But I really encourage you, personally, to attend one, because it seems like you’ve got the personality that would really enjoy them!

      You’re bringing up a point that I didn’t touch…are teachers who don’t make time to learn and grow ineffective? There are many people who would argue yes, they are ineffective (I’ve heard the old doctor analogy many times: Would you want a surgeon operating on you if s/he is still practicing medicine the exact same way it was done 15 years ago? Would you want a doctor who hasn’t read any medical journals since the early 90’s?) Some people have even charged that teachers who refuse to grow and integrate technology are criminally liable. Ouch!

      I’m not making the leap to that conclusion. I will say this: There are some excellent teachers I know in “real life” who do not engage in self-directed PD. However, they DO have one or two other excellent teachers in their schools who they regularly plan with. They bounce ideas off of one another constantly, even if it’s just for a few minutes at lunch. In that sense, they ARE growing from their personal learning network, even if it’s a small local network. I wonder: are there highly effective teachers who do not have ANY sort of face-to-face or online personal learning network?

  4. “I don’t know the answers to these questions. That’s why I’m blogging about them. ”

    This ‘wise’ statement of self-proclaimed ignorance and faux humility doesn’t exactly match the accusatory tone of an unfounded blog headline.

    Clearly you enjoyed your time in the classroom. Spending time writing books, just to get out as many hit their stride. I’m sure your students benefitted from that degree of personalized commitment.

    Good luck. Hope you sell scads.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and positive vibes! They’re really appreciated, because most people aren’t that nice to me when I write this kind of arrogant drivel. I think I lost a lot of fans when I wrote a post called “Why am I so much more awesome than every other educator because I’ve published two books?” And after I wrote “How will I ever find my intellectual equal once I publish my third book?”, I had pretty much cut off my fan base.

      It’s good to know that someone recognizes just how lucky my students were to have had me for those 11 years before I abandoned them to fly around the country in my private jet paid for with my gigantic publishing royalties. Most people just don’t recognize genius when they see it.

      Fortunately, when people get mad about my posts, I can rely on my secret super powers: self-deprecation, satire, and sarcasm.

      Oh, and alliteration.

  5. …and avoiding the issue.

    I’ll post it again just so we can all focus on it. Rather than avoid it with sub-par passive-aggressive comedy…

    “I don’t know the answers to these questions. That’s why I’m blogging about them. ”

    This ‘wise’ statement of self-proclaimed ignorance and faux humility doesn’t exactly match the accusatory tone of an unfounded blog headline.

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