Lessons in motivation – what do we really need?

Most of us are winding our ways back to the classroom now after a sunny summer.  I’ve prepared a lesson this week on motivation as it’s something I’m struggling to find at the moment!  For some of us the return to work will be exciting, for others there’ll be a sinking feeling as they put their holidays behind them and try and muster the motivation they need to get back into the swing of things.  However, motivation doesn’t come automatically.  For many of us we need a reason to do something, and if in doubt we ‘think of the money’.  But is that really the most important factor?  Of course not!

70 years ago Abraham Maslow published a paper called ‘ A theory of human motivation’.  Here he suggested that there are five levels of motivation which all humans need, and which come in a specific order.  Basic physiological needs (food, water etc), safety needs, social needs (e.g. love and friendship, self-esteem needs (recognition and respect) and finally self-fulfillment – do we feel satisfied with ourselves as a whole?  This model has been heavily discussed and debated for a number of years and is often a major theory covered on business courses.  What’s more, there are many discussions on how teachers should implement Maslow’s theory in the classroom, ensuring that we create optimum conditions for learners in order to help them achieve their potential.  But what about us teachers?  To what extent do our employers consider our motivation?  The TEFL market appears to have a never ending queue of young and enthusiastic people waiting to sign up to teach English, but to what extent do our employers consider our motivation needs?  I looked at Maslow’s pyramid of needs and have adapted it, reflecting on what I believe our motivators are when teaching English:


The question is, to what extent are we being motivated?  I’m lucky to say I work in a wonderful organisation where I receive support from great colleagues, am encouraged to partake in career development opportunities and my employer fulfils all my basic teaching requirements.  I wonder, however, how many of us can say that today.  In a relatively saturated market, to what extent are English language teaching organisations trying to motivate their staff?  Please take a moment to complete the poll below and share your experiences here:

As motivation is a key topic for us all today, I’ve prepared a lesson which you’re welcome to download and try out in your business English classes. It uses a video from Dan Pink who has written a bestseller on motivation in the work place as well as looking at Maslow’s theory and discussing how it applied to the workplace.  I hope it’s thought provoking and would love to hear what ideas and experiences your learners shared.  If you’re back to work this week have a good one, and keep focussed!


    1. Hi there,

      Yes, I had read that the representation in the pyramid form is something which came later. It is, however, a great visual way to interpret the information Maslow wanted to produce. I think a ladder would have been good too: if my computer skills had been better that’s how I would have chosen to present it here!

      Thanks for your comment,

  1. That’s a very interesting post! Teachers’ motivation was one of my greatest concerns (and tasks) when I was an ADOS…and, ironically, I can say that once I became an ADOS (or even a senior teacher), I came very high up the pyramid, having most of my needs satisfied. But before that, when I was “just a teacher”, I was way lower…

    1. Hi there! Yes, it’s a shame that the most satisfying positions in EFl seem to be the supervisory ones. I work in an organisation that treats its staff really well, but in a country where most people are employed on a freelance basis, so it’s a juggling act to try and motivate people who may or may not stay in the organisation long term, without investing too much money.

      Thanks for your comment,

    1. Hi Tyson,
      Pleased it’s pepped you up a bit! We’re so lucky if we’re working in decent organisations where the majority of our needs are being met. The results of the poll so far show we are sadly not in the majority! I’ll post again once I’ve got more clear stats. Thanks again for your comment,

  2. Hi Gabrielle, nice post there´s been a lot written about “learner motivation” but not so much about ´teacher motivation´. As always intelligent companies walk the talk and really do put their staff training and motivation first. As you said the results of the poll show these companies are still in the minority in EFL which is sad.

    I also like what you said about teaching in Germany in comparison to other countries where you´ve teached. For me there´s a clear link in Germany, teachers are well respected, treated and paid hence they´re better motivated and perform better.

    1. Hi Christopher, sorry it took me a while to respond. Teacher motivation seems to be greatly overlooked. When I worked in Spain, for a rather well known, international teaching organisation, it really was not measured or ronsidered at all, and consequently teachers were pretty unhappy with their lot. By contrast, Germany has a wealth of teaching associations which promote good practice. The industry is also dominated by the hiring of freelance staff, meaning that we have to motivate ourselves, and each other. I do hope teachers will continue to demand better conditions and that we will see even more the knock on effect it has on student learning! Best wishes

      1. Hi Gabrielle, i think you´re in a unique position to compare between countries. Your experience doesn´t surprise me. There are many things Spain could learn from Germany, this being one of them.

      2. Just wanted to add that it´s one of the reasons I also do Management Skills and Communication Skills Training as i felt more valued and rewarded.

        Now I´m lucky to train across Europe (London, Toulouse and Madrid) having also giving training while living in the US.

        Business English will keep improving because of motivated and innovative teachers and students who keep pushing the boundaries, however I think Spain will be doing more following than leading.

      3. Hi Gabrielle i hope so to. But i also hope Spain and other countries look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves how they can improve not just BE/TEFL teaching but education in general. As for teachers asking for better conditions in Spain, a lot depends on how they sell and market themselves – in general they still do this badly.

  3. Hi, Gabrielle! I like your post! Teaching in Singapore is also very different. In Singapore, teachers are motivated because they are paid well. But then again, teachers are motivated not because of salary but because they are intrinsically motivated in improving the lives of their students.

    1. Hi William, thanks for your views. Yes, it’s great to be in a position where the principle motivating factor is improving the lives of our students. It certainly brings a great sense of satisfaction when you see people making progress in their language learning, and the consequent promotions and work, stress-free holidayexperience, and other results which it enables them to achieve. I wonder though, if we are move able to focus on this because most of the other factors – good salary, colleagues and working conditions are also fulfilled… Would we be quite as enthusiastic if they weren’t? Thanks again for dropping by, hope to see you here again soon.

  4. This is great material. It’s a very interesting way for my business students to express how they are motivated. The results could be unexpected. Some might be motivated extrinsically while some are motivated intrinsically. If students are motivated internally, they are easier to teach. While those who are extrinsically motivated are I think more demanding.

    1. Hi there, thanks for your comment.

      I totally agree that the extrinsically motivated learners are more difficult to teach – often when their organisation is encouraging´them (or focing them) to learn they get demotivated very quickly. This is not surprisingly the case in many organisations where keeping one’s job is dependent on speaking good English. Do you have any ideas on what to do to motivate those people? It would be great to hear your views.

      Best wishes

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