A forty-year school district head start teacher comments on teacher motivation

I had a really interesting conversation with my mother-in-law about the design of incentives for teaching. She taught as a Head Start teacher in the school district of Philadelphia for more than 40 years.

Here are some of her thoughts on teacher motivation:

will think about this more

but quickly … these are my thoughts

Teachers – when treated as professionals – should be expected to and supported in doing their job.  Built into the educational community should also be supports for whatever hurdles are in the way of meeting the educational needs of children. Traditional rewards as motivators to do the job one is hired to do and is getting paid to do, I find demeaning.  (I may be alone in feeling this.)

Rewards and or acknowledgments  for teachers, as for any professionals we come across who give considerably more than is  necessary to preform  their job with dedication and a goal of excellence, is very different from motivational rewards to encourage hard work (not the best words for what i mean).

“Rewards” or “motivators” should be closer to giving thanks to those around us who do something special. They maybe should reflect special acts in the same way we occasionally find it meaningful to thank people in our lives for something unique they have done for us or to acknowledge something we saw them do for others that especially touched us.

The design of teacher motivation should reflect a respect for them and their hard work, support to make their work easier, and an appreciation of the unique roles they may play in the lives of the school and its community members.



  1. I recommend Dan Pink’s latest book “Drive” if you haven’t read it. Lots of food for thought about what motivates us. He suggests that having autonomy, mastery, and purpose in the work context are much stronger motivators than extrinsic factors like pay and rewards. Obvious, kind of, yet still provocative.

  2. I agree with your mother-in-law. Frankly, something that I would find motivating as a professional would be a hand-written note that acknowledges innovative efforts made toward the betterment of the school. I’ve received a computer-generated card that everyone else received…it meant nothing.

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