What motivates teachers in English as a foreign language ?2022-06-22
Teacher motivation is a major factor affecting students’ motivation to learn a second language. But what motivates the teachers? English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers’ motivation has not been given enough attention, particularly in China, where English plays a key role. A new thesis study at Karlstad University investigates the motivation of English teachers at the university level in China. The ambition is to prepare the ground for the development of recommendations on how to enhance teacher motivation and improve teaching quality and student performance.
The aim of the study was to explore motives for choosing a teaching career and to examine factors contributing to teachers’ motivation – or demotivation. Sophia Liu Fei at Karlstad University, invited 101 in-service native Chinese EFL teachers currently working at universities in mainland China to participate in the study voluntarily. A mixed methods design was used, with a web-based questionnaire as the main instrument. Individual background variables in relation to their motivation, such as their English writing proficiency, gender, teaching experience, overseas experience and types of students taught, were also examined. The questionnaire consists of closed questions adapted from previous studies and open-ended questions targeted at providing qualitative data as well as linguistic data for analyzing EFL teachers’ English writing proficiency.
- My own experience as an English teacher motivated me to choose this field for my thesis. I noticed that it is quite common with a lack of energy and motivation for teaching, and wondered about the reasons why. Motivation is quite complex and can vary in every job you take and we are very influenced by it – both as individuals and when interacting with others. In teaching, it has a strong impact on the students’ performance whether the teacher is motivated or not, says Sophia Liu Fei.
First year teachers are more enthusiastic than their more experienced colleagues
The results show that the EFL teachers were multi-motivated when choosing to enter the teaching profession, the main reasons being intrinsic such as career opportunities, followed by altruistic reasons, such as a will to contribute to a good life for young people. The majority of the participants (73.30%) reported high levels of motivation at the present stage in their career. Significant differences between the first years of teaching and the present were found in the levels of teacher enthusiasm, interest and dedication. There were no significant differences between men and women, although women showed a slightly stronger drive for doing good for students. Age was found to correlate negatively with the EFL teachers’ career motivation. That is, the older EFL teachers were even less likely to change their career and choose another career path than the younger ones.
Room for improvement for teachers’ working conditions
EFL teachers’ motivation was affected by various factors, among which student-related factors were reported the most important. Extrinsic factors such as a low salary and limited sources of income, unpleasant working conditions, and students’ negative attitudes were found to be demotivating factors. The results also indicated a positive correlation between EFL teachers’ level of motivation and satisfaction with self-reported English language skills. The EFL teachers with overseas experience tended to outperform those with no overseas experience when it comes to English writing proficiency.
Sophia Liu Fei shares a few tips for the higher education management to keep their teachers’ motivation on top:
- Treat the teachers nicely and try to reduce the work load such as unnecessary administration, meetings and conferences. Save time and energy for the teachers to allow them to focus on teaching and research.
- Change the rigid evaluation systems for academics. Have a more flexible system for quality evaluation moving away from the sole focus on number of publications in peer reviewed journals. The evaluation systems need to shift to encouraging rather than upbraiding and rating.
Sophia Liu Fei defended her thesis “English teaching in China: EFL teacher motivation and demotivation at the university level” via Zoom at Karlstad University on May 13, 2022. Sophia is currently a lecturer at Northwestern Polytechnical University, China.
- Read the full thesis on line