25 ways to motivate teachers

25 ways to motivate teachers

By Idris Ahmad

Sometimes little things can make an even bigger difference! Administrators need to serve the worker and work hard at making things less difficult and complicated. They should try to cut down the amount of paperwork, limit the number of staff meetings and streamline procedures.

Administrators must try to show teachers that they care in many ways. They should have an open-door policy, once in a while the teachers should see administrators picking up trash and cleaning cafeteria tables, arrive before they do and still in school when they leave, and administrators do not have designated parking or other perks sometimes associated with management.

Administrators always have to put aside their own issues and do what is best for students and staff in a caring and sensitive way. They must try not to say no to teachers and should always treat them as adults.

The principal and the rest of his administrative team must try to do lots of special things for the entire staff, from special little gifts to Staff Family Day. The administrators must treat everyone as a professional and celebrate whenever they can. The motto of a good principal should be: My job as a principal is to make the teacher’s job easier, better, so they can teach and students can learn.

Remember, developing a positive school climate is critical to an effective school. Morale is a very tentative issue. You can do 99 things right and make one mistake that will shoot morale forever.


All teachers yearn for reassurance that they are doing a good job. Most principals recognize teachers’ efforts by offering positive feedback, both publicly and privately. Weekly memos or e-mails, and regular staff meetings, are the perfect forums for recognizing special contributions that teachers or other staff members make.

Such recognitions should be included in staff memos and during a special celebration portion of each month’s faculty meeting. Also, make a special point of spotlighting efforts teachers make to develop projects that involve students across grade levels or with other schools. Those special recognitions will encourage others to consider projects that extend learning outside the walls of individual classrooms.

With all teachers have to do, motivation is the key to keeping them focused and feeling worthy. Try this; at each month’s staff meeting; award two teachers with the “Golden Pen Award” for their above-and-beyond efforts. The neat thing about the award is that the teachers select its reciepients! Each of the winners of this month’s Golden Pen Award are responsible for passing on the award to another worthy teacher at next month’s meeting.

Many principals try to leave a little extra money in the budget to recognize outstanding efforts with small personal gifts such as prepaid phone cards or store gift certificates. I was told recently, one principal gave a phone card to a teacher who stepped in without being asked, and took over an after-school programme for a teacher who was stuck in a dentist’s chair having a tooth pulled.


1.    Plan noon-hour lunches for all staff members several times a year. (Don’t leave out the paraprofessionals, the school secretaries, or the custodians!) Those lunches can be ‘roving lunches’ in which people eat during their regularly scheduled lunch period or they can be whole-staff lunches that kick off professional development sessions.

2.    Organize small fundraising activities to raise money for an all-staff holiday or end-of-year banquet. For example, several times during the year, staff might be allowed to pay RM2 to dress casually for the day.

3.    Contact local restaurant, sports franchises, movie theatres, gift shops and other businesses to arrange for gifts, gift certificates, tickets or discount coupons that can be used as special prizes for teachers who volunteer their time or who go above and beyond.

4.    Encourage teachers to seek out professional development courses or workshops. Approve all reasonable requests. Set aside time during each staff meeting, or arrange a special professional development day, so teachers can share with their peers the main ideas they leraned from from each session they attended.

5.    Encourage teachers to ask for the instructional supplies they require to facilitate teaching and learning. Provide reasonable requests from the budget, or enlist local politicians or businesspeople tosponsor or help you track down other needed supplies.

6.    Include on each weekly staff memo a quick activity idea that might be tried out in the classroom, q quote related to education, or a short school-related joke.

7.    Send cards to teachers to welcome them back after an illness, celebrate a birthday or another important event, or recognize a special achievement. Add a copy of those “special achievement” cards to teachers’ personnel files.

8.    Once a semester, or once a quarter, provide all staff members with a come-late-to-work-no-questions-asked form. (Or give that form to staff members who logged one or no absences in the most recent quarter.) That form represents two hours of time that can be taken at the start or end of the school day for any reason, from sleeping in to getting a head start on the weekend. The only catch is that the form must be “cashed in” in advance so arrangements can be made to free an administrator or somebody else tocover the staff member’s responsibilities. Little things like this cost no money and demonstrate that administrators are willing togothe extra mile for the folks who work for them.

9.    Provide free coffee in the teacher’s lounge from 7.30 a.m to 2.30 p.m every day.

10.    Select a “Teacher of The Month.” Set aside a special parking space that is marked with a “Reserved for the Teacher of The Month” sign.

11.    To motivate professional development, arrange study groups to read a book or discuss and research a current hot topic.

12.    Set up a schedule to ensure that every educator makes at least two visits to other teachers’ classrooms or other schools during the year. Arrange coverage for those teachers. You might set up a special arrangement with other schools toopen their classrooms to your teachers.

13.    Feed the teachers! Celebrate the end of a busy week by arranging to have the cafeteria staff prepare a special breakfast, beverages and muffins,rolls, or cofee cake every Monday morning. (Even once a month would be nice!)

14.    Appoint a teacher to be “acting principal” when you are out of the building. (This usually convinces them that they love being a teacher!)

15.    Make sure that everyone is on a committee that meets regularly and that they have real tasks and opportunities for real input in school-level decision making.

16.    Arrange to have music played (or piped in) during staff meetings. Music stimulates the brain.

17.    Be sure topublicly commend staff members who go above and beyond outside of the school by voluntering to be part of district-wide or state-level committees, for example.

18.    Organize a social committee to plan events just for fun. One such even might be a monthly “Treat-Your-Friends Tuesday.” Each month a different groupof teachers brings themed food items to share during the day in the teacher’s lounge.

19.    During Teacher Appreciation Week hold a daily drawing for a “1/2-day off” certificate. The principal will cover the class when the teacher takes that time off.

20.    Make a spot on your weekly memo for a special thank-you or congratulations toindividuals or the entire team. For example: Thank you for organizing English Week! Thanks for the extra effort on parent teacher conferences! Thank you to the school magazine team, thanks for coming on Saturday for the cross country, and so on…..

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Do away with quotas

I have read a lot about plans to revert the teaching of Science and Mathematics to Bahasa Malaysia.

Teachers in secondary schools get an incentive, which is an additional 5% of their basic salary to teach these core subjects — Science, Maths and English.

I must point out that even now, with the subjects being taught in English, many teachers who are not as proficient in the language speak to their students in Bahasa Malaysia. Even English language is taught in Bahasa Malaysia!

While this may seem ridiculous to many, I think we have reached this pathetic stage simply because of the quota system.

When there weren’t enough teachers of a particular race to teach a certain subject, there was still pressure to recruit them to teach the subject just to make up the numbers. This resulted in unqualified people taking on tasks that they had no interest and expertise in.

English teachers who get their tenses mixed are aplenty and make a mockery of the education system.

There is even a quota system for “Exemplary Teachers” or Guru Cemerlang, as I found out.

In 2006, I decided to submit my name for Guru Cemerlang, since I had the necessary qualifications. Some language teaching experts watched me as I taught my English classes for two days. They were impressed with my techniques and my ability to keep even the weaker classes engaged throughout the lessons.

One of them said that she would strongly recommend me, but pointed out that I shouldn’t be disappointed if I were not selected as there was a quota system involved.

This incident only spurred me on to apply for an English course sponsored by the American government.

I am proud to say that I was one of only four people selected for the course.

I had the experience of teaching English to native speakers of English and that speaks volumes. We have the UPSR examination in Standard Six. What happens to students who do not pass a single subject? Are there remedial measures in place for students like them?

Those from Tamil and Chinese schools have to spend an additional year in Remove class but what happens to weak students from national schools who still make it to Form One. Can they cope?

I believe that all students who fare badly in UPSR, irrespective of the schools they come from, should be put in remedial classes before they move on to Form One.

Is the Education Ministry keen on giving the English Language the importance it deserves?

If so, then make it compulsory for students to at least pass the subject at SPM-level before they are given a certificate.

Otherwise, it can make English an elective subject which can be taken by students who are really interested to master it. People from the ministry should make spot checks in schools and observe teachers to ensure that those who are given the additional incentives to teach Mathematics, Science and English, are doing their jobs well.

If they are not doing so, take the necessary action, irrespective of race, creed and colour. Why should our children suffer just because of the quota system?

WAKE-UP CALL Via e-mail

English-language teachers: With time, they will become proficient

I refer to the letter “Get the teachers prepared first” (NST, May 6), on the language proficiency of English-language teachers.

Malachi E. Vethamani of Universiti Putra Malaysia expresses concern that there are teachers who have neither the competence nor the confidence to teach the English language and adds that candidates who are not equipped to teach the language have been accepted to meet the need for English-language teachers.

Many of the young English-language teachers are from the Bahasa Malaysia medium of instruction.

Many of these candidates secured good results for the English Language subject in public examinations.

The examination system has written tests and does not test oral competency and proficiency.

A distinction in English Language does not mean that candidates have oral proficiency and competence in their speaking skills.

The selection process for teacher training is an exhaustive process.

Teachers do not have the option of selecting their subject major.

The selection is done by the Education Ministry.

After the selection process, the teacher-training programme itself is an intensive training programme.

It is the role of the teacher training institute to mould them into English-language teachers.

There are many candidates who are proficient and competent in the English language, coming from English-speaking homes, but they do not apply for teacher-training programmes.

Those who apply for the teacher-training programmes, though not competent and confident in teaching the English language, have the basic academic qualification and the desire to be teachers.

It is not fair to compare these young teachers and their English-language proficiency with senior teachers who are from the earlier era when English was the medium of instruction in schools.

Many experienced and good English-language teachers prefer to teach in or near towns and do not want to teach in rural areas.

It is, therefore, not surprising to find untrained English language teachers in such schools.

It would be unfair to expect these English-language teachers to become proficient, confident and competent over-night.

Slowly but surely, they will perform. Let us not be too judgmental of our English-language teachers.

Good teachers are a rare breed. Teaching is a vocation that demands the devotion and dedication of a lifetime.

Many English-language teachers may not be competent and proficient but have the passion and desire to teach.

And with the right attitude, these teachers will become competent, confident and proficient in their English-language teaching.

The New Straits Times, 22 May 2008


I come to a frightening

conclusion that I am the decisive

element in the classroom.

It is my personal approach that

creates the climate. It is my daily

mood that makes the weather.

As a teacher, I possess tremendous

powers to make a child’s life

miserable or joyous. I can be a

tool of torture or an instrument of


I can humiliate or humor, hurt or

heal, in all situations, it is my

response that decides whether a

crisis will be escalated or

deescalated and a child humanized

or dehumanized.


  1. Enthuse students.
  2. Treat students as individuals.
  3. Know the subject
  4. Be loving and warm
  5. Teach for learning
  6. Empathize with students
  7. Relate to parents and the wider community.
  8. Be firm, fair and flexible
  9. Be organized
  10. Prepare students for life
  11. Manage the classroom
  12. Have high self-esteem
  13. Have a sense of humor
  14. Be a total person with a full life outside school
  15. Take risks


I have been teaching at SMK Majakir for almost 3 years. But in this short period, I have come across many types of students in the course of my teaching. Some of them are obedient, respectful, kind and diligent. However, I need to mention that there are also quite a number of them I do not fancy to meet again in my entire life. As Papar is only a small town, there is a high probability that I will bump into them once in a while. Below are descriptions of several of the students who have come into my life and whose lives I would like to make a difference.

Irfan is a funny, happy-go-lucky, kind and friendly boy. I first met him in January 1998 when he was in a class I taught. At first, he hesitated to approach me because of his shyness and lack of self-confidence. But as time passed by, he found me quite fun to be with. This boy is unique among his family members, as he remains slim no matter how much he eats. Almost all of his other siblings are stout and fat. In class, he is famous for making the class lively. If he is absent during my lesson, then I cannot teach the class well as he always cracks jokes and seems to be ready to answer any questions posed to him.

I also know his family well, especially his father, who is now confined to his house as he is so obese that he can no longer get down to the ground. I sometimes visit his house just to chat with his father and borrow some collections of old magazines compiled by his father. Irfan also comes to my house with his friend Atizan for lunch and surfing the Internet. Frequent visits will definitely strengthen our bond.

The second student that I would like to describe here is Melanie. This girl is quite tall and cute. No wonder she won the first runner-up in a beauty contest held in a nearby district when she was 17. Apart from being blessed with good looks, Melan (as she is popularly known among her friends), also excels in her studies. She got straight A’s in her PMR examination and she also proved that she was capable of making her parents proud by emerging as the second best student in the SPM exam last year. I taught her for just for two years but I could easily noticed her good proficiency in English language. Her command of the language is almost perfect. This is clearly shown in her flawless essays and conversation with me. However, she is a procrastinator and seldom hands in her work on time. I think she is good enough in this subject that she takes things easy when it comes to homework. Her close friends are Norliliana, Afflicia and Zuraina and they have been to my house to sample my tom yam soup. Luck was on my side, as they liked my cooking.

Another special girl student that I want to mention here is Azlina who is also good in English. She has been at the top of the MUET score list for two semesters, beating 105 students. Having born of Chinese and Kadazan parentage, she is very good looking although slender in my eyes. She is a responsible, diligent and perseverant young woman who has had to face a few family problems in her teenage life. Her parents always quarrel over financial problems. She has cried when she told me about this situation in her family. She has successfully hidden her family problems by showing a joyful and smiling face almost all the time. But deep down inside her heart, she has to bear this entire predicament alone. Her will power is strong for a girl of her age. Since her only brother suffers from a psychomotor deficiency, she has to keep an eye on him at school, although he seems to be able to fend for himself. Azlina always comes to see me to chat in the staff room, much to the chagrin of the other teachers. I am happy to speak to her, as it will help her practise her spoken English outside the classroom. I also purposely spend some time talking to her in class. I can say she is also a caring person as she makes it a point to give me cards for my birthday and on Teachers’ Day. In return, she asks for my moral support before she takes any difficult exams.

Amisah is a friend of Azlina. She and Azlina help me to carry out all the activities organised by The English Language Society. As with Azlina, I can always count on them to get all their work done. She is so efficient in her work that I only have to give her instructions once. She is quite outgoing and outspoken compared to her other classmates. Thus, she always tries to make herself stand out from them by asking me questions and engaging in friendly conversation. She is also tall, beautiful, friendly, respectful and happy go lucky.

The next interesting person whom I want to describe here is Elias, popularly known as Boy by his family and close friends. But I address him as Boboi, which sounds more boyish. He is of mixed parentage, having some Pakistani, Chinese and Malay blood, so it is no wonder he is quite good looking and charming even though he seems to be slightly dark and short. This boy is quite well known among local chatters on MIRC and has even met with some of his cyberpals in real life. Judging from his looks, I think he could have as many girlfriends as he wishes to, but he just treats all of them in the same way as he treats his male pals.

Being the eldest in a family of seven, he is quite responsible and caring towards his younger siblings. When I first knew him, I got the shock of my life when I learned that his mother gave birth to five children in five years, with him being the first! I later was also informed that he is the only child from his mother’s first husband. Again, I was shocked as he took his stepfather’s surname on his birth certificate. I have noticed that his family is poor as he and his siblings have to work part-time at a food stall at night in order to ease their mother’s burden. They work as waiters and earn RM10 per night for their service. It might not be that lucrative, but they seem to be happy to earn money for themselves. In addition, they also know how to appreciate money, as it does not come easily.

I can say that he is friendly, talkative, obedient, polite, respectful and funny. However, one thing about him that annoys me is that he does not know how to project a good image as one of the handsome boys in school. As a senior, he should look presentable in every way possible. It is disheartening to see him not wearing his socks, badge, or tie. Moreover, he always forgets to tuck his shirt into his pants. His hair is straight but is not too well kept. Once, I almost cut his hair but he managed to run away. I think he might feel uneasy to have me always interfere in his life. But I treat him as my own brother as I find him still looking for an adult male figure that he can look up to. He might not realize this but after visiting his house several times, I become aware that his father is not always around when the children really need him in their growing-up process.

Elias’ younger brother, Iskandar, is another interesting character for me to point out. He is as handsome as his elder brother, but much taller than his older brother. Sometimes, people might think he is the older one, not Boboi. I always tell him that he resembles the well-built, muscular Bollywood actor Salman Khan. From my observations, this boy is less mature than his brother as the topic of his conversation centers on female friends, studies, music and movies. He needs some time to develop his mind to become a better person.

I was disappointed to discover his slow progress in English. He has never passed his English paper since he was in Standard One. If only I had known him earlier, I would have been able to prepare him sufficiently for the SPM examination. However, with only three months left, I will do my best to help him pass this subject, as English language is a ticket for those seeking entry placements at local colleges and universities. He seems willing to learn despite his difficulty in understanding even some easy words. It is quite pathetic to see him looking up meanings for words like “difficult” and “expensive” in his dictionary. During personal tuition, I normally guide him through a reading comprehension passage while holding a rattan in one hand, ready to hit him when he makes a mistake in pronunciation or in giving the meanings of words.

According to his mother, Iskandar always quarrels with his elder brother and abuses his younger one. There was a time when Iskandar and Elias didn’t speak to each other for weeks. Both of them are stubborn and egoistic and will never give in. It is normal to for sibling rivalry to exist in this family as the children are close to each other in age. I realize that Iskandar is the apple of his father’s eye. When his father comes back home once in a while, he will give him some money and this obedient son saves the money until it is sufficient enough for him to spend it for himself and doesn’t share it with his other siblings. He might be economical in his spending but sometimes he can be considered as stingy as well. His dad bought him a mountain bike so he could come to my house for night revision and weekly tuition. He even keeps his parents’ passport-sized photos in his wallet to show that he always remembers them wherever he goes. In all, Iskandar is an interesting character.

To conclude my article, I can say that these students have come into my life and have added some color to it. They come and go but the memories of them will remain. I feel grateful if they turn out to be better persons when they finish their studies and show me that the knowledge I have imparted has been put to good use. I also hope they will always remember me and show their appreciation for what I have done to them inside and outside the classrooms.

12 August 2000