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Key Factors that Motivate Teachers

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators impact teacher retention and satisfaction, and the interplay between these types of motivators is very clear. Teachers who are highly motivated and choose to remain in teaching, or in their current school setting, often do so because of intrinsic motivators, yet the extrinsic ones remain important to the overall teacher retention landscape.

Intrinsic motivators in the workplace are consistently given as reasons for job satisfaction by teachers, including those whom I interviewed for research on teacher retention. In The Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee Engagement (Thomas, 2009), the areas identified as rewarding were that work must be meaningful, that individuals must have choices in task fulfillment, competence for their job, and see that they make progress towards a goal. These factors have all been stated by teachers in response to their decision to remain in teaching. Pride in their work, feeling that they make a difference, feeling supported and not micro-managed, and knowing they are important in a child’s growth were intrinsic motivators, stated by the teachers in my research study, in which the teachers evidenced high levels of job satisfaction.

Extrinsic Motivators - In Cimino's work on teacher retention and motivation, For Love or Money (Cimino, 2011), the school teachers researched were often forced to make difficult decisions and balance their motivation for internal or external motivators. Stay because they are doing work they love, and make personal sacrifices? Or leave to meet financial needs? Many schools, especially Catholic and non-public schools, where teachers make an average pay considerably less than public school counterparts, often rely upon the commitment factor of teachers who are willing to make personal sacrifices to live out their vocation or calling. But not many individuals are willing and able to exhibit the level of commitment shown by teachers who must take on additional work each evening, tutoring, second jobs, etc. just to remain in teaching in a private or Catholic school. Yet teachers are sometimes forced to make those difficult decisions. One teacher whom I interviewed talked about tutoring until 8 PM every evening and downsizing from her dream home, another, related that she remained in a school where she felt, “abandoned” by colleagues who left, due to low pay and leadership difficulties, and is no longer in a position that gives her satisfaction, yet remains in her position due to her personal commitment to Catholic education and the students she serves. It is impossible to place value on this type of intrinsic motivation, yet administrators need to work hard to cultivate and keep that level of similarly committed teachers by working to influence teachers through both internal and external motivators.

Implications for Leadership - The implications for school leadership are many. The administrative problem of teacher retention and attrition is a vast one in the U.S. today. Recent media reports that United States schools, public and private, are estimated to lose $1.5 - $2. billion dollars per year due to the costs of rehiring, and retraining new teachers, is evidence of the scale of the problem. According to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, with a total school age population (public and non-public) of 55.4 million (NCES, 2015), and a high rate of attrition among all school teachers, especially those in private and Catholic schools, school leaders must be aware of the cost and magnitude of the problem.

Additionally, as many studies, most notably the Tennessee STAR study in the late 1990s, found consecutive years of effective teachers is a leading indicator for success in students (TVAAS, 1996), it is of great importance to students’ academic advancement to retain qualified teachers in all schools.

These factors need to be carefully considered by school leaders. The factors that cause teachers, especially early career teachers, to leave schools cannot be ignored. Many of the teachers cite personal financial hardship, and co-workers who have had to leave education due to financial constraints. This is a problematic area of education that needs to be addressed. Non-public schools often endeavor to keep tuition at affordable rates for a wide range of families. However, to achieve this, salaries are typically at least 20% less, and sometimes have an even greater than 20% deficit from the nearby public school salaries.

School leaders have a twofold task in motivating teachers to remain committed to their position and the mission of the school. They must work to improve salaries and working conditions as factors needed for teacher retention. Similarly, they can influence teachers by noting the key points teachers stated that provide internal motivation:

  • Pride in their work.

  • Feeling that they make a difference.

  • Feeling supported and not micro-managed.

  • Knowing they are important to a child’s growth/life.

The right combination of fair salaries and a school climate conducive to internal motivation may not happen easily, but can create the perfect situation for teacher motivation and satisfaction in their school.


Cimino, C. (2001). Love or money: Vocational attitudes of the Catholic school teacher. Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry & Practice, 5(2), 181-205.

Jakuback, K. G. (2017). Catholic School Identity: Perceptions That Influence Teacher Retention. Seton Hall University. Retrieved from

National Center for Educational Statistics, Bitterman, A., Gray, L., & Goldring, R., (2013). Characteristics of public elementary and secondary schools in the United States: Results from the 2011-12 schools and staffing survey. First look. NCES 2013. National Center for Educational Statistics.

Sanders, W. L., & Rivers, J. C. (1996). Cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement. University of Tennessee.

Thomas, K. (2009, November/December). The Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee

Engagement. Retrieved from

#motivation #highexpectations #effectiveteachers #teachersalaries #collegiality #communication #jobsatisfaction