10 Ways to Stay Motivated About Teaching

Being motivated about teaching is easy in September. You’ve just had a long summer of relaxation and you’re looking forward to starting fresh with a new class. Like a Detroit Lions’ football season, it doesn’t matter how bad things sucked last year, there’s hope that this year will be different.

However, much like those hapless Lions, by the time winter hits, hope has been replaced with reality. Those new ideas you couldn’t wait to try didn’t exactly turn out the way you imagined. Your resolution to be more positive, or show more gratitude, or not let stupid district initiatives get under your skin has been forgotten. The precocious kid you thought was so much fun the first two months is now just an annoying know-it-all who takes great pleasure in correcting your every mistake. You’re not even halfway through the year and you’re not sure how you’re going to get through the rest of it.

It can be tough to stay motivated during the long winter months. So if you find your energy sapped and your greatest fear is that the principal is going to walk in and see you delivering an uninspired lesson to an inattentive class, you might try some of these ten ideas to stay motivated.

1. Change Something

Part of the problem with the middle of the year is that you’ve settled into your routines and every day can start to feel the same. To break the monotony, change something. Swap subjects in your schedule. Start something new, like student blogging or scheduling a Skype with an author.  Start playing music as students enter in the morning. Do a lesson in the gym.  Perform a science experiment that isn’t part of your curriculum.  Make the days less predictable.

2. Address Problems

A mistake I made early in my career was avoiding problems in my class. I’d think to myself, well, the year’s half over now. I’ll just change how I do things next year so I won’t have these problems again. Hopefully, you’re smarter than me. Your motivation to do the job well will be destroyed if you have festering issues. Face them head-on.  Re-work a routine. Change your attention signal if yours isn’t working. Sit a student by herself if she can’t sit by others. Think of it as testing solutions. You have 4-5 months to try out new interventions. If they fail, try something else. If they work, you can add them to your toolbox and use it the rest of your career. Get testing!

3. Experiment

Just as you can experiment with solving problems in your room, you can experiment with the curriculum. Instead of waiting for a new class to try out that thing you heard about at a conference, implement it right away. If you come up with a new way to teach something, try it! Collect some data. See if it works. Tell others about it. Turn your classroom into a testing ground for innovation.

4. Reread a Favorite Teaching Book

An easy way to rekindle your idealism and pump up your energy level is to read books that motivated you in the past. No teacher can go wrong with Teach Like a Pirate or The Essential 55. Other books that I return to are The Promise of a Pencil, The First Days of School, Best Year Ever, and Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire.

5. Watch an Inspirational Movie or YouTube Clips

Every once in a while, one of the networks will do a feel-good story about a teacher who made a difference for kids. They always give me a shot of motivation about what’s possible. With the video-on-demand services available today, you don’t have to stumble on these. Hop over to YouTube and do a search for “inspiration for teachers” or search for keynote addresses from some of America’s most inspiring educators.

You could also watch a full-length movie. Teachhub.com has a good list of 12 Must-See Movies for Teachers.

6. Pick a Stretch Goal

A stretch goal is a goal that can’t be achieved by incremental changes. It’s a popular business concept that will undoubtedly make its way to our schools. Before you groan, consider choosing a stretch goal for your class to inject a dose of significance into everyone’s work.  It should be difficult, but not impossible to achieve. It should require serious commitment. A couple of possibilities are:

  • Every student will ace the next biology test.
  • Every student will read 150 words per minute by the end of the year.
  • Every student will be able to recite Poe’s “Annabel Lee.”
  • Every student will know their multiplication facts by June.

Having an ambitious goal to work toward–something that will necessitate changes to the way everyone does things–can be a great way to up everyone’s motivation, including yours.

7. Teach Meaningful Things

It can be hard to get excited about teaching decimals or heredity.  Some of the required content is just not very inspiring. So teach something that is meaningful to you. I like to carve out 20 minutes a couple of times each week to focus character traits.

59% of respondents to CBIA’s 2013 Hartford-Springfield Business Survey indicated they were having trouble finding and retaining qualified workers because applicants lacked “soft skills” like punctuality, interpersonal skills, teamwork, leadership ability, and work ethic. So teach students stuff that actually matters, like how to shake someone’s hand, the importance of appearance, working with others, and perseverance. Read picture books about honesty. Show video clips of people achieving their goals through hard work. Share life lessons about how you handled adversity in your own life.

Teaching these kinds of important lessons can remind you about why you became a teacher in the first place–to improve kids’ lives. In the end, it won’t matter what your students know if they don’t know how to comport themselves. So motivate yourself by teaching traits you’re passionate about!

8. Learn Something New

Pick up a book on using technology in the classroom and then try it out with your students. Go to a workshop or conference and let those new ideas inspire you to make changes. Follow people on Twitter who are constantly innovating (I recommend Alice Keeler for all things Google Apps for Education). We lose motivation when things go stale.  Keep learning and trying new things and you’ll always have a reason to get up and go to work in the morning.

9. Improve the Life of Just One Student

As much as we like to think we are making a difference in the lives of kids, the truth is that a lot of variables come into play and we can’t control most of them. To instill more meaning into your job, choose one student and dedicate yourself to improving his or her life. Talk to this student about his personal life. Listen to her stories. Give him extra help. Do little things that make a big difference. Write her a thank you card when she helps pick up the classroom. Challenge yourself to see what you can do to make just that one student’s life a little better.

10. Fake It

Sometimes you’re just not feeling it. You’re tired. The damn sun has been hiding behind clouds all week. Your class is acting up. Your motivation is at zero. The last thing you feel like doing is delivering an energetic lesson on the Civil War. This is when it’s time to fake it until you make it. Remember, you’re a teacher, which means you’re an actor. So put on your game face and perform. Sometimes, just pretending to be excited can actually make you more excited.


If all else fails, take a day off. If you’re a low-energy dud who’s snarling at your students and grumbling at your colleagues, no one wants you there anyway, and you probably aren’t doing anyone any good. Take a day. Recharge. And come back with renewed vigor.

Question: What do you do to stay motivated during the winter? Leave your ideas in the comments!

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I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort starts in July, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to join!

5 Replies to “10 Ways to Stay Motivated About Teaching”

  1. I love my job and I love my students, but there are those days that I must admit I just don’t have my heart in it. My faith is what usually helps motivate me during those days. It’s amazing if you just read a motivational quote, listen to a motivational podcast, or just say a short prayer that will make you have a better day.
    As far as my students, they love it when I come in and say we are going to take a little break from reading a chapter and change it up a little. In the past, I have let them watch a few funniest home videos, stress releasers, or play a game of life.
    I hope we can all pass on some new ideas to inspire our leaders of tomorrow

  2. I teach German. The game Gimkit has helped me a lot. I use this game to front-load vocabulary before reading new text, to review for a test or to just review previously learned clear targets. I can use the results as an assessment grade. My students love this game and the best part is they are learning and don’t even realize it. It costs $7 a month and is money well spent.

  3. To stay motivated is no easy task….most of the teachers around me are burned out! We just finished the year (2019)and teachers are limping out to their cars wounded and drained…Ha!
    I’m tired but …a good tired! Here is how:
    1. I competed against my athlete students in a year long pushup contest….I did 14,000. came in second. I’m 58 year old and feeling good.
    2. Teaching US history this year I had kids illustrate their notes and created a WALL OF FAME….before long kids were begging to make it to the WALL…..stunning pictures of Presidents, cold war symbols, civil rights, battle scenes, space race drawings and on and on!! AMAZING…..
    3. Found the perfect music to play that triggered the mood I wanted to create……perfect volume to drown out small chatter.
    Electronic music for studying……..perfect…..no talking!!

    4. Used a movie theater approach…dark windows, projector on cart…..big wall.!….found the greatest video clips to hook my kids into the lesson…..US history made this easy….sorry math teachers…
    5. QUIZ BOWL…….I was on the Family Feud years ago and I use the game to review all content….teams of 4…..KIDS LOVE IT…
    6. I could go on forever……but 1 more thing!!
    7. MY CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT IS A PRIORITY…..! everything I do spins off of my ability to run a tight ship. CHAOS LEADS TO BURNOUT……..I have fun and love my students but I do not tolerate crap. They know I care about them deeply and they understand I will not let them take over my classroom. Ha….Happy Teaching

    1. Great advice. I especially love “chaos leads to burnout.” So true, but something most teachers won’t admit, either because they don’t want to appear to be blaming students for how they’re feeling or because admitting such a thing reflects badly on their management.

  4. Would you agree that our personalities are tied to how we run a classroom? Each day before class I have to get into character like an actor for a big show! If my energy and preparation don’t match the 33 kids about to walk in…….I’m doomed for a long day….I’m a pretty chill person…the battle between being friendly vs. dictator are always in play…….but my success depends on releasing a ton of energy to pull off the Greatest Show on Earth….

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