Top 10 Ways To Demotivate Teachers

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What can schools and school leaders do to demotivate their teaching staff?

This post is not offered as a solution to help achieve this blogpost title! It’s to help raise awareness that these 10 suggestions are still prevalent in our schools; perhaps more common in challenging schools than others.

Do you recognise any of these circumstances in your school?

1. Timetable

Timetable changes that happen mid-year – due to absent colleagues and/or under-performance of staff or students – are part and parcel of complex school institutions. The problem which demotivates our teaching staff, is when decisions are made that are out of their control which impacts on those who have not necessarily asked for an adjustment to their timetable allocation. The impact of this, is that is can put teachers and students out-of-kilter when unnecessary changes are put in place. Reducing curriculum time in departments can also be very damaging …

2. Well-being

Well-being initiatives which are a knee-jerk reaction to difficult situations, masked as a ‘thank you’ or a reward for working through a challenging period. ‘Dress-down Fridays’ and ‘bring a dish’ doesn’t really quite reach the mark of teacher’s well-being needs. What teachers’ actually want more of, is a stable timetable, well-behaved students, clear and supportive school policies that enable teachers to do their jobs effectively. If those are stable, the workforce can work effectively and happily, allowing the well-being initiatives to work better, later on … The crux of all well-being issues in schools could be addressed in one single word: time. Give teachers more time to mark, plan and manage behaviour and submit data entries, and you’ll become a school-hero!

3. Data

Complex ‘data drops’ or duplication of entry into various software platforms; multiple requests to make a summative judgement on effort, behaviour, homework and subject performance. It’s mind-numbing stuff. Made worse by ill-composed deadlines that change or fail to address other factors in the school calendar. E.g. meetings, parents evenings and twilights when time could be better used meeting the deadline for data input.

4. Calendar

There is much to be said about a published and fixed calendar, but in equal measure, the complex nature of school life means occasional dates need to be adjusted and/or added. Many schools will adhere very strictly to the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) and marry the 1265 contractual hours to a teacher’s calendar and responsibilities. Although we accept this in our contractual obligations, the impact of teacher morale is made worse when 2 or 3 late night events are placed into one week (e.g. meeting, parents evening, concert and/or NQT meeting). There is also the issue of teacher-parents who have childcare commitments and need calendar amendments well in-advance.

5. Behaviour

There’s nothing worse than when a teacher is not supported by their line manager to resolve difficult behaviour issues. This could be a head of department or head of year, as well as a senior teacher. Solidarity is essential, particular for full-time classroom teachers who are on the frontline of school policies, teenagers and raging emotions. Teachers will occasionally need backup when dealing with a student who ‘denies any wrongdoings’ in front of senior colleagues and/or parents.

A collective teacher efficacy on all school policies is essential for teacher motivation.

6. Meetings

Badly chaired meetings which have no agenda items, ‘any other business’ (AOB) messages added on to the end of the meeting – and after the meeting is scheduled to end – plus, badly chaired meetings where the lead does not facilitate a range of discussions and input from around the table. Good chairs gauge the mood and intended outcomes for each item. They guarantee an intended outcome, action, date and ‘by who’ in succinct summaries before moving on. They also ensure ‘waffle’ and quieter voices are not overpowered.

7. Deadlines

A deadline is a deadline. Simple. Have deadlines clearly mapped out in the school calendar and adjust them if school life makes workload impossible. It’s all too easy for the senior teacher sitting in their office, to assume classroom teachers with a 90% contact time can meet numerous deadlines, answer 100s of emails and be the best teacher on their feet 5 hours every day. It’s a tough job! If deadlines need to be adjusted, make a conscientious decision to explain why the decision has been made and communicate it to all concerned. Worse, don’t make it a habit for those who fail to meet deadlines. Hold those to account who consistently miss deadlines so that those who do respect deadlines, are not demotivated by those who fail the organisation.

A collective teacher efficacy on all school policies is essential for teacher motivation.


Working for impending OfSTED inspections or producing documents, specifically for inspection, is one of the greatest sins to blight our education system in England. As soon as you hear ‘it’s for OfSTED’ or ‘we’ll need to show that we can do XYZ for OfSTED’, then the argument has been lost. Whatever you are doing or have been asked to do, ask yourself: will I be doing this routinely if a) OfSTED have left the building or b) even better, if OfSTED did not exist. Worse still, OfSTED could come into your school – make a judgement and get it entirely wrong – leaving your entire staff totally demotivated …

We need all lead inspectors to be held account for their assessments, and where schools are more challenging, the lead inspector appointed to work with that school to help re-address their judgements. It’s the only way to avoid demotivating an entire workforce.

9. Conversations

If you consult school staff for their views and their content is critiqued, don’t plough ahead regardless. Listen to those professionals who are a school’s greatest asset. We seem to be very quick to tarnish staff views as ‘nonsense’ because they do not understand the ‘bigger picture’, but this is often because their role is not to be concerned with the wider strategy, their day-to-day role is to be concerned with the small details: their students, lesson plans and good lesson delivery.

Every school leader should model empathy, listening and polite conversation: in offices and in corridors.

10. Lesson Gradings

This is the second worst of all for teacher demotivation. According to teacher-union polls, surveys and various national conferences, there are now less than 50% of 25,000 schools in England still grading individual lessons – binary and anecdotal in many cases. Research suggests there is “no evidence of reliability available.” Whether all the other schools who have moved away from grading lessons, are grading teachers and/or lessons over time, it’s still the same thing. The outcomes may even be included in annual appraisals too! Let’s allow our teachers to get on with their jobs and let the student outcomes speak for itself – let’s also make sure this is not the only thing we focus on. After all, teachers teach over 700 hours per academic year and in my two decades in teaching, I cannot recall one single teacher I’ve observed more than a handful of times!

7 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways To Demotivate Teachers

  1. A great deal if truth here but I would have to add 1. micromanagement, 2. senior leaders who cannot cope with the stress of their roles so pass it down to the HoD they line manage, 3. senior leaders who are totally inept at chairing meetings ( as you stated) but will then ‘grade’ a meeting you hold, 4. Line managers who hold weekly meetings about their agenda, totally ignoring yours and then give you a ‘to-do’ list which they then RAG (no, I’m not making it up), 5. Senior leaders who send emails out during p1 for agenda items for the meeting at the end of the day to which you are meant to reply but you’re teaching all day 6. Senior leaders who ask you to give them stuff that you’ve sent them by email 5 times already. 7. Senior leaders who do not understand or recognise the importance of soft skills when building a team and criticise you for being ‘too pastoral’ with the staff and cannot see the irony in how their lack of empathy means they are not respected or valued…could go on, I really could. Did I mention control freaks who micromanage?

    1. agreed! I chose to leave a full time job due to all of the above after a change in head. I was just sad all the time! Now looking at schools by doing supply. Fascinating! Maybe all SMT should do a years supply and see, first hand what works and what destroys people, thats teachers and students. My last school kept talking about redundancies with TAs and are now advertising for another AHT….really inspiring for staff.

  2. Sitting in a meeting this week to tell us that our support staff are about to be significantly reduced by redundancies, then told that the children’s targets will, of course, remain the same despite there being less of us in school to deliver their education was pretty demotivating too.

  3. A big demotivating factor for me is pay and lack of recognition of my experience. I am a teacher with 20 years experience yet am stuck on M6. My school won’t put me on UPS unless I take on extra responsibility. That’s ok. But there was one promotion opportunity last year that I was actually told by the Head not to apply for as she wanted me to establish ‘more of a presence in school’ before I applied for promotions. I have never ever in my whole teaching life been directly blocked from applying for an in-school promotion. Meanwhile, I am working under middle managers much younger than me who are on more pay. I feel taken for granted and not appreciated. I know many older teachers feel the same.

  4. I Am From Uzbekistan. I have been working at school for 9 years. In our country, teachers with demotivation are the majority, the reason is that their monthly salary is low and the reputation of teachers is not high.

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