Six Markers of Motivational Teachers

by Sr. Patricia M. McCormack, IHM

Kick off the school year with these ideas for becoming a more motivational teacher.

Next to parenting, what vocation can compare to teaching? Nothing known to me, though all pursuits that serve God’s purposes and promote the welfare of humankind are worthy of praise.

Parents bestow life and assume the primary responsibility for educating their children. At Baptism they heard the challenge:

“…Give constant care to training [your] child in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life, which God gives him/her, is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in his/her heart… and bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”1

This parent responsibility is so vital that “it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.”2
Teachers “complement the primary role of parents in educating their children”3 by functioning as agents of evangelization for both children and families. Catholic Church literature4 indicates that in response to the culture of the last 25 years, the role of the Catholic school (and, therefore, the teacher) expanded from companioning parents in their vocation to preparing parents for their vocation. The expansion of the role of the Catholic school includes:

• being helpmate to parents (1965)
• serving as the educational arm of the Church in the work of personal formation (1972)
• assuming fundamental leadership in providing adult, parent, and family education (1976)
• providing for the complete Christian formation of pupils; being an expert in transmitting culture (1977)
• preparing parents to have greater influence in the work of education (1981)
• evangelizing (1982)
• making parents aware of their responsibilities (1988A)
• preparing parents for their vocation (1988B)
• serving as a life compass for parents (1991)
• fostering initiatives that encourage parent commitment, and providing the concrete support that the family needs today (1998)

Is teaching a vocation? You bet it is! If teaching were merely a job, it would break you in the trying! Catholic-school teachers embrace a God-given vocation to be the hands, the feet, the voice, the affirmation, the direction, the compassion, and the mercy of God for those they teach—and for the parents of their students. A vocation (any vocation) is from God, for God, to God. Vocation is God calling us to holiness through a specific means and our responding “yes” as Mary did. Mary’s “yes” brought life into the world. Our “yes” enriches the lives of those to whom we minister.

Catholic-school teachers resonate with the question voiced by fourth-century Doctor of the Church St. John Chrysostom, who asked: “What is equal to training the soul, and forming the mind of one that is young?” Again I say, “Nothing known to me.” What a grace to companion Jesus and to be his catalyst of formation in the hearts of our students!

There is quite a difference between monitoring or proctoring a class of students and teaching a class of students. Catholic educators are catalysts of soulful formation rather than mere transmitters of information. In our technological society, information access is available with a keystroke. But forming a child in the ways of faith, compassion, responsibility, stewardship, social grace, integrity, self-control, prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, and Christian love of self is not the by-product of surfing the web. Soulful formation results from the intentional personal interaction of people who daily respond “yes” to the vocation of Catholic-school teacher!

Motivating students to grow into the persons who God created them to be takes more than wishful thinking. Twentieth-century inspirational writer William Arthur Ward explained: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” This article considers inspiration and motivation as synonyms. It suggests six markers of a motivational teacher, and it includes formative support for both teachers and parents by way of a parent handout that was designed to be distributed at “Back to School Night” parent gatherings (see “Ten Home Habits for School Success” on page 40).

1. Promote Proactive, Positive Attitudes
Smile. Use humor, not sarcasm. Promote the attitude: “Good, better, best/I will never rest/Until my good is better and my better is my best.” Anticipate pitfalls and plan accordingly. Exhibit effort, energy, and enthusiasm. Be present to extracurricular activities and, within the school day, integrate curriculum references to student interests.

2. Prepare Today for Tomorrow
“Plan your work; work your plan.” Throughout a weekly lesson plan vary approach, materials, activities, learning styles, independent application, and group work. Duplicate materials, arrange supplies, coordinate resources, and clarify scheduling details before the students arrive. Proactively anticipate problems; have ready a “Plan B.”

3. Monitor Daily Performance
Devise a simple method for examining, recording, and reporting daily classwork, homework, quizzes, behavior, and effort. Be kind but firm while nipping at the bud poor student choices. Alert student and parent while there is time to remediate. Encourage effort.

4. Cultivate Social Skills
Make a personal connection with each student. Refer to an outside interest, use a respectful nickname, communicate via facial gesture, show appreciation, etc., while safeguarding the role of adult mentor. Use respectful tones. Correct in private. Demonstrate self-control. Initiate conversation and forgiveness. Model how to admit a mistake and turn it into a stepping stone for improvement.

5. Practice Study Skills
Provide instruction and practice before assigning an independent project that requires a working knowledge of study skills like identifying the main idea, mapping, outlining, note-taking, solving word problems, etc. Teach how to create a chapter study guide, perhaps using the SQ3R method:
1. Fold a paper in half, length-wise. 2. Survey (read titles, pictures, and captions to generate questions). 3. Write questions on the left-hand side. 4. Read through the chapter to answer the questions in the right-hand column.
5. Recite the questions and answers. 6. Use the paper to review the chapter.

6. Structure the Environment for Success
Maintain a crisp, attractive, neat classroom that conveys a sense of industry/good work ethic. Use decorations that are purposeful teaching tools. “Publish” or display corrected student work. Establish guidelines and expectations for student notebooks and examine them regularly. Have available a few extra copies of handouts, available to students for a 5¢ replacement charge! Determine a procedure for turning in work and for preparing homework/classwork requirements for absentee students. Organize a system for distributing and collecting books and materials.

These same six motivational markers will be the focus of the 2014-15 Parent Partnership Handbook newsletters, written with examples that relate to the parent community. Parents and teachers share in the formation education of children. May both take comfort in the scriptural maxim: “Those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars for all eternity” (Daniel 12:3).



1 Rite of Baptism for Children
2 Flannery (1998). Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents Volume 1, Christian Education #3
3 Miller (2006). The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools, p. 61
4 Church Literature: Documents of Vatican II (1965), To Teach as Jesus Did (1972), Teach Them (1976), The Catholic School (1977), The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (1981), Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), The Religious Dimension of Education (1988A), The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People (1988B), Putting Children and Families First: A Challenge for Our Church, Nation, and World (1991), and The Catholic Church on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1998)

Source: Today’s Catholic Teacher, August/September 2014