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Teacher Enthusiasm Impacts Student Motivation: Time to Get Excited!

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“My teacher doesn’t even really care. Why should I?” This must be one of the oldest questions in the educational sphere. I know it’s one I’ve heard dozens of times as a student. In the classes where the teacher seemed to drone with seemingly little passion for the material, the students tended to follow suit—merely completing assignments for the grade and passing through the material without second thought. However, during the classes where the instructor taught with excitement and nearly palpable passion for the subject, the students seemed to “soak in” some of the teachers’ residual energy.

A study conducted by Keller, Goetz, Becker, Morger, and Hensley seems to support this phenomenon, saying that “dispositional teacher enthusiasm” directly correlates with student interest in the subject. Not only do the results suggest a possible link between teacher enthusiasm and student interest; results also suggest that this link is due to students’ increased perceptions of teacher enthusiasm. In other words, more enthusiastic teachers are perceived as such. In turn, their students are more motivated to achieve.

The study itself revolved around three hypotheses: that dispositional teacher enthusiasm is real and measurable, that there would be a positive correlation between teacher enthusiasm and student interest, and that the effect on the student’s interest would be a result of the teacher’s perceived enthusiasm. In order to test these hypotheses, researchers gathered information from surveys given to a sample of Swiss ninth grade students in four subject areas. All of the students were in the “high-achieving track” and were asked questions that related to student emotion in the school setting. Seventy-five teachers across four subject areas agreed to participate in the study with average teaching experience being slightly over 16 years. All information gathered from this study was a product of multiple surveys that asked for a numerical ranking to the participant’s feelings toward the question asked.

Teachers: it is time to get excited about our profession! We all joined the teaching profession for a reason. By tapping into that passion, our students may actually become more enthusiastic about our classes. A study now actually supports that the more we care about learning material, the more the students care about it.

This study also leaves us with a few interesting questions for practice. Teachers may attempt to show enthusiasm, but if this is not actually genuine, the teacher may experience stress or strain. This, in turn, would potentially lead to less positive student outcomes. Also, just as a teacher’s enthusiasm affects student interest, student interest may impact a teacher’s enthusiasm. If students come into a class disinterested, this could possibly curb the teacher’s ability to comfortably express his/her enthusiasm. Because of this, a natural path for future research would be to examine the sources of teacher enthusiasm.

By Kamerynn Kohler, NC State Pre-Service Teacher

Keller, M. M., Goetz, T., Becker, E. S., Morger, V., & Hensley, L. (2014). Feeling and showing: A new conceptualization of dispositional teacher enthusiasm and its relationship to students' interest . Learning and Instruction, 33(1), 29-28.