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June 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

What Motivates EFL Teachers to Pursue Professional Development Beyond Initial Teacher Training?

Christopher Walker has worked as an EFL teacher since 2006. He completed his CELTA at International House Krakow and spent the following year there, before moving to IH Bielsko-Biala, where he has remained since 2008. He has spoken at numerous conferences since 2019, and has had several articles published in some of the top EFL journals. Email:

Editorial note

The full text of the paper with full bibliography can be downloaded in pdf format below.



Much literature exists on the forms of motivation for teachers to enter the teaching profession (such as Fray and Gore (2018)), and much exists on the topic of professional development. Little, however, is concerned with the context of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching as opposed to ‘mainstream’ teaching, and little looks at what motivates teachers to develop beyond their initial qualification. The goal of this research is thus to fill some of the gaps present in the literature, and to suggest directions for future research.

The research looks at three questions. The first asks what motivates and demotivates EFL teachers when engaging in four forms of professional development that each involve obstacles, either related to time or cost. These are Input Sessions, Paid Short Courses, Attendance at Teaching Conferences, and Diploma-level Qualifications. The second question looked at whether differences existed in the motivating factors between Native Speaker Teachers (NSTs) and Non-Native Speaker Teachers (NNSTs). The final question examined the effects of longevity on motivation and asked whether motivation was linked to the amount of experience a teacher had within EFL.

A survey tool was designed and disseminated online via social media, generating N=167 responses. A mixed analysis, which combined quantitative and qualitative features, of the responses led to the following conclusions: intrinsic aspects such as curiosity, the desire to add to their skillset, the wish to become better teachers, and personal autonomy of choice of development all feature highly among motivating factors; extrinsic aspects such as covering the cost of the development options and lack of effect on career progression tended to be seen as demotivating factors, along with the fact that there is no regulatory body in EFL that ensures the accreditation of qualifications for use outside of EFL (in ESL, for instance); and there was a sense that teachers who were more engaged in the four development options exhibited a greater degree of teacher identity and what might be termed a ‘professional’ attitude.

Some differences between NSTs and NNSTs were found: primarily, the needs of NNSTs are at variance in the four development options, and there is a greater sense that NNSTs consider EFL a profession, with development a core feature of identity within that profession – at least when compared with novice NSTs. The difference between experienced NSTs and NNSTs in terms of teacher identity is negligible.

A connection between teacher longevity and engagement with development was seen, and suggests that one way of ameliorating attrition in EFL is to encourage development as widely as possible.



One year ago I completed a certificate course with International House on Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers. I found it an enormously rewarding experience, as did one of the other four teachers in our cohort. Of the others, however, one left the school halfway through the course, and the other attended the course sessions but did not complete the final piece of coursework, and did not receive a certificate.

I was puzzled by this: he had, after all, done almost all of the work, and had gone through the gruelling process of scripting his four observed lessons. Why not finish what he had started and have something valuable to add to his CV?

When I asked him, he revealed that his presence on the course had been a stipulation attached to the renewal of his teaching contract, but he had only promised to ‘do the course’ and not to get the certificate. If anything, he said, he didn’t want the certificate because it would show he was qualified to teach young learners – and the last thing he wanted was to be given more such classes. He seemed singularly unmotivated to pursue this area of professional development, and would not even have attended the sessions given a free choice on the matter.

This seemed like an area in the life of the EFL teacher that was ripe for investigation: what motivates some teachers to pursue professional development, but not others? Two articles in the wider reading for my MA led me to decide that teacher motivation should be the focus of my dissertation. The first was an article that appeared in the International House Journal of Education and Development. Ruda’s (2017) article, “You Can’t Force Teachers to Improve Their Teaching,” resonated, but it was based on the writer’s experiences and included a lot of opinions unsupported by reference to the wider literature. As I wondered what that literature might include, I stumbled upon an article entitled “What motivates teachers to participate in professional development?” written by Richter, Kleinknecht, and Gröschner (2019). Unfortunately, the bulk of the article looked at the experiences of ‘mainstream’ teachers. From what I could gather, the teachers referred to in the article were career teachers, and professional development was an integral part of their having a career. Was this true for EFL teachers as well, or was something else at play?

My dissertation, then, is an attempt to bring aspects of the latter paper to the former, and to investigate why some EFL professionals are more motivated to invest in professional development. I am also interested in whether there is a difference between what are commonly termed Native Speaker Teachers (NSTs) and Non-Native Speaker Teachers (NNSTs), since the other successful participant on the course mentioned at the start of this soliloquy was a teacher from Romania, who told me that as a NNST it seemed important to have the certification as well as the experience when looking for employment in EFL. And finally, to return to the teacher that started this line of thinking, I would like to investigate the potential connection between professional development and teacher identity. In our conversation, he suggested that teaching was just his current form of employment: his interests ran elsewhere. My Romanian colleague, on the other hand, saw herself as being a teacher – she defined herself as such, and saw development as being a natural aspect of that identity.


Research questions

Previous studies, to be discussed in Chapter Two, have looked in close detail at the motivations of teachers – to enter the profession, or to leave the profession, but in only very rare instances at why teachers invest in their skill set. In those instances where professional development is given its due regard, the focus is almost exclusively on ‘mainstream’ teachers as opposed to EFL teachers.

There are many ways in which teachers can choose to develop their skills, and many of these require little in the way of investment – either of time or of money (These might include peer observations and extended reading in EFL, neither of which are particularly expensive or time-consuming to engage with). I am most interested in why (or why not) teachers choose to pay to develop their skills and qualifications beyond their initial teacher training, and so I have chosen to look at Input Sessions (the training sessions that many institutes offer to both new and experienced teachers), Paid Short Courses (such as those offered by International House, and which are generally paid for by the teacher), Attendance at Teaching Conferences (the majority of which are not free to attend, and which generally incur both travel and accommodation costs), and Diploma-level Qualifications (such as the DELTA).

There are three research questions (RQs), outlined below:

RQ1: What motivates teachers to attend input sessions, do paid short courses, attend teaching conferences, or gain diploma-level qualifications?

RQ2: Is there a recognisable difference in terms of motivation between native speaker teachers (NSTs) and non-native teachers (NNSTs)?

RQ3: Will it appear that those with the greatest degree of experience of teaching will also be the most motivated to develop their skills in any of the four areas explored in RQ1?

As regards RQ1, the study conducted and described in Chapter Three of this paper will be relatively open-ended, with respondents given the option of contributing their own ideas as well as answering a series of questions on the areas of development. The research approaches this area from a zero standpoint: in other words, no assumptions are made going into the research.

That is not the case in RQ2 and RQ3. In RQ2, the null hypothesis is that there will be no appreciable difference between NSTs and NNSTs in terms of professional development. However, from personal experience I have found that many NNSTs are interested in furthering their pedagogical knowledge and adding to their qualifications – perhaps because NNSTs perceive that additional qualifications will help them to compete in the job market against NSTs. I am curious to see if the research generalises my personal experience, or contradicts it.

For RQ3, I suspect that those teachers who possess the most EFL experience – those, in other words, who have taught for the longest – will also possess the most experience of all four forms of professional development, and will furthermore have the most positive perspectives to offer about involvement in the four. Though this research cannot necessarily prove that teacher longevity is connected with engagement in professional development – and by extension that teacher identity can be measured by the same – I do believe that engaging in developmental initiatives can help teachers see themselves as more than mere employees, that they belong in the classroom or the school, and that this can ameliorate some of the pressures that come with the job. Through this aspect of teacher identity, I think longevity becomes more likely, and it will be interesting to see if the research supports this position.


The organisation of the full paper

Now that the overall theme of this research has been introduced, I would like to outline how the remainder of this paper will be organised.

Chapter Two will review the existing literature on the topic of Teacher Motivation. I will look broadly at the topic of motivation as it refers to my field, before turning attention to what the literature has to say on each aspect of the research questions.

Chapters Three and Four will look at how the research was designed, carried out, and analysed; implications from the findings of the research and the conclusions I have drawn will be covered in Chapter Five, along with a look at what this research means in the study of teacher motivation, and how it might be expanded in the future.


Key terms

Before looking in detail at the literature available on this topic, I first want to consider some of the key terms related to motivation and teaching (and being a teacher) that will be used throughout the paper.

To develop as a teacher, one must first become a teacher, and so this section will look at why teachers enter the profession in the first place, comparing routes into the profession between ‘mainstream’ and EFL contexts. I will then consider the four motivational aspects introduced by Dörnyei (2010), as they lay the foundations for a discussion of what motivates teachers to engage with professional development. Each of the research questions will then be treated in turn, first with a description of the developmental issue, and then with an analysis of the relevant literature.

The word ‘motivation’ can be traced back to Latin (and indeed to Proto Indo-European), and is connected to the joint ideas of movement and of pushing. Thus to motivate can be seen as pushing towards a goal or destination (Dörnyei (2010) rightly points out that this interpretation of motivation is overly simplistic, and that the issue of defining motivation is fraught (p4), but for the purposes of this research the idea of motivation presented here will suffice). The forms that such motivation can take are numerous; however, they can be divided into two principle categories. Intrinsic motivation looks at the sources of motivation that come from within the body being pushed towards the goal; extrinsic motivation considers sources from without. In short, when you are motivated, are you driven by your inner will, or are you pushed along to your goal by something else?

Connected to the issue of teacher motivation is the similar notion of teacher identity, which I believe can, in the long-term, become another form of intrinsic motivation (as it serves to increase a teacher’s drive towards their goal) but is otherwise separate from other forms of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation.

I am an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher, which means that I teach English to students with a different mother tongue, and I do so in a country where English is not the primary language of communication. This study does not explicitly consider English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers – where English is taught to students of other mother tongues, but in a country where English is the primary language of communication – but it is assumed that there will be many overlaps between the two in this research, just as there are in the careers of EFL/ESL teachers.

Finally, this research will talk about the difference between EFL teachers and what I term ‘mainstream’ teachers – i.e. teachers in state or public schools (or the local equivalent). The biggest difference must surely be the pathway to entry: ‘mainstream’ teachers tend to complete a year-long Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) before entering service, whereas it is expected (but not always demanded) that EFL teachers complete the month-long Certificate in English Language Teaching (CELTA) or the equivalent. Another key difference is in the business nature of most language schools, whether they are British Council and International House at one end of the scale, or self-employed teachers at the extreme other.


Teacher motivation – Why do teachers enter the profession?

In the preface to ‘Motivating & Inspiring Teachers,’ Whitaker et al. (2013) make the bold claim that “All educators entered the profession with the idea of positively impacting young people” (p. xv). Fray and Gore (2018), in their scoping review of what leads people into teaching, found something very similar: that most studies into motivation to teach concentrate on intrinsic motivation and altruistic impulses. That may account for why teachers in mainstream schools choose the profession they do, but it is not a universal truth in EFL. Brandt (2006, p12) presents a list of possible reasons for why people take ELT certificate courses like the CELTA, but out of the nine given, only two are directly connected with the practice of teaching, whereas the others are connected with how the practice of EFL teaching can be made to fit in with the course participant’s life. Hughes (2005) echoes this sentiment, writing that “[EFL] brings you into immediate contact with local people, challenges you to communicate and stretches your ingenuity to lengths you wouldn’t know you were capable of” (p6). Though Hughes (2005) does go on to suggest EFL as a valid – even a desirable – career path, the emphasis is still on the benefits to the lifestyle of the would-be teacher rather than any professional considerations, and testimonials from those who managed to ‘walk into’ a job without prior training are featured prominently. The barrier to entry in EFL is negligible compared to work in mainstream education (Borg (2006, p18)), and it cannot be expected that all teachers will enter the profession with the lofty aims described above.

A similar but different situation may exist with regard to non-native speaker teachers. Kubanyiova (2006) writes that “The vast majority of students on the teacher preparation programmes do not have any particular attraction to a teaching career” (p8), suggesting that for many, it is the language that draws people towards becoming teachers, not the teaching itself; this is supported by other examples in the literature, such as Lengeling (2007) writing about Mexican students whose eagerness to develop their English language skills led them to become English teachers themselves.


Teacher motivation – Dörnyei’s Four Motivational Aspects

Once teachers have entered the profession, the question becomes one of what drives them to continue teaching. Dörnyei (2010, p160) delineates four motivational aspects that should be considered in any discussion of teacher motivation: the intrinsic component of the motivation; contextual factors; the temporal axis; and the fragility of the motivation. While the case he makes for each of these factors is strong, I would argue against their universality within the field of EFL. I will therefore look at the four in turn, linking my comments to the research questions of this paper.


The Intrinsic Component

Dörnyei (2010) writes that

“the intrinsic dimension of teacher motivation is related to the inherent joy of pursuing a meaningful activity related to one’s subject area of interest, in an autonomous manner, within a vivacious collegial community, with self-efficacy, instructional goals, and performance feedback being critical factors in modifying the level of effort and persistence” (p163).

This assumes that teachers enter the profession with an honest interest in their subject area, and that they find the activity of teaching to be meaningful and enjoyable. It also presuppose a professional environment within which teachers work and develop together. This view is seconded by Burns and Richards (2009) who write that “Becoming an English language teacher means becoming part of a worldwide community of professionals with shared goals, values, discourse, and practices” (p3).

Unfortunately, such positivity is not matched by the experiences of many in the EFL industry – and an industry it often is (perhaps not in the universities, but certainly in the private language schools), driven by profit. Many EFL teachers are self-employed and work for more than one employer; this often robs them of the professional community remarked upon above. Others would say that the ‘community of professionals’ is an unrealised, perhaps unrealisable, goal given the heterogeneity of EFL contexts – which is a point explored by Valeo and Faez (2013), who believe that the inability to form such a professional community can lead to teacher attrition. It is possible that many in EFL lack the kinds of intrinsic motivation that Dörnyei (2010) describes.


Contextual factors

Dörnyei (2010, p165) underlines the importance of the institutional setting in teacher motivation. It is important for teachers to have a positive relationship with the school that they work for in a variety of ways, from the relationship between the teacher and the school management, to the size of the classes the teachers are expected to manage. As Karavas (2010) writes, these factors “can become powerful dissatisfiers when absent or problematic” (p61).

One way in which the school can foster a better working relationship with its teacher is through the encouragement and provision of development options; in this regard, schools that offer Input Sessions or that subsidise Diploma-level Qualifications may well find that contextual factors for their teachers are more positive than otherwise.


The Temporal Axis

Dörnyei (2010, p165) talks not only of the motivation to be a teacher, but also to have a career as a teacher. Treating teaching as a career can be an effective way to maintain motivation for both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons: among the former can be counted the joy of becoming a bigger part of one’s profession, and among the latter there is the possibility of being paid more for the work one does as a teacher. In terms of this paper, the intrinsic motivation of wanting to belong, which I consider a part of teacher identity, is most relevant in the discussion of RQ1 – Attendance at Conferences, about which I will talk more later in this literature review. The extrinsic rewards, however, come with a limiting point, which could be termed a kind of ‘payment ceiling,’ the limit to how much a teacher can be paid for the services they render to their school. This payment ceiling can lead to problems: as Dörnyei (2010) writes, “if the career path is ‘closed’, that is, present achievements do not create future career steps, this will have a marked negative impact on the individual’s work morale” (pp165-6). For teachers in such a position, awareness of the different development avenues open to them becomes more important, and might prove a motivating factor for the different aspects considered in RQ1.



Many of the demotivating factors listed by Dörnyei (2010, pp167-73), such as stress, restrictions to autonomy, and fatigue or boredom in teaching have been described above. Lack of efficacy (or, in other words, teacher knowledge) and classroom management issues can lead to fragility and will be discussed in relation to RQ1 – Input Sessions below.

One other factor that can lead to teacher demotivation and attrition is the lack of an adequate career structure within EFL. Some would even question whether EFL was a field inhabited by professionals that are career-minded to begin with. Johnston (1997) interviewed EFL teachers in Poland and found that “EFL is discursively presented as an occupation that it is easy both to enter and to leave” (p698). He concluded that while many of those he interviewed acted professionally within their positions, saying whether EFL counted as a profession as such was much more difficult.

It is hard to distinguish the so-called career ladder of EFL. A junior teacher may well come to think of themselves as a senior teacher within a certain amount of time, but here labelling can prove difficult due to idiosyncrasies within private institutions. The writing of a curriculum vitae becomes a greater challenge for experienced teachers moving across institutions, as the labels applied are so at variance; likewise, there is an issue for those who see paid short courses (RQ1) as a way to further their career, since the validity of these courses might not be universal.




In this final section I shall consider the implications of the findings of the research, draw conclusions about what the findings mean for EFL teacher motivation to pursue professional development, and suggest future research avenues that can build on what has been presented here.


Intrinsic motivational factors

The findings discussed in Chapter Four demonstrate that, for all four development options considered in this paper, intrinsic motivational factors are clearly in evidence. Teachers are motivated to pursue professional development for reasons of personal curiosity, the satisfaction of discovering new ideas, and the wish to improve their abilities in the classroom – this latter aspect also adding an element of teacher identity to the proceedings.

All of this suggests that, whatever the demotivating factors, EFL teachers will always be interested in pursuing the four development options of this paper. Essentially, there appears to be no problem here that requires fixing on the teachers’ side. However, it should be noted that the respondents to this questionnaire were all sufficiently motivated to respond in the first place; Dörnyei and Taguchi (2009) warn that this can lead to the results looking more positive than they really are. Future research should aim therefore to seek out dissenting voices wherever they exist in EFL, and to discover why some teachers choose not to pursue professional development because of a lack of the intrinsic motivating factors explored in this paper.


Extrinsic motivational factors

While it can be said that the intrinsic factors acted to increase the motive force for teachers to pursue professional development, the same is not true of the extrinsic motivational factors.

Some do assist in motivating teachers. Some teachers wish to develop their career, and others wish to increase their salary. These are more extrinsic than intrinsic, though career development could be seen through the lenses of intrinsic motivation and teacher identity – depending on the teacher. The difference is highly subjective, and calls for further research in the EFL context as opposed to the ‘mainstream’ teaching context – a point raised in Chapter Two.

Some prove to be demotivating factors. Time and cost are both demotivators and were mentioned many times in the respondents’ comments. These two factors interact; the time it takes to pursue each of these development options adds to the cost, in some cases because of the potential loss of earnings incurred, and sometimes because of additional concerns, such as travel time to attend conferences. Time and cost are difficult obstacles to overcome, and are in some instances insuperable.


Teacher identity factors

It is sometimes difficult to draw a distinction between teacher identity and other motivational factors, especially when there is overlap between the three. However, a clearer sense of teacher identity is made apparent in some of the comments, and point at a problem that underlies everything else.

The history of English as a Foreign Language teaching is a long and complex one, and it is beyond the scope to describe it in its entirety in this paper. However, one salient point is clear: it is still a mostly unregulated field, with no clear sense of career progression beyond that which teachers can figure out for themselves. It is quite unlike mainstream teaching in this regard. While many teachers are intrinsically motivated to pursue professional development, some correctly point out that such development has less value when it exists in a self-contained bubble: qualifications earned in one area are not necessarily transferrable to any other. This is especially true for movement between EFL and ESL. There is also no well-defined career path for teachers to follow; if it is true that professions have career paths that are open and well-communicated to members of that profession, then one must ask to what extent EFL teaching is a profession. This research raises the point but cannot offer much guidance: broader research into the professional aspects of EFL is certainly called for.

However, it is clear from the results of this research that many within EFL are striving towards a professional teacher identity, with some highlighting the importance of networking and building a professional community of like-minded teachers – and this applies to all four development options in RQ1.


NSTs and NNSTs

The research discovered some interesting things about the NST/NNST debate. Firstly, there are some differences between the motivational factors of NSTs and NNSTs when they pursue professional development. Some of this is to be expected. Since there is a cultural element present in much EFL teaching, and NSTs tend to be born into that culture as well as the language itself, it was relatively obvious that NNSTs would be motivated to close this gap. One could raise the point that “English culture” is a multifaceted thing and that a NST born in South Africa might know little about the culture of Wales or New Zealand, and therefore that South African NST should be more motivated to develop their cultural awareness. However, that is slightly beyond the scope of this research. What is not, though, is that the needs of NNSTs are not always met by the development options discussed here, and that, if nothing else, there is an untapped market that trainers and training institutions would do well to target.

The other point is that, on the whole, NNSTs take a more positive view than NSTs when it comes to pursuing professional development. Again, taking the average, this might come as no surprise: many of the NNSTs who responded to the survey suggested that their background was English language teaching – many studied the subject at university, and saw becoming an EFL teacher as their ultimate career goal (though this is not universally true, as reported by Lengeling (2007). This comes in stark comparison to NNSTs, many of whom ‘fell’ into the career, having studied something completely different at university (note that the audience for books such as Hughes (2005) and Brandt (2006) will generally be native speakers, and it is in these books that we find non-teaching-related reasons for entering EFL). It is also possible that there is an element of complacency here – that NSTs believe they already know enough about the language, and do not need to develop their understanding of it any further to become more competent teachers. There are hints of this in the research, but the answer to this question lies in studies of teacher cognition that are beyond the bounds of this paper. However, much of the literature on teacher cognition considers the subject as being separate from professional development, and so future research that considers how NSTs and NNSTs feel about their language awareness – and asks them what they intend to do about any shortcomings – would explore this area more comprehensively.



Teacher longevity

Many studies exist on the subject of why teachers enter and leave the profession, but most consider ‘mainstream’ teaching, which generally involves at least a year’s study pre-service. The same is not true of EFL, where a one-month course is the expected barrier to entry. Furthermore, as Valeo and Faez (2013), among others, have remarked, EFL/ESL is often a second-career option, and so teachers at risk of attrition may readily be tempted back to their original career.

However, there are suggestions in this research that there is a connection between motivation to pursue development and teacher longevity. Those who have been in EFL for the longest also possess the most experience of the developmental options described in RQ1. While this might seem a given, perhaps it is not: perhaps the reason that these experienced teachers have survived in the business for so long is precisely because they have engaged so continuously with the development options available to them. If that is true, then we might also say that through this engagement, experienced teachers have moved closer towards Kubanyiova’s (2012) notion of the ideal teacher self.

As a concluding remark, I would like to say that this research shows that much of what is understood of teacher motivation for ‘mainstream’ teachers needs to be reconsidered before it can be applied to the EFL context. Besides entering the profession for a wide variety of reasons, the motivation for EFL teachers to continue in the field and to develop beyond their initial qualifications is sufficiently diverse to warrant closer examination. This research, it is hoped, is a step in that direction.


Please check the The Art and Skills of the Humanistic Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.

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