English teaching in China : EFL teacher motivation and demotivation at the university level

Abstract: Teacher motivation has been shown to be a major factor that affects students’ motivation to learn a second language; however, English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers’ motivation has not been given enough attention, particularly in the Chinese context where English plays a key role. Thus, this study investigates the motivation of English teachers at the university level in China in order to prepare the ground for the development of recommendations on how to enhance teacher motivation and thereby improve teaching quality and student performance. 101 in-service native Chinese EFL teachers currently working at universities in mainland China participated in the study voluntarily. A mixed methods design was adopted using a web-based questionnaire as the main instrument to explore EFL teachers’ motivation for choosing a teaching career and factors contributing to their motivation and demotivation. Individual background variables in relation to their motivation, such as their English writing proficiency, gender, teaching experience, overseas experience and types of students taught, were also examined. The questionnaire consists of closed questions adapted from previous studies and open-ended questions targeted at providing qualitative data as well as linguistic data for analyzing EFL teachers’ English writing proficiency. The results show that the EFL teachers were multi-motivated when choosing to enter the teaching profession, the main reasons being intrinsic, followed by altruistic reasons. The majority of the participants (73.30%) reported high levels of motivation at the present stage in their career. Significant differences between the first years of teaching and the present were found in the levels of teacher enthusiasm, interest and dedication. EFL teachers’ motivation was affected by various factors, among which student-related factors were reported the most important. Extrinsic factors such as a low salary and limited sources of income, unpleasant working conditions, and students’ negative attitudes were found to be demotivating factors. The results also indicated a positive correlation between EFL teachers’ level of motivation and satisfaction with self-reported English language skills (r =.435). The EFL teachers with overseas experience tended to outperform those with no overseas experience in terms of their English writing proficiency. Nevertheless, despite no statistically significant correlations between EFL teachers’ career motivation and the complexity of their written English nor between career motivation and gender, highly proficient and proficient EFL teachers tended to be predominately intrinsically motivated to enter teaching as compared with moderately proficient EFL teachers who became teachers primarily for altruistic reasons. More female (84.10%) than male EFL teachers reported becoming teachers for altruistic reasons, whereas male teachers more often reported choosing to be an EFL teacher for extrinsic reasons. Age was found to correlate negatively with the EFL teachers’ career motivation. That is, the older EFL teachers were even less likely to change their career and choose another career path than the younger ones. No significant differences in motivation were found between teachers who teach different types of students.