Dopamine for Teachers
In the last Newsletter (13th March 2018) it was shown that dopamine is a critical element in motivation. We discussed the significance of dopamine in regards to the motivation of children but what about the motivation of their teachers? It is hard to remain motivated when you have to face up day after day to a class that has one or more students whose dysfunctional behaviour is such they dread that lesson. Just as the students who are causing the anxiety and stress have low levels of natural dopamine due to their history of negative experience, teachers can have their reserves depleted when they face the same conditions in class.
Just as these stressed students have had the dopamine reduced the same conditions can occur for the teachers unless they experience some reward. People with low levels of dopamine experience depression, boredom and loss of job satisfaction. They can become apathetic, fatigued and have no desire to make an effort to change. They become classically ‘burned-out' a condition prevalent in our modern schools.
It is not likely any useful help will come from our system or even from our direct supervisors. We know that the production of dopamine is linked to the seeking of a reward, but I believe teachers are motivated by the intrinsic reward, and that can only come from their desires. The system, the supervisors, can only provide an extrinsic reward as motivation and these fail in all but the most ‘productive-line' enterprises.
So how do we raise the levels of dopamine?
In critical cases, it may require medical intervention. Dopamine is a chemical and medications do exist to support the supply. If you do need that extra support, you need to seek professional advice. However, some take the self-help route to self-medicate and start using illicit stimulants such as cocaine that produce immediate high levels of dopamine and fill the user with extraordinary confidence and motivation. Stories abound about workers in highly demanding work such as flying fighter jets or traders on the short-term money market using these drugs to enhance their performance. However, like all drugs their use may well have short-term benefits, in the long run, they become a significant problem.
One natural way to enhance the levels of dopamine is through proper maintenance of our bodies. Exercise is associated with health levels of dopamine, and the actual pleasure you get from completing a fitness session provides a reward in itself and hence increases dopamine supplies.
Along with exercise diet is critical in the preservation of healthy levels of dopamine. If you look through the literature, you will find that it is just a good selection of foods that help including protein from meat, fish, and poultry, fruits including bananas and avocados, nuts like almonds. Like exercise, there is no magic bullet, but a wholesome approach to your diet is rewarding not only in the supply of dopamine but also the maintenance of your physical health.
This advice is well and good, but you still have to face that tough class. How do you overcome the depressive working conditions that deplete your dopamine? In my experience, it is futile to look outside for support. Supervising teachers are usually too busy, and principals are snowed under with a bureaucratic workload that precludes them from being of much help. However, the conditions that make you help yourself will in the long run make you stronger and self-reliant.
So look at what you do for those students who lack motivation, lack healthy levels of dopamine. The answer is in setting small but achievable goals. The most likely cause of your classroom stress is the behaviour of some or in all cases all of the class. Invariably there is more than one type of behaviour that annoys you. Trying to deal with them all makes the task appear daunting, and the reality is it is impossible to make wholesale changes in one go. So pick one thing you think is achievable and go into the next class determined to make that small change. When you do you get that ‘unexpected outcome’ with its serotonin and the initial dopamine. Keep this up, and as you do move through the changes, you would like, every time you reach a small goal you increase your dopamine and your natural motivation.
So if you want to get back that zest, the excitement you had before you were worn down by the sheer complexity of this work take the advice above. Improve your health through exercise and diet but most of all set yourself reasonable, personal goals. It is this last approach that fuels your enthusiasm and that directly influences the motivation of your students.