Some 78 per cent of newcomers said the desire to help young people to learn was a key ingredient in their decision to become teachers.
Sixty per cent said they wanted a job that would enable them to work with children or young people, while half said they had been inspired to follow in the footsteps of a good teacher from their own schooldays.
By contrast, only 26 per cent cited long holidays as a key motivating factor in becoming a teacher, and 24 per cent cited job security. Just 19 per cent said they were attracted by the professional status of teaching.
One teacher told researchers: "I see teaching as being about producing adults who can survive in the real world. I might be teaching eight-year-olds, but it is still about them learning skills to become positive adults."
Another said: "I am a fairly inquisitive person, and I like to pass that on."
More than 4,000 newcomers to the profession were interviewed during their initial teacher training during the study, in which academics from Leeds and Nottingham universities spoke to trainees on a variety of programmes.
The researchers found that the reasons for joining the profession varied between primary and secondary teachers. In the primary phase, 73 per cent of teachers said they were attracted to working with children or young people, compared with 45 per cent of trainee secondary teachers.
There were also differences across the gender divide. Only 38 per cent of men cited working with children as a reason for joining the profession, compared with 66 per cent of women.
Among the male interviewees, 52 per cent said they were drawn by the financial incentives of teaching, compared with 38 per cent of women.
Others, though, regarded low pay in teaching as a deterrent. One teacher said: "It's not well-paid, but I was aware of that when I gave up my previous job."
Angi Malderez of the University of Leeds school of education said:
"Altruistic motives stemming from deeper ideals and values lie behind many trainees' decisions to train as teachers."
Sara Bubb of London university's Institute of Education said: "Heads should remember that most teachers come to the profession to be with children.
What stops them enjoying the job is spending too long on other things, and not enough time with the children.
"But teachers need to remember that they have to pay the mortgage. They need to be more assertive in making demands for a reasonable pay package."