Teachers & Motivation: Applying Maslow To The Educator

Brian E. Wish, PhD
Aug 11 · 5 min read
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Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

Why do teachers come to work?

Maslow’s somewhat understood paradigm

His famous 1943 article, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” has become a touchstone of pop psychology. Every psychology-related class from junior high to grad school lays out the bare bones of the theory. Usually incorrectly.

#1 — I need to get a job

Employment gathers together physiological/safety needs. New college grads don’t often die of thirst, but they do have to pay the water bill. Maybe they say to themselves “Sure, I’ll use the Ph.D. I spent six years getting to teach that community college class an hour drive away!” or “I know I want to teach fourth grade, but that long-term sub job teaching seventh-grade history for half the pay in the next county looks good!”

#2 — I need to fit in

Maslow conceptualized love needs as belonging, the opposite of loneliness. Romantic love can fill the need, but so can friends or family.

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Image by Oleg Mityukhin from Pixabay

#3 — I need to be respected

Esteem needs may drive many people to enter teaching in the first place. If you like to be respected, if you to be the center of attention and be in a position of power, then jobs like teaching are perfect.

#4 — I want to do a good job

For educators, this can be a mashup of love, esteem, and self-actualization. With the job secured, the classroom managed, and a regular seat in the teachers’ lounge or on Friday evening happy hour, the lower level needs are satisfied.

#5 — I’m on a journey with the class

This one is even more speculative than the other proposed levels. What does self-actualization look like in education? It will look a little different between kindergarten and college, but perhaps it’s when students and teachers are partners exploring learning together. The teacher learns from the class, finding new ways to communicate and connect. The class looks at the instructor not just as an authority figure, but as a fellow traveler.

Implications for education

What’s the lesson here? Using the general hierarchy laid out by Maslow, we can deconstruct possible different stages of evolution for what motivates educators. As Maslow noted, these motivations are not mutually exclusive, but if a lower level is severely lacking it tends to take the focus off of the higher levels.

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Brian E. Wish, PhD

Written by

I do a lot of things. Some of them I even do well. But what I really want to do is share ideas. Check brianewish.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/brianwish/

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Brian E. Wish, PhD

Written by

I do a lot of things. Some of them I even do well. But what I really want to do is share ideas. Check brianewish.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/brianwish/

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

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