This past week I had a conversation with a first year teacher and one of his questions was how to know when you are doing too much. This really struck home for me because I am currently in my second year as a school administrator and my husband is in his first year as a middle school ELA teacher. We have struggled to find a work/home life balance.
Here is what I have learned in my nine years in education, you cannot do everything. This is one of the hardest things to realize as an educator, because people get into this profession because they care about children, their content, and doing their best. Acknowledging that something you feel would benefit your students and yet you are not going to do it, it extremely difficult.
So how do you decide when to say no to something? The best answer I can give came from my training with Tina Boogren on Motiving and Inspiring Students. Tina shared that the first thing we must look at in education whether it is as a teacher in a classroom, an administrator in a building, or a superintendent for a school district is Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs.
According to Maslow’s pyramid we will see that the bottom two levels make up the basic needs- physiological (food, water, shelter, rest…) and safety (security). When sharing this with my first year teacher I said that without those basic needs being met no student can learn. These needs are ones that you cannot say you will deal with later. These are the ones that you address first.
Physiology needs are ones that we should not put on teachers to meet, but we ask teachers to know their students well enough that if those basic needs are not being met then let someone know. Safety needs in the classroom are more than just asking if the room is physically safe (which is still extremely important) but are their procedures in place so the students knows what is expected of them when they come into the room? That security of knowing what to do in the classroom is essential and again, is not something that can be put off. You must establish your procedures, even if you end up tweaking them over time.
I always tell first year teachers that year one is the hardest and it will get better. So naturally, my teacher I visited with was worried because he is adding two new art classes next year and he was not sure how he will manage. The beauty of physiology and safety needs your “have to” for work, is those don’t change every year. You determine what works for you and get better and better each year at implementing them no matter what course you are teaching.
Now, if we look at the next three tiers on the pyramid we see belonging (relationships, friends, connection), esteem (status, recognition, strength), and self-actualization (achieving full potential), this is where growth takes place. But remember, we cannot have growth without the first two needs being met. These three tiers will change each year as you have different students and how you meet their needs of belonging, esteem, and self-actualization will change, but once you have a firm grasp of implementing physiology and safety needs it will not feel so overwhelming.
So What Can You Do?
A great activity to determine how much time you are spending on each need is to track your time for a whole week and label each activity with which need is being met. The basic needs cannot be put off and must be addressed. These are the needs that no matter the class you are teaching once you have established what works for you then you can replicate with minor tweaks. Basic needs are also things that you can ask for support. If you are spending a lot of time addressing physiological needs then ask a counselor or administrator for help with these issues. If you are spending a lot of time on safety needs then visit with a veteran teacher to get tips and tricks that work well in the classroom. You do not have to find someone who teaches the same content as you, good classroom management looks similar throughout the school.
Once you have learned how to meet the basic needs of your students then creating a sense of belonging should be your focus and priority. Each year this will look different as your students and their needs will be unique, but a sense of belonging should always be a priority. While in your first year in education, it can be a challenge to learn how to make all students belong and establishing authentic connections in the classroom. Do not hesitate to visit with other teachers on how they build relationships and create an inclusive classroom environment.
So, in your first year of education if you put a focus on physiological, safety, and belonging needs of your students then you will be doing a great job. You will figure out what works for you and what works in your classroom. Year two you will get even better and year three even better than that. During this time is when you start to devote more of your time looking at esteem and self-actualization needs in your students.
Just remember, it is a lot and no one expects you to be an expert during your first year. Honestly, no one expects you to know everything at any point in your career. If you ever feel that you have learned everything there is to learn, then you have a fixed mindset which is not a good thing (I will save that for another post). Prioritize the have to haves your first year in the profession and know that the work you are doing will carry over for the rest of your career and that people are always here to help.