By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
Any teacher can tell you a story about mistakes they made their first year teaching. It comes with the territory and is to be expected. Welcome to the world of teaching which is also a world of learning, for the teacher as well as for the students.
These 5 mistakes new teachers make can be avoided if you know about them ahead of time. And avoiding them means your job will be easier.
Mistake 1: not asking for help
New teachers often worry about looking like the newbie. So let’s put this to rest. You are a newbie. Everyone knows it, so there is no sense in pretending.
As a new teacher, no one expects you to come in already knowing how to be a teacher. That’s a relief, right? We know this because we all remember how it was for us.
Good teaching is an acquired skill learned through practice. No matter how good your teacher preparation was or what kind of student you were, until you are in the classroom alone with your own students, you aren’t prepared.
The best thing to do is to accept it and realize that the first year or three is going to be just one huge learning curve. But, here’s the thing; that’s how you get better. You learn from your mistakes through trial and error.
As a new teacher, you can also learn from those around you. You are supposed to be asking questions and asking for advice. Teaching is hard, and it’s okay to ask for clarification or advice. It will save you lots of time and frustration when you do ask for help.
Find a well respected, experienced teacher for a mentor and learn as much as you can. They may not use the exact same terms you learned in your college classes, and you may not agree with everything they tell you, but their experience is priceless. Glean what you can and file away the rest.
Things to ask for help with:
- Lesson planning and curriculum
- Extra classroom decorations
- Classroom management plans
- Navigating the procedures and school climate
- Ideas for good assessments
- How to handle difficult behavior issues
The list is limitless, but before you try to reinvent the wheel, ask around and see if someone has what you need, recommends what you are thinking about, or has used your idea successfully. Sometimes you can learn from other people’s mistakes, too.
Mistake 2: being afraid to say no
New teachers are easy prey for administrators who are looking for class sponsors, club sponsors, coaches, and numerous other paid and/or unpaid positions. The main reason is because the administration realizes most of you are afraid to say no.
Obviously, you want to make a good impression and saying no every single time will not endear you to your administrator, but don’t be afraid to say no when you want to or need to.
If you are immediately 100 percent sure you do not want to do something, then simply say “No,” and if you want to be extra polite, say “No, thank you.”
It is also perfectly fine to say, “I would like some time to think about it.” Once you have made your decision, and if it is a no, then simply say so. You do not need to give a reason, and you definitely do not need to manufacture a reason. Simply say, “I won’t be able to do that.” (End of story.)
Saying no also goes for your students. They will whine, plead and beg, but if it is something you should not do or do not want to do, simply say, “No, I can’t do that.” Again, end of story. You don’t need to give an explanation.
While that two letter word may feel scary at first, with some practice it can be empowering. It will also free up some of the time you need for your actual job and for your mental health.
Mistake 3: confusing friendly with friend
There is a fine line between being friendly and being a friend. This is especially difficult for young high school teachers who are close in age to their students. Remember that you are there to be their teacher and not their friend.
You are not a peer with your students, and you must keep that professional line drawn in your relationship. This means you have to stay out of teenage gossip and avoid getting drawn in to drama.
Many high school students thrive on drama, but you do not want your classroom to become the place that students spread gossip or create drama. That may endear you to the drama queens, but it quickly alienates the rest of the class, and you will lose trust and respect.
One way to avoid this is to not engage in those conversations at all. When the topics come up (and they will) redirect them to whatever classroom activity they should be focusing on.
Another way is to make sure you are not asking leading questions that will invite them to start those types of conversations. They will test you early, and if they find you are easy prey, you become the go-to teacher for all their gossip and drama. Your job is to stop that from happening.
Being friendly involves caring about your students but recognizing that you are the adult in the student/teacher relationship. While you can share common interests and joke around with your students, you cannot be their friend. Students expect you to be the trusted adult, not their pal.
Also, it is important to remember that as the teacher and the adult you are bound to report certain things they tell you like suicidal thoughts, neglect, mental, physical or sexual abuse to the proper authorities. Your adult responsibility always supersedes any type of “friendship” the student may think you have. Be sure that you are always upfront with your students about this.
Mistake 4: expecting too much of yourself
One of the biggest mistakes new teachers make is expecting too much of yourself. Don’t expect to be an expert in year one. Use the first few years to learn and grow as a teacher. Lower some of the expectations you have for yourself.
Don’t feel like every lesson has to be the best of the best. And, don’t compare yourself to others (especially the 20 year veteran teacher next door). Keep your eyes on your daily goals and just keep plugging along.
You are going to have to show yourself grace. Of course, you will make mistakes. You will do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, plan the wrong thing. It happens, and it’s okay.
It takes time to get everything right, and honestly, we all make mistakes every single year. Just learn from those mistakes and try to do better next time.
Mistake 5: Pinterest planning instead of lesson planning
Pinterest is a great search tool for teachers. It also is a time drain and makes us have unrealistic expectations. We pin hundreds of pins of the cutes organizers, classroom themes, and decorations. And then we spend hundreds of dollars, we don’t have to create the cutest room ever for students who don’t give it a second thought.
That may sound cynical, but the time, effort, and money spent decorating a classroom would be better spent planning lessons. A cute classroom can never replace a well designed lesson that impacts student learning.
Pretty classroom can develop over time as you adjust to your curriculum, get to know your students, and build class culture. Until then, spend that time building amazing projects and lessons.
Be known as the teacher students can’t wait to learn from, not as the teacher who has the best decorations. And if you need a reason to spend less time worrying about room decorating, research shows that over decorated classrooms can disrupt teaching and learning. That should come as a relief to all you new teachers without tubs full of decorations.
Being aware of the 5 mistakes new teachers make allows you to go in prepared to handle your new role with more confidence. By giving yourself grace, asking questions, developing professional relationships and focusing on your teaching you are off to a great year!
Feel free to share a memory of a mistake you made in your first years teaching in the comments below. We’re all in this together, so help a new teacher out!