Rick Smith said, “Teaching is like trying to fly a plane while building it.” You learn as you go, and unfortunately, you mostly learn what doesn’t work before you learn what does work. Cue our new series — Rookie Teacher Mistakes.
Rookie Mistakes are a series of common pitfalls that we make as teachers and tips to rectify and/or prevent them from happening. No judgment here; the reason we know these pitfalls exist is that we have fallen into the proverbial pit. We have made each and every one of these mistakes, and find ourselves still making them today.
The first rookie teacher mistake that we are going to address is talking over students while giving instructions. We want classes with kids engaging with and discussing the content, so it’s not talking that is the issue.
Rookie Teacher Mistake: Talking Over Students
We have all been there. You started an activity and everyone is working together when you realize you forgot one crucial instruction. So, you quickly grab your students attention and give the instruction. Three minutes later a student asks the question you just addressed. Another minute passes and yet another question.
What on earth? Why didn’t they listen?
This happens day in and day out in classrooms. We are exhausting our energy to make sure everyone understands, only to find out that many students aren’t even listening.
Why aren’t they listening?
My mentor teacher used to tell me that if students were not silent and looking at me, then they were not truly listening to the directions. You see, as humans we are prone to “multi-tasking.” It happens day in and day out. Have you ever tried to ask someone a question while they are scrolling their phone? You don’t typically get an engaged response. It usually sounds like, “Uhh huh” or “Yeah.” They aren’t really listening.
So, as a teacher in a classroom of 30+ preteens, can you imagine how difficult it can be to focus on the instructions at hand?
I think as teachers we all know this, but actually stopping and waiting for everyone’s attention before giving an instruction is hard. Really hard. Surely the quiet chattering in the back isn’t that distracting? Or the student who is still cutting while you give directions is listening? But are they?
I think the rookie teacher mistake here is assuming that everyone is listening when you don’t have their eyes and ears. Sounds a bit elementary, but I have seen it a million times. I have experienced it sooooo many times. So whatever attention-grabbing procedure you have set in your class, go with it! Chat or cheer or raise your hand. And then continue to practice until everyone is silent, still, and looking your way. Set the bar high and expect that your class meets it each and every time.
*As an aside, eye contact in an incredible way to connect with your students.*
Helpful Tips and Solutions
● Always give directions from the same place in the room. Try to avoid giving directions while walking around the room or from the back of the room.
● Not everyone is going to give you their attention right away, so encourage it by praising the students who are.
● Use positive narration to “remind” the students what should be happening. “Thanks, Josie, for giving me your eyes!”
● Avoid phrases like, “Stop talking.” Instead focus on the behavior you want to see or hear. “Voices are off and eyes are on me.”
● Make it a competition! See how fast each of your classes can give you their attention.
● Use a really catchy call and response phrase
Provide a visual with common language that explains how certain volume levels should sound and look. These posters are part of our Classroom Poster Pack. “I need everyone at Level 0 in 5, 4, 3… 2, 1.”
Is this a common problem?
If you notice that this is a common problem and that you find yourself waiting for an unreasonable amount of time, then you might consider talking about its importance. I like to give a reminder about why it is so important. If I can grab your attention quickly, then it means that we have more time for learning, more time for success, and more time for the fun stuff. I remind them that students cannot learn when others are talking and in order for us to be good teammates, we have to think of others too.
Another option is that I have my students practice. I re explain the procedure, and I have one table model what it should look and sound like. That table models how to listen with their ears and their bodies. Then, I have the whole class talk, use the attention getter, and let them act out how listening should look and sound. I might ask for students to share how it went and what could be improved.
Remember, we are all in this together! Do you have another suggestion? We would love to hear it in the comments!
Which Rookie Teacher Mistake would you like for us to address next? In other words, what are students doing that is adding to your stress and you would like some ideas for solutions?