Often when I feel like a class period is not going well, I tend to blame so-and-so students or a lackluster concept. However, more often than not, the problem starts at the top — the teacher — me. Yikes! The good news is that I am in full control of myself, so I can make the necessary changes to improving said class. Here are some teacher mistakes that I made/make and some ideas on how to combat them.
Note: Rookie Mistakes is a series of common pitfalls that we make as teachers, and tips to rectify and/or prevent them from happening. No judgement here; the reason we know these pitfalls exist is we have fallen into the proverbial pit. We have made each and every one of these mistakes, and sometimes we still make them.
Rookie Mistakes Round Up: 10 Common Mistakes Teacher Make
Mistake #1: Not Starting Class Right Away
The bell rings, you look around to see students are not seated, not working, and talking like it is no big deal. Have you been there? Each minute of class is valuable, and students need to know that class starts as soon as they walk in the door. Some teachers greet students at the door as a signal that it is time to learn; I prefer to stand at the front of the classroom and positively narrate students who were starting their bell ringer right away. If students walked in rowdy, they were asked to try again. A calm start always led to a focused class period. Students silently working as soon as they walked in allowed me to take attendance in peace, check homework completion, and check-in with various students.
Mistake #2: Grading Everything
You do not have to hand grade everything your students touch. Who has the time?! Research shows that standards based grading is optimal anyway. Give feedback by having students complete a self check or by circulating in class. You can find more ideas on how to give feedback here.
Further Reading: Grading Versus Feedback
Mistake #3: Not Planning for Your Planning Period
No one could waste a planning period like me. Puttering around straightening up desks, chatting with my co-teacher, shuffling papers — why did I waste so much time? After I attended a Together Teacher PD, I learned that I needed to have a plan for my planning period. I started to hit the ground running as soon as 9:05 came around — lesson planning while I ran my copies, grading papers while I waited for meetings to start; I didn’t let a second go to waste. It meant I could (usually) go home before 5 aka best teacher mistake to correct ever!
Mistake #4: Not Having a Seating Chart
Enforcing a seating chart HAS to happen the first day of school. Wait any longer and students will begin to think that they make their seating decisions and any attempt to enforce a seating chart later will lead to a power struggle. You can always ease up later in the school year or have students move seats during different parts of the lesson, but an enforced seating arrangement will prevent many headaches later on. Also, seat choice makes a great incentive for middle schoolers.
Mistake #5: Trying to Do Everything
If you are a teacher who is being asked to take on additional roles, congratulations! This means you are considered reliable and capable of more work, but please remember that you do not have to do everything. If another role will take away from your family or will compromise your ability to teach effectively, then adding to your plate is not worth it.
Mistake #6: Talking Over Students
What happens when we talk over students? Do they listen or do they start talking louder? Don’t lose your voice this year. Here are our tips to avoiding talking over students.
Further Reading: Talking Over Students
Mistake #7: Falling into a Rut
Routines are great! Students thrive over the predictability of class running on a certain schedule; however, don’t fall into the trap of doing the exact same notes and worksheet day after day. Here are our favorite ways to engage students by turning any worksheet into an activity.
Mistake #8: Moving On Before Students are Ready
If you have ever graded something only to be shocked how poorly your students performed, then chances are, you didn’t have a clear picture of your students’ comprehension of the new content. We can often fall into the trap of calling on the students with raised hands, assuming that all students are *getting it,* and feel like we are crushing it as a teacher. If you need some guidance on how to make sure you are keeping a pulse on ALL of your students’ understanding, then check out the posts below.
Mistake #9: Not Explicitly Teaching Every Routine
If you think students surely know the right way to, let’s say, throw away a piece of trash, then you will be equally surprised when a student catapults trash across the room yelling “Kobe!” (RIP) while you are in the middle of explaining interquartile range. (Maybe just middle schoolers?)
Anything you care about has to be taught. I once devoted 5 minutes to practicing pushing in desk chairs correctly because I couldn’t stand it any longer. I showed students how to do it. And then I made them do it over and over again. I stand behind this because I never had to push in another chair for the rest of the school year.
Mistake #10: It is Your First Year Teaching
(not really a mistake, but it can feel like it)
Rick Smith said, “Being a new teacher is like building a plane while flying it.” I had enough work to do my first year that I could have worked 18 hours days, and it still wouldn’t have been finished AND I struggled with classroom management AND I wanted to cry at least 3 times a day! If you need some help spinning all of the plates, read our post for first year teachers below.