Teaching is the toughest job around; and unfortunately, nobody knows this until they are in their classroom with wall-to-wall students. Until then, aspiring teachers may see the job through rose-colored glasses. They idyllically picture students quietly listening and hanging onto their every word. Nope!!!! Their dream job of being a teacher can quickly change into a Freddy Kruger Nightmare without warning. And that can lead new teachers to make some big mistakes along the way.
Teacher colleges teach about pedagogy more than realistic classroom experiences. We may be better off with the latter. As beginning teachers, we all made huge mistakes at the beginning of our careers and learned from them. It comes with the territory! Here are the top fifteen major blunders beginning teachers routinely make.
1. Saying “yes” when you actually mean, “NO!”
New teachers often make mistakes because they are very eager to please. Once you are labeled as a “Yes Man (or Woman),” all the requests will come your way. Do you want to sponsor a club? Go to X, Y, and Z training? Be on four or five committees? “Um, no. No, I don’t.” See how easy that is?
2. Wanting to be the popular teacher
We all want to be appreciated by our students, but it’s not until you don’t care who likes you that you will be truly respected. It’s hard not to want to call students “bruh” in reply, but hold tight to your rules, integrity, and structure. Trust me, your students will love you if you talk to them like real human beings, not down to them. Lose the “kiddos.”
3. Spending too much time on Pinterest
We get it. You want everything to look cute and social media-worthy. But, teaching should not be a dog and pony show. This is a huge time suck that will pull your priorities in the wrong direction. What goes on inside of the classroom is much more important than what is on the outside walls.
4. Being a “know it all”
When you come fresh from college, there is a tendency to reject old-school tried and true teaching methods for the newer, more modern ideas. But there is a gigantic pendulum that likes to swing high and mighty every decade, and those newer modern ideas are just recycled old ideas with different names. The teacher next door is the biggest resource you have. Use them.
5. Grading everything
New teachers grade in-class work, homework, and anything else that students write down on a piece of paper. They would never think to file a class full of papers into what older teachers refer to as the “circular file.” Some work is just practice; it does not need a grade. New teachers who avoid these mistakes will save themselves a lot of work and time!
6. Spending too much time on lesson plans
After a few weeks of your twenty-page plans being completely interrupted by the randomness of each teaching day, new teachers realize every single word uttered in class doesn’t have to be written in the plans.
7. Hanging on to strategies that don’t work
Sometimes it’s “1, 2, 3 Eyes on me,” and no one’s eyeballs are remotely close to being anywhere near the teacher. Give behavioral methods plenty of time to work but realize that building relationships is the most important behavior strategy. Don’t hold onto things for the sake of holding on.
8. Ignoring Self-Care
Self-care has become a buzzword that is thrown around like caps on graduation day. It does not mean being the last car to leave the parking lot or working twenty hours on the weekends and then watching a little TV. It does mean consciously taking care of yourself by leaving work at work, getting enough sleep, scheduling “me time,” and recharging each and every day.
9. Giving parents too much control
Boundaries are key. Do not, I repeat, do not answer emails and texts after school hours. Also, remember this is your classroom, and be strong and clear when it comes to your procedures, grading, etc.
10. Dressing up – too much
High heels will kill you. In my first year of teaching, I dressed for success and had blisters on top of my blisters. Dry cleaning is not affordable on a beginning teacher’s salary, or ever really. Invest in some breathable, comfortable clothing.
11. Breaking the bank
Beginning teachers can’t pass up anything that might be good for their classrooms. Amazon is their best friend. The problem is that sometimes we change grade levels and are stuck with many resources that we could not afford to buy in the first place. Spend the money on a weekly massage instead.
12. Getting sucked into gossip
It’s easy to want to be critical of others for not pulling their weight, but this can lead to unexpected repercussions. Good luck getting that wardrobe closet moved when the custodian hears you have been talking smack.
13. Having teacher guilt about every single thing
The first year we are so concerned with doing a great job that we feel guilty when we don’t measure up to our own impossible standards. If a lesson does not go well, reflect and grow. Don’t beat yourself up.
14. Caring too much about the test scores
It’s honestly hard not to care when it is given so much weight by the administration, but this is a surefire way to burn out quicker than a Roman candle on the Fourth of July. Find the lessons that are fun for you to teach and teach them. Teaching to the test isn’t good for anyone.
15. Not recognizing a toxic environment
Sometimes, it is hard to notice that your school is harmful to your health. If you cry each day because of the “adults,” it may be time to find a new place to work. Keep looking until you find your people.
Honestly, all these mistakes are necessary to become a great teacher. Students change every year, and so do we. Give yourself grace, engage in self-reflection, and do what you do best: Change lives.