Every new teacher I ever met came with a dream. True, some dreamed only of a job that would pay well and give them a three-month summer vacation. They should never have received a teaching certificate. The ones that had more staying power came with a dream of making a positive difference in the lives of children and teenagers.
Young and eager, new teachers enter the profession wielding a handful of sparkly university ideas more wonderful than any magician’s wand – or so they choose to believe. Those wands soon lose their sparkle, however, tarnished by the five mistakes every new teacher makes.
I made those mistakes in my first year of teaching – and learned only after I became a principal that every new teacher makes them. Conquer the five mistakes every new teacher makes, and you will take a giant step toward realizing the dream.
New Teacher Visions
College-level teacher education programs, almost without exception, require that students write a vision statement. That statement must describe the aspiring teacher’s reason for pursuing the teaching profession. This “why I chose teaching as a career” statement challenges the student’s ability to describe the reasons he or she chose this vocation. They know that their college or training school will include the statement with their application for student teaching.
Teacher wannabes often have trouble putting their visions into words. Many struggle to clarify for the reader what have been little more than nebulous feelings. Too often, they compose a handful of paragraphs intended to satisfy the readers’ expectations, but express little of their personal vision for a career of training young minds.
Many student teachers write of childhood experience with teachers who seem, from their perspective, to have been super heroes. The aspiring teacher clings to a vision of being like those teachers. He or she wants to do the excellent job of teaching that the childhood hero did.
Other student teachers write of choosing the teaching profession because they think the education of young minds may be the most important job in any society. They are confident that every teacher can, if they will, make great and positive changes in the world. They envision themselves counted among those who inspire future generations to become teachers.
First Day, First Week, First Month, First Year
A new teacher carries such a vision into the first position, eagerly anticipating the wonderful effect he or she will have on this first class. When a veteran teacher tries to warn them about the five mistakes every new teacher makes, they tend to smile and assure their more experienced colleague that they will not be making such mistakes. They have dreamed for years of being a teacher. They have studied. They are prepared. Professors have “vaccinated” them against the old, cliché mistakes. They are ready to teach perfectly, or nearly so, from Day One.
Thinking themselves immune to mistakes of any greater magnitude than calling a student by the wrong name just once, they plunge happily into preparations for the first day of school. They organize the classroom. They decorate the classroom. They label the desks, and post rules for classroom activities.
Most new teachers make a host of small mistakes before students ever arrive, but there are five mistakes that every new teacher makes.
Five Mistakes Every New Teacher Makes
Every new teacher makes mistakes – so do experienced teachers. Whether new or experienced, however, those with the heart of a true teacher strive to avoid mistakes. They realize that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I want to give you, in this and the next four parts of this series, five ounces of prevention worth five pounds of cure.
A vital teaching rule states, “Never assume anything.” The person who assumes thinks something is true or probably true without knowing whether it is actually true. Each of the five mistakes every new teacher makes finds its origin in assumptions. Keep that in mind as we look at the first mistake you must avoid.
Mistake #1 – Wrong Assumptions about Students
Typically, a new teacher gains early access to student records for the incoming class. If you take time before the first school day to study those records (a practice often encouraged by administrators), you can easily make wrong assumptions about students.
Permit an example from my own teaching career. Behavioral records for a new high school class warned that Susan (fictitious name) manifested a long pattern of rebellion to authority. Susan controlled the other students, inciting like rebellion in them. No one had established a reason, and the strictest permitted discipline failed to effect even a small change in Susan. A final record pleaded for school board action to ban her from the school.
I must confess that in my first years of teaching I might have assumed quickly that there was no hope for Susan. I might have worried, and dug in my heels for a yearlong battle. I would have been making a wrong assumption – and my wrong assumption could have resulted in Susan’s expulsion from school.
Having learned not to predict a student’s behavior based solely on past performance, I decided to see for myself if Susan was irredeemable. She threw down the gauntlet on the first day of school, and we had a few initial skirmishes, but soon we began to connect. Susan decided that refusing to cooperate was not worth the wages she earned with such behavior. Soon, she influenced the entire class to be at peace. We had a wonderful year together.
How to Avoid this Mistake
Delay the study of student records. Refuse politely to listen to negative comments from teachers who had that student in their classrooms in previous years. Respond by saying that you want to avoid prejudging your students. Give every student opportunity to write a new page in their records. Do take time to study the records, but wait until you get to know your students and form an unbiased opinion.
Continue reading in Teaching Tips – 5 Mistakes Every New Teacher Makes – Part 2