New teachers, of whom I was one more than thirty years ago, enter their chosen profession with big dreams – and trepidations. Some make one mistake after another. Some spread out their mistakes over the first school year. Certain mistakes vary from teacher to teacher, but there are five mistakes every new teacher makes.
In Part 1 of this series, we noted that those five mistakes every new teacher makes are based on assumptions. New teachers make assumptions that turn out not to be true. New teachers break the cardinal rule: “Never assume anything”.
We all are tempted to make assumptions, and may get away with small ones, but assumptions in matters of consequence can come back to haunt us. When we make assumptions, we are frequently wrong. We have not proven our assumptions. We may not be able to prove them. This does not mean we should never trust assumptions at all, but it does mean we should verify every assumption before we trust it.
The U.S. military uses a formalized process of making decisions. In that process, troops make a list of proven facts and unproven assumptions. Then, as quickly as possible, they try to turn the assumptions into facts. They cannot count on assumptions – they can count on facts.
The five mistakes every new teacher makes originate in unproven assumptions.
The first mistake, discussed in Part 1, results from …
1. Wrong Assumptions about Students
In this part of our series, we want to look at a second assumption that gives birth to mistakes:
2. Wrong Assumptions about Classroom Environment
Classroom environment affects the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Of the five mistakes every new teacher makes, this mistake of wrong assumption grabs the attention most quickly. New teachers assume many things that may not be fact about the room in which they and their students spend hours each week.
For example, new teachers at the preschool and kindergarten levels often assume the room must be alive with color, light, activity, and exciting focal points. Is that a fact? New teachers at the high school level may embrace the opposite viewpoint, assuming the room must be devoid of pleasant décor to keep student minds from wandering. Is that a fact? At times, we bow to fads from the world of entertainment when we create a classroom environment. We assume that will help students get involved with their studies, but is that a fact?
The new teacher’s classroom environment is a clear price tag. It tells students what value that new teacher places on learning. Does the new teacher think high academics are a priceless treasure worth any amount of work – or a mere necessity imposed by government? Does the new teacher consider education a job that merits maximum effort and quality from everyone (teacher and student alike) – or a job that deserves little more than attendance? Does the classroom environment commend as the highest goal the instant gratification of fun and entertainment – or the delayed gratification of a satisfying, productive adulthood?
NEVER assume that classroom environment is inconsequential. It is from environment more than speeches that students learn what value we place on getting an education.
Each of the five senses drinks in information from the environment, and that information affects both our work and the work of our students.
Consider each of the five senses that perceive classroom environment.
- Sight – Eyes are quick to detect the value we place on education. If education is a valuable commodity to us, we focus on quality décor. We invest in well-made, classic items that inspire year after year. We select motivational design that makes students think. Our décor models the quality we expect from students. We heed the old saying, “Enough is enough and too much is plenty” and value blank wall space. We choose our own clothing carefully, signifying that teaching is as important as being a CEO.New teachers are apt to assume wrongly that they should dress in jeans and fill their classrooms with sights as exciting and colorful as the world outside the classroom. This is a mistake. The fact is that classrooms and teachers that look unlike the students’ outside world tell them that this is an important place for important work.
- Sound – Ears pick up the voice of the classroom. They hear the room tell them what level of value to expect. If we want students to place a high value on learning, we guard the sounds in our classroom. We fill the room with quiet classical music conducive to study. We begin quality music before the first student enters in the morning. We choose calming music that tells them they are about serious work.The new teacher may assume wrongly that classroom sounds should mirror those in the outside entertainment world to make students happy. This is a mistake. The fact is that classrooms sounding unlike the music world that flows through earbuds tell students that this place exists for worthwhile work.
- Touch – Hands detect in the touch of classroom furniture and study materials the teacher’s estimation of schooling. We seldom have much to say about the quality of desks and chairs, but we ensure all are clean. We arrange them in orderly fashion. We see that all equipment fits the students and the business at hand.As a new teacher, you may assume wrongly that classroom furnishings and touchable objects should show minimal order, letting students feel as easy and relaxed as they would be in their own bedroom at home. This is a mistake. The fact is that classrooms exuding attention to orderliness and cleanliness send a message to students that those in charge think learning is worth focused attention physically as well as mentally.
- Smell – Noses need not possess bloodhound ability to tell the brain whether our classrooms are or are not important places. The sense of smell is the students’ strongest emotional trigger. If we want students to build positive emotions regarding the value of a solid education, we focus on classroom aromas. We replace personal aftershaves, colognes, and perfumes with natural environmental fragrances. We place essential oil diffusers on high shelves – lavender to calm a perpetually rowdy class or citrus to waken a constantly drowsy group.New teachers may assume wrongly that the least important part of classroom environment is the smell. That is a mistake. The fact is that unpleasant odors have been shown to negatively impact learning while certain scents in the classroom have been shown to help create optimal learning conditions.
- Taste – Mouths play the least visible role in a proper classroom environment. However, if we want students to see what a high value we place on successful learning, we include the taste buds. We provide what the brain needs to do its best work. We make drinking water readily available in the classroom to keep brains hydrated. We scatter small plates of raw vegetables or fruits around the room to encourage proper snacking (with signed parental agreement).New teachers often assume wrongly that food and drinking water detract from rather than bolster the importance of learning. That is a mistake. The fact is that classroom care of the brain tells students that schooling is so vital, those in charge will go to great lengths to remove every obstacle in the way.
We cannot afford to assume that anything about the classroom environment is irrelevant. It is a big mistake to do so. The wise teacher, however new, will work to be sure the setting in which students learn continually reminds students of the importance of achieving the highest level of academic success within reach of their personal capabilities.
Having looked at two of the five mistakes every new teacher makes, we move now to Part 3.