Teaching Tips – 5 Mistakes Every New Teacher Makes – Part 3

Why did you choose teaching as a career? What is it about this profession that appealed most to you? What is the one thing above others that you hope to do as a teacher?

We looked briefly, in Part 1 of this series, at the desire of many novice teachers to become the superhero educator they remember from their own childhood schooldays.

As a new teacher, you may be pursuing that vision. You listen when experienced teachers warn that there are five mistakes every new teacher makes, but you do not listen long enough to learn what those mistakes are. You are too busy creating your own superhero persona that will have students lining up, waiting for you to rescue them.

Well, listen up. You are about to make the third of the five mistakes every new teacher makes.

We learned that all five mistakes have their origin in wrong assumptions:

Mistake #1 – Wrong Assumptions about Studentsclick here to read.

Mistake #2 – Wrong Assumptions about Classroom Environmentclick here to read.

Now consider the third mistake in the list:

Mistake #3 – Wrong Assumptions about Student-Teacher Relationships

New teachers often dive eagerly into friendships with their students. Failing to understand the difference between types of relationships, and wanting to be as effectual as possible, they make wrong assumptions about student-teacher relationships.

I saw this first-hand at a school in western New England where I was soon to take up my duties as principal. A high school teacher had created a major problem during the two years previous through wrong assumptions about the student-teacher relationship. He assumed that friendship must mark all successful student-teacher relationships.

Mr. Achan (fictitious name) befriended his students quickly, and they loved it. They learned that they could count on him to play lunchbreak basketball with them – and continue beyond the ringing bell. They also learned that, with a little encouragement, they could get him to race off on a pleasant rabbit trail during the study of history. Trial and error taught them that the best way to escape studies was to laugh at his inane jokes, thereby creating a “happy” hour out of his class. Too late, he would realize that he was not covering the assigned material. He would try to call the class to order, but his “friends” would not respond.

Before long, Mr. Achan could not survive the entirety of a single school day without the help of the bottle in his desk drawer. The good news was that the bottle contained an antacid, not alcohol. The bad news was what students deduced from the numerous times they gleefully watched it reach his lips – they were controlling Mr. Achan. They loved the power he had conceded to them, and hated him for his helplessness. Mr. Achan’s mistake was one of the five mistakes every new teacher makes.

At a later point in my career, I heard about a new teacher named Miss Delilah (fictitious name). Miss Delilah’s mistake involved only one of her students rather than the whole class. The girl started the semester with what appeared to be two fistfuls of challenges. Miss Delilah assumed that good student-teacher relationships required an outpouring of personal friendship. Thus, when the girl complained that assignments were boring, Miss Delilah prepared substitute assignments that the girl would find fun to do. Every other student was required to do the scheduled assignment. When the girl rejected every book on the required literature list, the teacher asked what books she did want to read – and requisitioned them for her. Every other student was limited to books on the list. At every turn, the teacher customized the curriculum to help her student friend, while requiring the other students to complete the curriculum as assigned by the district.

Miss Delilah’s friendship in this student-teacher relationship garnered smiles and encouraging progress from the student – for a few weeks. Then things changed abruptly. The girl asked Miss Delilah to be her friend on social media. The teacher refused, and the student became angry. Her view of the student-teacher relationship Miss Delilah had established led her to believe she was entitled to more. She wanted the relationship to bridge from the school into everyday life. She wanted unquestioning loyalty. Miss Delilah could not give it.

Among the five mistakes every new teacher makes, wrong assumptions about student-teacher relationships damage students and cause problems for the teacher.

How to Avoid This Mistake

While student-teacher relationships are necessary for proper respect, engagement in daily responsibilities, and academic progress, we must keep in mind that relationships tend to gather in one of two groups: private and public. Do not lose sight of the differences.

Private Relationships – Family and close friends comprise this group. We tend to take these people as they are, warts and all. We continue to like them even when they do not respond in exactly the way we want them to respond. We are loyal to these relationships. We do not have to think about age differences. We may pay less attention to boundaries between positions.

Public Relationships – STUDENT-TEACHER RELATIONSHIPS and every other that is not private fall into this group. In these relationships, we may dole out loyalty only as long as the other returns that loyalty. We place more weight on reciprocity. We consider boundaries and keep them firmly in place, i.e., we make sure teachers and students are separate entities.

In short, we can avoid this mistake by remembering that a teacher can be friendly without becoming a friend. Never assume that formation of a personal friendship with a student will achieve a good end. Be friendly to students, but look to private relationships for friendship.

Continue reading in Teaching Tips – 5 Mistakes Every New Teacher Makes – Part 4

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