10 Mistakes New Teachers Make (And How To Avoid Them) New Teachers by Joel Wagner - August 8, 2016February 6, 202025 If you’re anything like me, youÂ gainedÂ a great deal of academic knowledge about your content area in college and very little actual knowledge about getting students toÂ stay quiet long enough to learn from your abundant knowledge base. Over the years, I have observed young teachers enter the profession and make many of the same mistakes.Â I have compiled a list of 10 mistakes new teachers make. Nobody makes all of the mistakes, but invariably we all go through a few of them within our first few years of teaching. Mistake 1: Many new teachersÂ try to be “the cool teacher” and end up being “the pushover” I get it. We all want to be liked by our students.Â The mistake many teachers make is that they try too hard to be liked by their students.Â The result is that students often end up dreading your class due to lack ofÂ discipline. How to avoid this mistake The solution is to make your expectations clear. Students will behave when they are told what to do, butÂ they won’tÂ like you just becauseÂ you wantÂ themÂ to. SoÂ whenÂ you clearly explain the instructions,Â clarify any misunderstandings, and consistently enforce the rules; their respect for you will grow. Mistake 2:Â Many new teachersÂ try to be “the strictÂ teacher” and end up being “the mean teacher” This is the other end of the spectrum. The “Don’t Smile BeforeÂ Christmas” crowd.Â They see themselves as Rule Nazis and will enforce every rule with an iron fist. This even includes the rules that nobody knew about. You better not cross this teacher or else. How to avoid this mistake The solution to being mean is to be nice, but not at the expense of sanity and order.Â To do this, weÂ reinforce good behaviors. IfÂ general student behavior is bad, then reinforce the most baseline expected behaviors. Someone somewhere in your class is doing something right. Find it and reward it. You’llÂ begin to see more and more good behaviors springing up everywhere. Mistake 3:Â Many new teachersÂ miss deadlines Teaching is a time-consuming profession. Most of the people on the business end of schools have never been on the front lines. They don’t get it. They go to work, sit at a desk, and work at work; then they go home, and all the workÂ is left at work. We’re not like that. We take all our student problems with us. We take ungraded papers and lesson plan books and emotional baggage and everything else with us practically everywhere. We have unplanned parent conferences in the checkout line at Walmart. So we must remember this whenÂ dealing withÂ paperwork deadlines. The finance office doesn’tÂ really care that you have tutoring after school three days a week, that you take your daughter to balletÂ another day, and that you go to Zumba class the other day. They just know thatÂ youÂ turned in the budget request form for your trip a day late. ManyÂ of these people will go out of their way to help you out occasionally, but if you are known as a consistent procrastinator who misses deadlines, you get less and less grace. How to avoid this mistake Mark stuff on your calendar and give yourself plenty of notice. Oh, you do only have one central calendar that you use, right? When we use one calendar on the school computer, one at home, one on the ol’ iPhone, and another on the Android tablet, we set ourselves up to miss deadlines. Mistake 4: Many new teachersÂ waitÂ too long to learn the names of all students “I’m horrible with names” is only an acceptable excuse for so long before it turns into “My students really aren’t that important to me.” At leastÂ to some of your students. Most elementary teachers who have less than 30 students per classÂ should be able to get all their student names learned by the end of the first week. For those with 100Â and up, it’s challenging for sure.Â I usually end up having 3-4 sticky names that get crossed in my mind for one reason or another.Â Usually, it ends up that they have similar names or Lauren looksÂ like someone you know who was named Lisa, and Lisa looks like someone who was named Laura. Or whatever the case. How to avoid this mistake Spend the first two weeks of the school year learning names. Memorize the names of the students as quickly as you can, and then begin to putÂ faces to names and names to faces. It’s hard work if you have more than 100 students, butÂ remember that these are living people, and they are well worth having their teacher know their name. For the sticky names, figure out who they are and force yourself to call them by name. Just like our students,Â we often learn best by learning from ourÂ mistakes. Mistake 5: Many new teachersÂ wait too long to make parent contact Many teachers get to the end of the yearÂ and make the first contact with the parents of a student who has been misbehaving all year long. Â This can easily backfire, since the parents are just learning about problems that have been problems for eight months. It also prevents you from enlisting help from some of the best supporters you can have. Get parents on your side! How to avoid this mistake Make positive contact early. Open house is great. Put on your happy face and be seen. Some teachers like to make quick positive phone calls early in the year for every student so that the parents already have an idea of how nice and pleasant you are.Â For sure, you want to avoid theÂ “It must not have been a problem if I haven’t heard about it until now” issue by making a point to get in touch with the parents and let them know what happened as soon as there is a noticeable behavioral disruption. Mistake 6: Many new teachersÂ forgetÂ to set and keep a clearÂ grading policy As an elective teacher, I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken with students about their grades and they don’t have any idea how their grades are calculated. I ask to see their syllabus, and it does not make much sense either. If you find that you have 6 grading categories, your grading policy isn’t clear. How to avoid this mistake Many districts have preset grading policies, but I know plenty do not. If your district does, then be sure you stick with it. If not, then consult other teachers on your campus and be sure that you come up with something reasonable. For instance, don’t have “Major Projects” count as 35% of a student’s grade if you don’t intend on having a “Major Project” every grading period. The net result is that other categories count much more than expected when the “Major Project” is not assigned. And while we’re on the subject, enter your grades regularly. Grade books are now computerized, and most parents have online access. Help the parents and elective teachers out by posting your grades so they can help you out! Mistake 7: Many new teachersÂ get bogged down in nonessential details Details are great, when needed. Keep in mind, though, that the more detail focused you are, the less your students can cover in class. As a band director, it is often very easy to spend 20 minutes of a band rehearsal working with five students on six notes. However, that is a poor use ofÂ time for the rest of the students. How to avoid this mistake With music rehearsal, I have gotten to the point where I won’t work on something more than 5 times in a row. If it’s not fixed at that point, we need to move on and come back to address the problem another day. Do youÂ subtract points from assignments for improper heading format? Do you have students grade papers and then go back and check the work? If you do, that’s great. But be sure you have a great reason for doing it. If there’s not a great reason, then you are duplicating work for yourself, which means less attention is paid to other weightier matters. Time is such a precious resource! Mistake 8: Many new teachersÂ gloss over essentialÂ details It’s easy to focus too much rehearsal time on wrong notes and not enough on proper posture, breathing, and intonation. It’s easy to focus too much class time on behavior problems and not enough on subject matter. It’s easy to focus too much on subject matter and not enough on behavior problems. It’s not so easy to know when enough is enough. That will come with experience, but only if you are constantly monitoring and adjusting how you teach. How to avoid this mistake As with before, we all need to take a step back and analyze what is truly important. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about putting first things first. Fundamentals are the first things. This applies to whatever elements are fundamental for your class. Behavior, penmanship, spelling, arithmetic, posture, hand position, basic tone production, vocal technique,Â 1st position, what happened in 1776. These are all essentials. Figure outÂ which ones apply in your classroom and to your teaching method and be sure you focus on those. Don’t let them slip by. Mistake 9: Many new teachersÂ talk too much TheÂ most common time for behavioral problems is when the students are not engaged. The most common time students are not engaged is when the teacher is talking. Keep those studentsÂ working, and your behavior issues will drop dramatically. How to avoid this mistake Give clear instructions, and get the students working on something. Move around the room and answer questions or work with individuals. Mistake 10: Many new teachersÂ don’t go into the new year with a plan Experience is great for helping you predict what might happen, but even so, you can do some planning early. Formulate a plan and let it transform over the course of the year as reality comes into play. But if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. How to avoid this mistake Make sure you have checkpoints throughout the year. As mentioned above, I like to use one calendar for everything I schedule. I use a Google Calendar and sync it to my iPhone. I have multiple calendars on there so I can turn personal appointments or financial infoÂ or whatever off, but it’s all in one place. I know if Google crashes, I’m doomed. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take for now. I hope this helps. Now go out there and become the best teacher you can be! Joel WagnerJoel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.