6 of the Biggest Mistakes Teachers Make
The prompt for this week is:
What, in your opinion, is the most common blunder made by teachers?
I believe that the most effective way to answer this question would be to reflect on many of the mistakes that I have made in my professional practice.
1. The need to be in command of one’s destiny.
I know that during my first year of teaching, I made a concerted effort to ensure that everyone was following the rules at all times and that they would be immediately notified if they did not. When things got too loud, I felt like I was losing my grip on the situation. When students began to act inappropriately, I felt as though I was losing control. I felt like I was losing control if students didn’t turn in their work on time. This feeling of being in command and having a handle on everything appealed to me tremendously. I reasoned that if I was in command, everything would be better for everyone. I was under the impression that good teaching meant you were in command.
Since then, I’ve embraced a little more disorder in my life. I still place a high value on routines, procedures, consequences, and accountability, but I’ve come to realize that the more freedom I give students to direct their learning, the more serious they are about taking responsibility.
2. They are overly concerned with their well-being.
When students were acting inappropriately, I would put on a pretty intense teacher face that said, “I see what you’re doing, and it is unacceptable, and it needs to stop.” Whenever my little 5th graders would giggle in line while walking through the halls, whenever there were any off-topic conversations during work time, or whenever someone cracked a joke in the middle of a lesson, this would happen.
I’ve discovered that laughing off many minor distractions is the most effective method of redirection. This year, I have a particularly witty first period, and I laugh more in that class than I have in any other class in my life. In that regard, I enjoy working with middle schoolers because I’ve discovered that they understand my sense of humor and that I appreciate theirs more than I did when I was working with 5th graders. Laughing with students can also be a great way to build relationships.
3. Being overly concerned with one’s social standing
This is always a little bit present; you want people to like you, so you try to make them like you. I believe that when you want to be liked, you are unwilling to have difficult conversations or to redirect appropriately. You begin to lose your self-confidence, and students begin to lose respect for you. Even though I don’t consider students to be “friends,” I do have excellent relationships with many of them. I make an effort to be respected (and respectful of others), and I try not to be concerned with whether or not they like me at the time. The irony is that if you are less concerned with students liking you, they will almost always come to like you more (as long as they sense that you respect them and like them).
4. Spending too much time focusing on the correct answer and too little time on the process (in math)
Even though I’ve written extensively on the subject, I used to simply engage a student in conversation about a problem if they were incorrect. Recently, I’ve begun asking students to “walk me through what you did here,” which is a question I’ve been asking them for a few years. I was intrigued by their procedure, and I was occasionally surprised to learn that they were completely clueless about what was going on, but were fortunate enough to get the correct answer. I’ve also had kids come up with creative solutions to problems that I would have never thought of on my own. I would not have known about it if I hadn’t interjected myself into their deliberations.
Occasionally, students would become frustrated and say things like “oh man, I thought I got it wrong because you were asking me about it,” to which I would respond, “and it forced you to defend your thinking and convince me (and yourself) that you were on the correct track mathematically.”
5. Failing to take the necessary time to reflect
Some of my first three years of teaching were frustrating for a variety of reasons, but one of the most significant was that our team did not provide adequate reflections on the activities we completed that year. Eventually, we found ourselves repeating many of the same mistakes year after year. “This happened last year, and we didn’t change anything!” we’d say as we were in the middle of an activity. ”
It has been extremely beneficial in my practice over the past two years to have a written record (and occasionally video) of what has worked and what hasn’t. A couple of “oh yeah!” moments have occurred to me. Reading my reflections from last year reminded me of a few ‘I forgot that assignment was a few a mess’ moments this year. I’m not sure how useful this year’s reflections will be, given that the majority of them are more thematic and there aren’t as many actual reflections on lessons this year. Hm…
6. Attempting to be a purist in any pedagogical approach
Any new method of teaching or classroom management that I experiment with tends to be met with enthusiasm. When I first started teaching, I used a classroom management technique called Whole Brain Teaching, which I recall being very effective. When I first started, I remember feeling like I had to follow the WBT creators’ instructions to the letter. Some of it didn’t make sense to me at the time, but I went ahead and did it. Additionally, there are a few quotes that I find particularly inspiring when it comes to teaching in an inquiry-based classroom environment. They are as follows:
1. Never say anything that a child would say (here),
The second reason is that once you tell a student they have the correct answer, they will cease to think about the problem.
Taking these concepts to their logical conclusions has resulted in some frustrating moments in class. I’ve had students who were so close to an answer but kept making one small mistake after another. My initial reaction was that I was ‘unable’ to tell them what they were doing wrong because I was ‘robbing them of the ability to figure it out on their own.’ That is extremely beneficial in many situations. The situation can be annoyance-inducing and unproductively frustrating for both parties. Additionally, responding to students who ask ‘is this right?’ with ‘hm, what do you think?’ can result in a significant amount of wasted time in class over concepts that students do not understand over time. It was amusing a couple of times when students expressed their dissatisfaction by saying, “whatever, it’s right, I’m moving on.”
As an example, I’ve seen this with flipped classrooms, where teachers treat it as if it’s all or nothing. In a given year, I have about two lessons that are “flipped” because it makes more sense for those particular lessons.