5 Mistakes New Teachers Make

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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What are the common mistakes some new teachers make?

If you are a new teacher to the profession, then welcome to the best job in the world. Finding your feet is going to take a bit of time and you might need a pair of binoculars to see a comfort zone, but that’s what it’s like starting any new position.

Wherever you start, you are going to make mistakes. It’s best to call these ‘learning curves’ because this puts a positive spin on the clangers you drop – they don’t sound as noisy either!

5 Common Banana Skins

Below are five mistakes that you are likely to make. We’ve kept this figure low because a double-digit list might have you heading for the hills. These are the common ones and it’s a good idea to be aware of them.

1. Timing

Even if you have an MBA in Time Management from the University of Cuckoo Clock, your lesson timings are going to go bozz-wonk. You will either be too early finishing an activity because you don’t want the children to miss their lunch, or you will be so engrossed or overly-ambitious that children miss half their break time or be ten minutes leaving school.

Keep tapping your Fitbit and keep an eye on the time, but don’t be too obsessive – it eventually becomes second nature. You could always set a timer going and many teachers do, because it improves children’s awareness of time and how long they have to complete a piece of work. Just take your time, it’s not a race!

2. Persevering

Perseverance is supposed to be a good honest quality that we teach children to develop. You’ll hear a lot about being gritty, resolute and never giving up. That’s true to a point but it depends what we are talking about.

Sticking to a plan that has fallen apart can be pure madness. When a lesson goes wrong and it looks like getting worse, change course fast. So what if you spent all weekend planning it – save the children from confusion and do your wellbeing a favour.

There is no secret teacher rulebook that the Government produced about soldiering on regardless: if you need to abandon ship then stop fighting, jump off and head for calmer waters! Explain to children that sometimes you don’t stay with a task and that you need to walk away from trouble! Lesson malfunctions will happen so have a back-up and make sure your back-up has one as well.

3. Shouting

It’s going to happen at some point – you are going to blow. It might not be a big explosion, but something will press a button and boom! Lots of teachers shout, but it’s not a feel-good strategy for anyone, giver or receiver. If behaviour gets on top of you and you’ve tried every trick in the book, then the last option is to shout … but try to save that for the staffroom or when you leave school.

Shouting at your class or individual children is going to make you feel rubbish and rapport will evaporate in an instant. Shouty teachers will disagree but they have never held a majority. There is always a better way than resorting to a loudspeaker – soft speaking works better – the real trick is never to speak louder than the children.

4. Blaming

Daniel Pennac nails it in his book School Blues when he talks about the classic teacher response to misbehaviour,

“You’re doing it on purpose!” often accompanied by a pointy index finger and accusatory tone.

Children are seldom hell-bent on making your day a bad one and a charge that they are doing something with intent is misguided. Remember to curb your scornful grammar and remember that you are not the victim The pupil ‘playing up’ will be exhibiting a behaviour far removed from you and they won’t in all likelihood, even be aware of what they are supposed to be doing ‘on purpose’.

Get to know their lives and be the empathetic teacher before judging their behaviour.

5. Winging it

If you don’t know how to do something then the best thing to do is wing it. This is the surest way of making a hash of things and at some point coming unstuck.

Remember that some children will actually tell their parents what they did at school that day and they will repeat what you said even months later. If you are unsure of something, get in a pickle and find yourself fumbling then come clean and admit to it. The medics have a name for it: the duty of candour. This means being honest and up front when something goes wrong or an error is made.

Children deserve the truth and nothing but the truth. Save yourself the embarrassment of explaining to a parent why you said what you said. You can’t know everything and even with 10,000 hours class time under your belt, there will be plenty you still don’t know.

And finally…

There are all sorts of learning curves to experience and these are just a few.

Champion teachers and newly qualified teachers alike will never stop learning and have plenty to teach other, so share your ‘mistakes’ and remember “every day is a school day”.

Mistakes make you smarter, they help you learn faster and they rewire your brain. Making mistakes is actually good for you so don’t feel bad if you make plenty of them.

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