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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Response: Mistakes New Teachers Make & How to Avoid Them

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 16, 2017 13 min read
Image of a teacher in a classroom working quietly at desk.
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(This is the first post in a three-part series)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What are the biggest mistakes new teachers make and what should they do instead?

All teachers, including those of us who are veterans, make lots of mistakes. New teachers, however, tend to make some common ones. This three-part series will explore what those might be and how to avoid them. Perhaps those new teachers who are reading can, instead, make more creative ones!

Today, Michael Janatovich, Sarah Thomas, Roxanna Elden, Kristi Mraz, Christine Hertz, and Julia Thompson contribute their suggestions. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Mike and Sarah (along with special guest Ted Appel) on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

I’m making two contributions to this series. First, is a collection titled The Best Advice To New Teachers. Second, is a short video from The Sacramento Bee newspaper. In it, the reporter asked me for any advice I’d give a new teacher. The embed feature of the video is not cooperating with Ed Week’s coding, so I’ve linked to it here.

You might also be interested in past columns that have appeared here on similar topics. You can find them at Advice For New Teachers.

Response From Michael Janatovich

Mike Janatovich is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. He is currently the Principal of Leighton Elementary School in Aurora, Ohio. Janatovich believes that educating the whole child is critical to ensuring academic success and is an advocate for supporting middle-level learners. Connect with Janatovich on Twitter @mjanatovich:

The biggest mistake that new teachers make is that they try to make learning and instruction about them. Many new teachers want to have the “perfect” lesson and by doing this sometimes they restrict themselves and their students growth. This becomes clearly evident in their reflections during walkthroughs and formal observations. Most new teachers will talk about what they could do better inside of their classroom, but rarely discuss student learning in the their reflection. As a new teacher, it is important to make sure that you continually focus on the students and how they are learning.

New educators should begin to develop reflection questions that not only looks at student learning, but will also give them feedback on their role as a teacher. Some example reflection questions that new teachers could use are: What problems did the students encounter today? If given a collaborative assignment, could the students have produced the same results working alone? What strategies did students use when struggling with their learning? All of these questions will tell new teachers about student learning. The role of the building level administration is to get new teachers to understand that learning is messy. The only way to really let this happen is to look at the kids while they are learning. See their struggles, so you can anticipate them in the future.

This is a challenge for most new teachers, but I encourage them to find a mentor in their building that is kid-centered. I know that many mentors are assigned, but nothing is stopping a young teacher from finding an additional mentor. Use this person to share experiences and bounce ideas off of. Have this mentor come into your classroom and offer feedback. Find opportunities to visit their classroom and ask them questions. Connect with the strongest teacher in your school and allow them to push you to get better. Your students today and in the future will thank you for it.

Lastly, you cannot be afraid to ask questions as a new teacher. This is a huge mistake that new teachers make. You have to remember that this is the one year where you can say, “I’m brand new, I was just wondering....” and nobody will think twice. Use this to your advantage. Your principal (hopefully if they are effective) will be glad to see that you want to get better and are not afraid to ask questions or for help. If a new teacher still needs convincing, just remind them that all of the best teachers are asking for help. From their peers, on twitter in their PLN, in other networking groups, or anywhere else they can. The best educators ask questions, just as your best students will, too.


Response From Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas is a Regional Technology Coordinator in Prince George’s County Public Schools. She is also a Google Certified Innovator and the founder of the #EduMatch movement, a project that empowers educators to make global connections across common areas of interest. Sarah is a doctoral candidate in Education at George Mason University:

I can’t speak for all new teachers, but my biggest mistake was being inauthentic. I began teaching when I was 22 years old, and I was very immature for my age, so I overcompensated. I wore powersuits and heels every single day, and tried to act the most professionally that I knew how. There’s nothing wrong with dressing up, but I was very uncomfortable and trying to be someone who I was not. Thirteen years later, I have learned to relax and be myself. Building relationships is very important, so we should be open and authentic. Students and I have connected over our shared interests, such as creating movies and music, and playing basketball. We have learned so much together, and those have been my favorite moments.


Response From Roxanna Elden

Roxanna Elden is the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers:

“So, what is the ONE piece of advice you would give to new teachers?”

I used to get stumped by this question. As the author of a book for new teachers and a speaker at new teacher orientations, I had lots of advice. How could I ever narrow it down to one simple statement?

Then, one day, I realized: there is one piece of advice that almost every new teacher needs.

Get enough sleep.

For a beginning teacher, dedication often means putting in as many hours as possible. After all, you’re doing it for the kids. But ignoring your body’s basic needs is not a sign of dedication. In fact, your most regrettable teaching moment is likely to happen after that night you stayed up until 3AM cutting out individual paper pepperonis for your fraction-pizza lesson, then got up at 5AM and drank two Red Bulls to make it to school. There’s a good chance that while you’re explaining the directions for your carefully planned lesson, you’ll see a kid crumple up one of those paper pepperonis, and throw it at another kid... You see where this is going, right?

As a teacher, you want to be the best version of yourself. When you haven’t slept, you become a worse version of yourself. This isn’t just my opinion, either. It’s science. When you haven’t slept, you become forgetful. You become impatient. You have trouble thinking critically. And you take everything personally. Do these sound like the qualities of an ideal teacher?

Kids deserve someone who will work hard to make sure they reach their full potential. They also deserve an adult who is in the best possible state of mind and wants to be in the room with them. A teacher sleeping three hours a night and making up for it with a double-dose of energy drinks is not that person. Work hard, but also set a teacher bedtime for yourself and stick to it. Remember, you’re doing it for the kids.


Response From Kristi Mraz & Christine Hertz

Kristi Mraz & Christine Hertz are teachers and co-authors of the book A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth . They have a new book for teachers coming out in early 2018. You can follow them on twitter @mrazkristine and @christine_hertz:

If someone tells you teaching is easy, they probably don’t really know teaching. Teaching, real, from the heart, cutting edge, responsive teaching, is challenging, difficult work. But challenge and difficulty are the companions of words like joyful, rewarding, and meaningful. Teaching is for the dedicated, the passionate, the hopeful, and the innovative. The real key to teaching is how we see setbacks, because let’s be clear, we are going to have a lot of them—new teachers and veteran teachers alike.

Here are some tips for overcoming and reframing setbacks:

Setback: Feeling really embarrassed or frustrated when you make a mistake

Work toward a growth mindset: If you see a setback as a threat to your identity (“but I am supposed to be GOOD at this!!!”) it is very hard to confront it and learn from it. But if you can see setbacks as a natural part of learning and living, and you can look at it honestly and come away with some valuable feedback about what to try differently, then you will grow and develop and constantly improve and refine your practice. For more, check out Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.

Setback: Finding yourself pleading with the students to do something you need them to do

Teach from a place of empathy: Teaching is all about relationships and connections. Often, as teachers, we need to put aside our desire to get things done, keep things moving and have a neat and tidy teaching moment to connect, to really connect with a student. Take the time to form strong relationships with all of your students—these relationships will form the foundation for all of the learning to come.

Setback: Starting each day with a frown and sense of anxiety

Cultivate your spirit of play: As teachers we are joyful, willing to improvise, willing to laugh. Play is a natural right for children, but it is also an essential one for us, as their teachers. Understanding child development is serious business, but teaching isn’t, teaching is about ensuring a joyful challenging journey for each child. How can we do that if we do not remain joyful and challenged ourselves?

Setback: Googling other jobs because this one is not anything like you thought it would be

Go easy on yourself: If growing and evolving as teachers means that we’ll face setbacks at almost every turn, it’s important that we actively, intentionally practice self-compassion. Kristin Neff—author of the book Self-Compassion—suggests talking to yourself like your best friend would talk to you. The bottom line is this: when the going gets tough, the tough need to get gentle. Acknowledging your imperfections and being kind to yourself will calm you down, reset your brain and help you focus on moving forward.(p 48)

Setback: Feeling embarrassed to ask for help

Find a mentor: Want to learn to swim? You don’t jump in the pool and just start flailing, you find a teacher. Same is true in teaching, don’t jump in and assume you got it, find teachers and mentors to support you in the process. The beautiful and amazing world of technology means that your mentor does not have to be physically present in your life. They can be, which is great, but there are a myriad of other ways to find a voice of reason and aid. Twitter, facebook, google hangouts, and online communities can all be your support. This is helpful to know because sometimes your vision of teaching is not going to be the dominant view in your school community. Don’t go it alone! Go on twitter, join chats like #kinderchat, #1stchat, #tcrwp, #G2Great, #edchat #educolor!

We all find ourselves fixating over the things we can control: setting up the room, reading the curriculum, filling in a planbook, but real, true teaching comes at the times when we least expect. Stock your boat with ideas, mentors, books you love, but know that it has to roll with the waves. Teaching is about our interactions with the present, so take a deep breath and set sail.


Response From Julia Thompson

Julia Thompson is author of Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher and The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, Thompson also provides advice on a variety of subjects through her Web site, www.juliagthompson.com; on her blog, juliagthompson.blogspot.com; and on Twitter at //twitter.com/TeacherAdvice. You can contact her at thompsonteacheradvice@gmail.com:

Because of the improvements in the way that new teachers are prepared to assume their teaching responsibilities, most of them don’t make mistakes involving pedagogy—a common mistake in the past. Instead, the mistakes that new teachers make tend to fall into two categories: time management and content knowledge.

Real teachers in real classrooms never have enough time to get the things they want to do accomplished. Unfortunately, new teachers are just not ready for this. They don’t always understand that the time they spend in front of their students is only a very small part of the time they need to spend on school. To make the problem of a lack of time even worse for new teachers, they have to spend even more time creating lessons, obtaining materials, and grading papers than their more-experienced colleagues because everything is brand new. A mistake that many new teachers make is to ignore the importance of developing efficient time management skills right away. Being organized, using every second of a plan period, not grading every assignment—all of these make life easier for new teachers once they learn to develop the time management skills specific to teachers.

Another mistake that new teachers make involves content knowledge. They don’t realize that it is not enough to have a passing knowledge of the content. Instead, they need to know the course content so well that they can pick and choose the most important and most relevant information to present to students. New teachers need to be able—as all teachers are expected to be—to make solid choices about content so that their students can interact with it in a meaningful way. I try to be kind when a new teacher tells me that he or she is “a day ahead of students.” Instead of starting with piecemeal, daily lessons, new teachers need to plan for the year, for the semester, and then by units. The course content would make sense to them if they could manage that. And even more important, the course content would make sense to their students because their teacher not only can see the bigger connections in the material, but also has a depth of knowledge to make it meaningful and relevant.

Thanks to Mike, Sarah, Roxanna Kristi, Christine and Julia for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder—if you missed any of the highlights from the first six years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. They don’t include ones from this current year.

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Two in a few days..

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.