The new “question-of-the-week” is:
What are the biggest mistakes new teachers make and what should they do instead?
In Part One, 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.
Part Two‘s contributors were Cindi Rigsbee, Carol Pelletier Radford, Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin, Jennie Farnell and Ken Lindblom.
We finish up the series today with responses from Rebecca Schmidt, Madeline Whitaker Good, Katherine Whitaker, Ann Hoover, Jon Harper, and Otis Kriegel. I’ve also included comments from readers.
Response From Rebecca Schmidt
Rebecca Schmidt has been a teacher and school counselor for 28 years. She has published 11 books including a first and second edition of Don’t Gossip in the Teacher’s Lounge (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). Currently, Rebecca is an elementary school counselor in Mayfield City Schools in Mayfield Heights, Ohio:
One day, I was sitting in the lounge eating lunch with a new teacher. This new teacher began discussing the “horrible” behavior of one of her students. A woman who was substituting in the building was eating lunch at the end of the table. The woman said, “Please stop! That child you’re talking about is my grandson.”
Sometimes, beginning teachers want to “fit-in” and so they try to do that by sharing information that is negative or should be kept confidential. Sometimes, they get caught up in gossiping about colleagues or students.
If you talk about kids, families or other staff members, in the lounge, or anywhere, the news will get out that you are unprofessional and not to be trusted. If you gossip, the news will most likely get back to the person. If a colleague of yours feels at all insecure, he/she could be one of those people who cannot wait to share any gossip they heard from you. It is human nature - people like to be the bearers of important news. It doesn’t matter whether the news is good or bad, but that it is “big” news so your colleagues may share with others the negative things you have shared with them. As a new teacher, you should not trust that if you say, “Let’s keep this between us” or “Don’t let this leave this room”, that it won’t!
As a new teacher, you don’t know who knows what family or who is related to whom. Not only is it extremely unethical and unprofessional to speak negatively about a child or colleague, it is also a good way to get into trouble with the principal. The principal may hear about the gossip and, many may even agree with it, but you probably will be called in to discuss your professionalism.
Advice for New Teachers
When someone begins to talk about a child in the lounge, just smile and change the subject as delicately as possible. A good line may be, “Oh, I don’t want to interrupt your lunch by talking about that.” If you are both working with the child and the information is for the success of the child you can say, “I’ll stop by your room after school and we can discuss it.”
Even if they begin to talk or gossip, leave the room, sit silently, etc. If a colleague or parent talks about another teacher, just try to change the subject or say something like, “Wow, that doesn’t sound like her.” Or, “I have never had that experience when dealing with her.” Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you walk away from a conversation and worry whether or not you said too much or whether certain information you shared will get back to the child, their family or a colleague.
When speaking to a parent, there is NEVER a good reason to share negative or confidential information about another child or colleague. Always remember, never say anything about a child you would not say if their parents and lawyer were sitting right there!
You work in an environment where gossip can be overwhelming sometimes. Just be safe and don’t say anything negative about anyone!
Leave gossip for tabloids and reality shows.
Response From Madeline Whitaker Good & Katherine Whitaker
Madeline Whitaker Good has taught elementary and middle school, and is currently a middle school teacher in Springfield, Missouri. Katherine Whitaker has taught middle and high school, and is currently a high school teacher in Kansas City, MO. They are co-authors of Your First Year:
“Find Your Voice”
We feel like the biggest mistake new teachers make is something that they don’t even realizing is happening. Beginning educators are assailed with trainings, coursework, and social media posts that create images of who teachers are “supposed” to be. Although there are commonalities that all great teachers possess, many new teachers don’t realize that learning who they are as educators is just as important as learning best practices. No matter what some educational leaders, researchers, and policy makers say, you can have two phenomenal teachers next door to each other that teach in entirely different ways. Since there are so many different types of effective teachers, we have to encourage those new to the field to discover who they are as they begin developing their teaching skills.
During a teacher’s first year, he or she doesn’t know the curriculum and will most likely fumble through the murky waters of classroom management, so many new educators choose to mimic what they see done in another teacher’s room, which is something we both personally did. This is how most new teachers survive during the beginning of their careers. It is a good strategy to implement because it is much easier than starting from scratch, plus you may learn a few new techniques that work for you. The problem, though, is that if you never adapt how you run your classroom based on your own personality and strengths, you run the risk of getting burnt out, feeling like a fraud, and seriously questioning why you chose teaching in the first place. Therefore, as new teachers navigate their way through new curriculum, complicated school dynamics, and the vortex that is classroom management, we want them to never forget that developing a teaching style is a process that takes time, but an important one that must be prioritized. That time invested will be more than worth it when you know that your teaching fully reflects who you truly are.
Response From Ann Hoover
Ann Hoover is an American born and trained educator who started her career teaching at the Duke School for Children in the 1990s. She is currently studying at the University of Canterbury and working as a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour in Thames, New Zealand:
The biggest mistake all teachers make is being negative. Negativity is soul destroying. Always be positive and build strong relationships. Effective teachers follow these three important steps.
The first step is to love your students. John Hattie calls it ‘know thy learner.’ Know your students, know what they like, know their families, know each student’s strengths and challenges. As a teacher you must build a relationship with each of your students, especially the most challenging student in the class. You have to know the most about your challenging student(s). Dig deep and find out what really motivates them. Go APE - Accumulate Positive Exchanges. Students often forget the content you taught them, but they never forget how you make them feel. Read Haim Ginott’s quote on the climate of the classroom at least once a week. Listen to your students and they will tell you what they need. Know your students and be inclusive of different cultures, values, ideas, and needs.
The second step is to love your content. Make your lessons fun. Show passion for what you are teaching. Make sure that your lessons are lessons that you would have enjoyed. Since all students are not going to learn in the same way, make sure you use multiple ways to engage your learners - for example let them learn from texts, youtube clips, through experiments, and through experience. Give them opportunities to show that they understand the content in multiple ways - let them write a song, build something, draw, make a video. Be creative and give your students feedback quickly.
The third step is to love yourself. Give yourself a break. There is always more to do when you are a teacher. When you are in an airplane, the flight attendant always tells you to put the oxygen mask on first, then help others. Make sure you look after yourself and celebrate your success. To stay positive tell yourself all the good things you are doing instead of focussing on mistakes. Be positive. Teaching is the hardest, most rewarding job in the world.
Response From Jon Harper
Jon Harper is currently the assistant principal at Sandy Hill Elementary and Vienna Elementary School. He was a Nationally Board Certified elementary teacher for ten years and a Math Coach for five. He is passionate about inspiring others to worry less about their mistakes and he shares this passion in his writing and on his podcast My Bad:
Nothing can adequately prepare new teachers for having their very own class. It is difficult. It is stressful. And it is exhausting. They start off thinking they have all the answers and by the end of the first month new teachers begin to wonder if you know anything at all. I have been there myself and it is not a fun place to be. But in my twenty years as a classroom teacher, math coach and assistant principal, I have observed three major mistakes that new teachers make. I also have a few ideas on how to help.
First, new teachers often start off focusing on ways to improve their practice. And that is great! But the danger with this comes when that is the only thing that they focus on. In other words, new teachers might go through a day and have ten things that go well and two that don’t. Unfortunately, we know what happens next. They get home and they dwell on the things that didn’t go well and completely forget about their successes.
I believe it is okay to reflect on our practice. It’s how we improve. We can’t allow them to focus exclusively on what didn’t work. We must remind them to also remember what went well. Actually, take time to sit down and make a list. I think what they’ll will find is that they’re doing a lot better than they give themselves credit for.
Next, I think that new teachers are often too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. They believe it makes them appear as if they don’t know what they’re doing or that they aren’t qualified. Baloney!!! I get it because I used to be one of those teachers and then I realized something. Nobody knows it all and educators don’t bite.
So, I started asking for help. And you know what happened? I got it. What we often forget is that educators enjoy helping each other. They enjoy it when you go to them for help. It makes them feel good about themselves. Furthermore, when we ask for help it inspires others to do the same.
Finally, new teachers, and veterans, often feel as if they must be perfect. Social media has allowed us to see everyone’s best. Seeing everyone’s “highlight reel” can be very intimidating. It becomes too easy to compare ourselves to what we see. Yet, what we don’t see is just as important, if not more important.
We must realize that the educators whose books we read and whose videos we watch, make mistakes just like us. How do I know? They come on my podcast My Bad each week and tell me. More specifically, guests come on and share a big mistake that they made during their career. Some of their mistakes will blow you away. I don’t want to give anything away, but I think once you hear what these amazing educators did, or didn’t do, you will begin to feel a little bit better about your own mistakes. At least I hope so.
Being a teacher is one of the toughest jobs there is. Being a new teacher? Even tougher. But I believe if we can convince them to believe in themselves, ask questions and stop trying to be perfect, then I think we will have done a good thing.
Response From Otis Kriegel
Otis Kriegel is the author of Starting School Right: How do I plan for a successful first week in my classroom? (ASCD). Kriegel has taught elementary and middle school students for 15 years. He has taught in dual language (Spanish/English and German/English), monolingual, and integrated coteaching classrooms. Connect with him on Twitter @mynameisotis:
Where do I start? I made so many mistakes as a new teacher I wrote an entire book about it. But one mistake stands out the most: Diving into curriculum to soon.
I have seen teacher after teacher want to dig their rookie teeth into the meat of a subject before they have established the guidelines and routines that create a sense of classroom community. How can a teacher begin a math lesson when two kids need to go to the bathroom but they don’t know if they are simply allowed to leave the room, grab a bathroom pass or just hold it? How can a teacher conduct any lesson if students don’t know what the guidelines are to contribute? Do they raise their hand or a finger? How should the new teacher get everyone’s attention? By yelling, “Quiet!”?
Think of traffic. We teach young children that red means stop and green means go. Then they can cross the street safely and everyone can conduct themselves in a manner in which we all cooperate to get where we need to go. But what if no one knew that simple rule? If no one knows the rules then it will be pure chaos.
I encourage new teachers to take time to develop a sense of structure in the classroom in the first few weeks. Yes, start to teach but use the curriculum you introduce as a means to set up the classroom community, not to prepare for the next test.
Responses From Readers
Thanks to Rebecca, Madeline, Katherine, Ann, Jon and Otis, and to readers, for their contributions!
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