Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ten Rookie Mistakes of a First Year Teacher


The fact of the matter is, if you’re a new teacher—you’re going to screw up. The Teaching Fellows program and new teacher induction will tell you there’s a “learning curve” for new teachers, and this is a very nice way of explaining the numerous gross errors you will perpetrate in your classroom before you straighten up and learn your way.
But if you’re any good you’ll learn and you’ll easily avoid the gaffes in April that you blundered into in October.

Here are the top ten slip-ups, faux pas, bungles, and flounders I caught myself executing during my first year as an educator. Some are special ed. specific, but many are missteps that any new teacher could stumble through.

1. I spent three days of going over procedures and rules instead of three weeks. This was my main oversight for the year, I spent way too little time on classroom expectations and paid for it all year with an increasingly unruly class. The problem was that I didn’t know how to broach my expectations for students and consequences in a spiraling fashion, I just went over it once, posted the rules and dove right into academics.

2. I was a rube and offered seemingly boundless extrinsic rewards (otherwise known as bribery) From day one I handed out Tootsie Rolls to students who filled in their blue identification cards correctly. By the end of the year, not only was I out tons of cash in which I bought bribes, but I found that my kids were now trained to only do work if a reward was involved. Even worse, I only gave treats out for good work or behavior; however my para just gave gum and candy out to whomever asked…so ultimately they treated her with more respect.

3. I crossed the line from friendly to informal. Repeat after me: you are not your student’s pal. I found myself being way too open with my students, initially sharing a lot of info about myself…and that ended up being a bad idea as students took my informality as a welcome for disrespect. This year I plan to exercise kindness and warmth without being an open book for my kids. Oh, and know this: students will try to look up your MySpace page…so make it private or risk them bringing up that way-too-personal photo of you.

4. I would make empty threats. In September I was making five phone calls a night, on Fridays I called the families of students who were really good. I thought I was a rock star because I called whether students were good or bad. By November it was over. But if you tell a kid you’re going to call, and don’t make good on your threat…it’s pretty much over for you; the student will know that they can get over on you with no sweat. Be consistent and follow up your threats! You’re only as good as your word.

5. I let my paraprofessionals run the show. I was 23, my paras were in their 30’s and 40’s…and I was shaking in my shoes when it came to asserting myself in the classroom. The result was that they didn’t do their job, left me with tons of extra work, and often left alone in my classroom. If you’re like me, you’re not too keen on confrontation, but realize that if your paraprofessionals mess up it’s still your ass/job on the line. Just like with the students, make your preferences and expectations known from the beginning.

6. I made two many calls to School Security each day. I was so freaked out by my student’s misbehavior that I was calling school safety nearly every day, and it got to the point where they wouldn’t answer. The realization that I was leaning on security too heavily came the day that the officer came into my room, saw the student laying over my desk casually tossing my belongings into the trash bin, and promptly walked out shaking her head. When you rely too much on administration and security for classroom management you give up your own power as a teacher and disciplinarian, not to mention you look like a wuss, not to mention you are viewed as an annoyance.

7. My classroom routines were established too late. It was December before I had all my routines posted and in place. By then it was hard to make students truly adhere to the rituals of the classroom. When they didn’t follow the routine, they didn’t do the work and they acted up considerably. By May they followed the routine pretty well…but all that wasted time haunts me. This year I will be all about the routine from the get go, and my classroom should work like a well oiled machine. (Ha!)

8. I engaged in arguments with students (and I let them see me sweat!) Little known fact: students test boundaries and want to see if you’ll take the bait. Each time they insult your shoes, tell you that you’re a bad teacher, or say their mom is going to slap you they are testing whether they can get under your skin. When you snap back at them, or get into a verbal battle…they win. And it’s fun for them. Seriously, many of my students can’t read and only are coming to school so they avoid truancy or their probation officer; if they can liven up their day by making the teacher scream and rip out her hair, all the better! Kids are so smart it’s scary, and they will act like an evil mirror reflecting your worst qualities; once they see what sort of comment or action provokes you, it’s all over. My example is my desk; all year I was vulnerable because the kids learned to pick the lock on my drawers and rifle through my belongs—this would drive me to shout and actually chase students around the room. To a student seeing a teacher actually run to a desk before a student got his hands inside must have been as entertaining as hell…Finally I had to face facts and just act like it was no big thing that the kids were stealing my post-it notes and making paper-clip necklaces. After I moved my valuables to my padlocked closet, of course. Once I didn’t care the students saw they couldn’t get a rise out of me and left my desk alone.

9. I retreated to my desk. Again with the desk! I often used my desk as a barrier between myself and students, and this negatively and unconsciously constructed a barrier between us. I’m not saying I sat at my desk all day, or never stood in front of the class while I instructed; but during down time it was my natural default to sit at my desk while I readied assignments or grade papers. This left me really isolated and created an air of inapproachability between me and my students. This year I’m moving my desk to the far corner of the room so I am forced to sit at the student table and be among my kids more.

10. I let people intrude upon my lunch break. New teachers: keep your lunch hour holy. This is the time for you to relax and unwind for 50 minutes before the screaming hordes of students return to class. Let’s be frank: I was a pushover for any administrator, counselor, or student who wanted to meet during my lunch…and often I didn’t face the afternoon as a refreshed and enthusiastic educator. If you have to leave the classroom or teacher lounge and get outside: do so. Don’t pick up your classroom phone, don’t commit to meetings, don’t let students “hang out” in your classroom. Maybe in a few years you can spread yourself thin and can teach well while tired, but for now I recommend taking some time for yourself because you’ll need all the energy you can muster.


Don’t despair, new teachers. The mistakes you’ll make will lead to a metamorphosis to an incredibly dynamic instructor. Hang on, don’t lose your excitement, and you’ll definitely survive the year.

52 Comments:

Anonymous Schoolgal said...

Great insight.

Word of warning: Since you are not tenured, you may have to meet with admins during lunch. They are wrong to ask you to do so, and I blame your Chapter Chair for not standing up for duty-free lunches. This happens in my school all the time, and since the CC didn't take a stand, no one wants to rock the boat.

Thursday, August 30, 2007 4:20:00 PM  
Blogger beth said...

Amen! May our second years be SOOOO much better than our firsts!! (I emailed you too.) :)

Go get em girlfriend!!

Thursday, August 30, 2007 7:13:00 PM  
Blogger J said...

congratulations on getting through your very rough first year, but being strong and recognizing those mistakes in order to fix them. i had a very similar experience and the difference in my second year was like night and day! it sounds like you are well prepared to have a great year--best of luck, can't wait to hear all about it!

Friday, August 31, 2007 8:31:00 PM  
Blogger Ms V said...

Thanks! I am definitely going to follow all your advice.

Friday, August 31, 2007 9:05:00 PM  
Blogger pamsterish said...

Well said.

Friday, August 31, 2007 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger Miss! said...

Glad to have found this blog, we're in similar positions. I see myself in so many of your mistakes, and I keep hoping I will be able to avoid them this year.

Sunday, September 02, 2007 8:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Jose said...

Good luck on your second year. This'll be my third, so the memories of my second are still fresh in my mind. I'll be back to comment on a couple of your blogs, too. Peace ...

Monday, September 03, 2007 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Geoff said...

this is great stuff! you'll enjoy your second year so much more, i'm hoping to enjoy my 3rd

Monday, September 03, 2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger roller coaster teacher said...

My hat's off to you! Great writing, stellar insights. You know the good news is you'll exponentially improve your teaching over time. Found your blog via NY Observer article and one of the other bloggers referenced therein.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007 1:37:00 AM  
Blogger The Vegas Art Guy said...

I am going to save your post to word and then print it out in big letters so that I don't make the same mistakes. I do have a question though. Did you have lots of rules that you enforced or did you just have a few set in stone that were never to be broken?

And I'm going to add you to me education blogs roll thingy, yeah the one on the right side of my blog... :)

Thursday, September 06, 2007 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

How was your first week of school?
Usually you post your experiences by now.

Sunday, September 09, 2007 6:16:00 AM  
Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

We learn our best lessons from the mistakes we make, painful though the process may be. Just think how well equipped you are to face this year!

Saturday, September 15, 2007 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

What a great, honest and insightful post. Most of us could write a similar post, even after teaching for many years.
And, um, you get 50 minutes for lunch?????? Holy Shmokes.

Thursday, September 20, 2007 5:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um...I'm glad I homeschool my children. That's all I have to say.

Sunday, December 16, 2007 7:05:00 AM  
Blogger Miss April said...

Thank you so much for this little blog. I feel like most of this i'm already doing in my PRE STUDENT TEACHING, yes PRE!

Thursday, March 26, 2009 1:37:00 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

This is very insightful. Thank you for posting this. I have not started teaching yet and this lets me know kind of what works and what doesn't.

Thursday, October 01, 2009 1:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,
I just finished reading your blog and I find that what you say is true. It is my first year as a teacher and things seem to be going well. I believe that routines should be established and mastered the first month of school. The things is, I am team teaching with 36 students in a class. I am not the only person who decides what needs to be done in the classroom which makes it difficult to do what I want. Do you happen to know what I can do? There really is no routine in the classroom and I see that that takes alot of time from instructions...please help..
sole_055@hotmail.com

Monday, October 05, 2009 2:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have shamefully accomplished each of these mistakes! I actually had a bad day today, but after reading your blog....I know I'm not alone. :) Thank you.

Friday, May 07, 2010 10:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this information. I now feel that I am not alone. I am a career changer and it is my first year as a full time teacher. I thought everything was going fine. I had my kids knowing what was expected of them and on a fairly regular routine. Then I was blindsided. The administration, after Thanksgiving break, decided to revamp the classes and I got a whole new group of 8th grade students. I am
now trying to restablish a routine with my new group of students. Which had been quite a challenge. Now I have more students with less English. Which is fine except my class is taught primarily in English. Not only is this my first year as an ESL, but I am also their first teacher that has taught the entire class in English. I had my 2nd evaluation yesterday and while my first evaluation was done by my department head (she liked what I was doing), my second evaluation was done by my Principal (she disliked everything my department head liked!). I could go on and on, but I won't. Thanks again for posting!

Saturday, December 18, 2010 5:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog. I have been struggling through my first year and it is nice to hear others had the exact same problem.

Ms. Q

Saturday, April 09, 2011 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger chicorico70 said...

Yeah, I'm also just finishing my first year, and the issues and new things that I want to implement next year that I have been listing throughout this year is like a mile long! I wish I could make like Mario and warp out of the first year and into my sixth! My division head wants to meet w/ me on Tuesday, along with my first-year mentor teacher, to discuss the year. I know that there will be a lot of constructive criticism... so finding others in the same boat is a relief, but... Ok I'll stop. Yes, looking forward to next year!

Saturday, May 28, 2011 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Mohammed Rhalmi said...

Great post! I enjoyed reading it. I hope you will get over all these mistakes next year.

Friday, August 19, 2011 4:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your frank, honest thoughts on your top 10. My 1st year was a 24-7 job. The school closed and I was pregnant with our 1st in Oct, so I subbed and now serve as a para. I love it, but miss the classroom so *hope* to try to be a "1st year" again next Sept.

Saturday, September 24, 2011 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

l made all of these mistakes, and many more. I lovd your honesty, you obviously have the makings of a great teacher & a great leader.

Monday, January 30, 2012 4:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I have committed about half of these mistakes, although some of them like policies and procedures or a mentor teacher have not even been offered to me.

The problem is at my new school they are making me feel like the worst teacher in the world and the only one to make these mistakes in the world. That's my leading teacher and principal, not the kids.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 12:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feb 14th- I agree with you. My students and parents have been great for my first year! Something that I was not prepared for was the lack of communication and lack of preparation on the administrator's part. I feel as if the more I can take care of on my own without asking her the more I can get done!

Sunday, March 04, 2012 7:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a second year teacher. I cringe at my first year mistakes and now that my second year is nearly over, I look back at Sept of this year and recognize things I will change for my third year. The point is that you have taken time to recognize things that need to change and are obviously willing to make the effort. Always be sure to recognize the good things you do as well.

Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:52:00 PM  
Blogger Theresa said...

As a veteran teacher finishing my 24th year, I plan on printing this for my student teacher this coming fall.
Everyone makes mistakes in teaching, even us old gals.
As a tip, look at your degree (it IS hanging in your classroom, right?) every morning before first bell and remember how hard you worked to earn that hunk of paper. DO NOT give anyone,,,students, parents, colleagues, paras, or administrators,,,permission to run your classroom.

Sunday, May 20, 2012 7:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

Ugh... I have made almost all of those 10 mistakes this year. I have been thinking about quitting the teaching profession. I just feel inadequate and like I am not the right person for the job. I hope it will be better next year... but i just don't know if I have what it takes! Glad to see someone else experienced some of the same things I did....

Thursday, May 31, 2012 5:35:00 PM  
Blogger Lucia13 said...

So honest of you to face all those mistakes and share with them,I am sure all the teachers pass through these mistakes but not all of them admit and speak about them!

Lusine
Enjoy Teaching English

Friday, June 22, 2012 3:57:00 AM  
Blogger School System Occupational Therapist in Virginia said...

Although I'm an occupational therapist working in special education classes and not a teacher, I loved reading your insights. Karen

Sunday, July 01, 2012 7:05:00 PM  
Blogger Nitzan said...

Thanks for posting this! I just finished my first year of lead teaching and wish I had seen your blog back in September. Hoping it gets easier year two.

Monday, July 16, 2012 10:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Courtney H said...

I am just a short month away from entering my first teaching year, and I am beyond excited. I truly enjoyed reading your list of recommendations. It will be very helpful as I begin my first year of teaching. A lot of what of you have shared is what my cooperating teacher shared with me during my time as a student teacher. So, to hear these things again makes them that much more important! Thank you for your honesty!

Thursday, July 19, 2012 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Melas said...

Have you read Lemov's "Teach Like A Champion"? We're using it here in the teacher residency program I'm part of in Chicago, and it sounds great, but I'm interested to hear from folks who haven't bellied up to the koolaid trough how effective the techniques are with middle schoolers.

Friday, August 03, 2012 8:02:00 AM  
Blogger ricek said...

You made me feel so much better that others have experienced things like I did. I think I did every single one of those. I felt like a failure. I have gotten a new job at a new school this year and I don't want to repeat any of my mistakes. Thanks for the encouragement that I'm not alone in making mistakes. :)

Friday, August 10, 2012 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a new found respect for my kiddos teachers after reading this. I will try and adjust my way of thinking and judging his/hers teachers after reading this, I actually never considered all that y'all really do endure. My hats off to the teachers!!

Thursday, August 16, 2012 8:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From my point of view is really stupid to have so many people struggling, the teachers as well as the students. Teachers simply do not receive the right training and that is why they are struggling. The second problem is that there is no really a system in place but thousands of subsystems(schools, districts). Each person decides what is good or is bad, there is no a system in place and students know it. Then there are those courageous people who get ready every day to try to teach under these circumstances. Have you ever wondered why we have more and more 3rd world people coming to the USA to occupy places like doctors, journalists, scientists, teachers?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 6:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just curious...what grade do you teach?

Thursday, December 06, 2012 7:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where are you working that you get 50 minute lunches???

Friday, December 07, 2012 2:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your approach to teaching frightens the life out of me. You do not mention learning or inquiry in your post at all but focus on behaviour modification and this is why your students do not act like you want them to. If you treat them like animals that need to be trained then they will act like untrained animals. I hope my children never encounter a "teacher" (read animal trainer) like you during their educational journeys.

Saturday, December 29, 2012 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

To Anonymous from Dec. 29,

Whoa there... learning and inquiry are definitely the ONLY goal in every classroom. No one chooses to become a teacher out of a desire to train children. It just so happens that classrooms are living, breathing spaces filled with young people who have emotional and social needs! While learning is primordial, we often (always) have to resolve personal struggles before we can be truly effective in teaching our content area material. Classroom teachers have to set a structure for learning and appeal to students as an authority before we can teach them anything.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 5:39:00 PM  
Blogger Lilly said...

Very nice! I enjoyed reading this. On six, I think you mean "too" not "two"...

Monday, January 28, 2013 2:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Dulcineea said...

This is my 9th year as teacher and I still make some mistakes like getting too personal with students/parents but due to my experience I catch up more quickly and try a different strategy. But the thing is, I'm a violin teacher so my lessons are one-on-one so I understand completely, the challenge you had . Another thing I had to accept is, because I look young (oh, those genetics), the high-school boys tend to body-check me and give me looks, and I just felt so insecure . Now I simply avoid eye contact when walking and keep a strait face. Helps.

Sunday, February 03, 2013 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

50 minutes lunches? My students only get 30, and by the time I get them through the line, I'm lucky to have 20.

Monday, March 18, 2013 2:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to Anonymous, Dec. 29
In all social situations, including teaching, people ask themselves 4 emblematic questions (meaning they do it subconsciously):
1. How do I feel?
2. Does this interest me?
3. Is this important?
4. Can I do this?

If the answer to these 4 questions is not positive, the student will not learn. Having structure in the classroom is essential to students feeling safe/secure/appreciated/trusted etc. Therefore if you don't know how to manage a classroom or properly discipline (not punish) then you will fail.

Thank you so much for these top 10!!! I don't do my student teaching until next year, and I know I will make millions of mistakes, but I hope to learn from you and not make these top ten!!!! :)

Friday, April 26, 2013 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. Lee said...

I am in my current first year of teaching and I am guilty of almost every darn thing you listed. It's tough not to get sucked in. Teaching is such a learn-as-you-go profession. No amount of student teaching could prepare you for the beginning of the year and classroom management your first year, but I believe it separates the good teachers from the great ones. Thanks for sharing!

Monday, April 29, 2013 10:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great thoughts! thanks for posting!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a first year teacher, about halfway through, and I haven't made any of those mistakes. My biggest mistake is that I tend to teach too slow (waiting for kids to get their stuff together and stop asking me dumb questions) and I am not the best at management and getting kids in trouble besides stern reminders, moving them to a different seat, taking away points (which lead to detention and a call home) or sending them to the hall. So actually, I do quite a bit of management, it just doesn't quite do the trick I guess. My kids are still a little naughty (7th graders usually are).

And YET, I have had at least 3 other teachers from my school complain to the department head about me not teaching and saying my students are "out of control" and "not learning anything". Who knows who they are, and how would they even know about me?? I'm so tired of it. Has anyone else been told these things their first year? It totally makes me feel like crap because I feel like I'm actually doing pretty good. My mentor hasn't ever said anything like that to me and she's seen me teach 3 times.

Monday, January 20, 2014 6:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insight. I have not yet started teaching, but I am already making some of those mistakes. Good luck in your teaching career!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 9:15:00 PM  
Blogger Megan Herbert said...

I will be printing this out & putting it in my student teaching binder for my practicum this fall! Thank you!

Monday, August 11, 2014 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger Reza Schwarz said...

It's not difficult to write a post on blog, but writing term paper bring more difficulties. All you need is look 1ws

Tuesday, June 23, 2015 9:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Teaching in Pearls said...

Love this. As a first year teacher I am experiencing some of these myself! I can't wait to reflect on this year a few months from now as you have.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 8:45:00 AM  

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