10 Common Mistakes Beginning Teachers Make

Think of mistakes as opportunities to learn. Many of the mistakes you will make will be unavoidable. However, there are some mistakes, common to beginning teachers, that are avoidable. What follows is a list of the mistakes that new teachers tend to make most often. Keep these in mind as you begin your new career.

Mistake #1: You want your students to like you and therefore hesitate to discipline students accordingly. This is probably the most common mistake new teachers make. Believe it or not, students want boundaries. Let students know immediately what your rules or guidelines are and what the consequences are. Then, enforce them fairly, firmly, and consistently.

Mistake #2: You avoid asking for help. Teaching can be an isolating experience. You enter your room, shut your door, and you are on your own—or so many new teachers think. Remember: Your best resources for help and advice are in the classrooms next door or down the hall. If your school does not provide you with a mentor-teacher, seek one out yourself. Beginning teachers need and deserve support and guidance.

Mistake #3: You are constantly bringing school work home so that you have no leisure time at all. The first year of teaching is usually the hardest. Indeed, some veteran teachers say it was the hardest year of their lives. You feel unprepared, you have a mound of papers to grade, units to plan, parents to talk to . . . the list is endless. It is vital, however, to schedule time for yourself and your family. Take time to decompress occasionally.

Mistake #4: You act in a less-than-professional manner in an attempt to relate to your students. Remember that you can be friendly with your students without being their "friend." Always keep in mind that you are the adult professional and act accordingly. You can be caring and kind and still remain the professional.

Mistake #5: You become involved in school "politics." Avoid this at all costs. If your school's faculty lounge is a hotbed of controversy and gossip, stay far, far away from it.

Mistake #6: You overextend yourself by volunteering too often. Learn to say "no" in a polite way. Granted, there will be some duties that you simply cannot avoid; however, try to limit what you take on your first year. Concentrate your efforts on your classroom, your students, and yourself.

Mistake #7: Your students are not living up to your expectations and therefore you think you are a failure. This is common for beginning teachers. It is important to have high expectations and lofty goals that are realistic. Are your expectations age appropriate? If you are unsure, ask other teachers. It is also important to remember that you are not teaching in a vacuum. Students come to you with varying abilities, different socio-economic backgrounds, and parents who may or may not be supportive.

Ask yourself: Am I teaching to the best of my ability? Am I doing those things which will help my students improve? Do I have the required knowledge to teach this particular subject/lesson/activity? If your answers are yes, then continue as you have been. As time passes, you will become more proficient at teaching. If, on the other hand, you do not have the required knowledge needed, then seek help. Ask veteran teachers, do research online, take classes or workshops, read books on the topic, or visit your school district's media center to see what resources they offer.

Mistake #8: You take home all the problems of the day. Leave the problems at school. They'll be right there waiting for you when you return. You need time to refresh and rejuvinate yourself.

Mistake #9:  You ignore small behavior problems in hopes they will go away. Small problems grow into big problems. Take care of the small problems immediately with an appropriate response. For example, if a student is quietly whispering while you are teaching, get the student's attention and then shake your head in a firm manner. If the student continues to misbehave, take stronger measures. Some students try to "test" the teacher to see how much they can get away with. If you fairly and consistently discipline students, this should not be a problem. Remember: You teach what you tolerate.

Mistake #10: You do not have a clear set of rules or guidelines. This should be one of your first priorities. Create (or allow your students to create) a set of classroom rules or behavior expectations. Post these in the room. At the beginning of the year, go over each rule or expectation with your students. Give students examples and non-examples of following the rules. Make sure students know what the consequences are for not following the rules. Remember to be firm, fair, and consistent when enforcing the rules.

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