Most teachers have developed theories about what works in the classroom. Some are true, but others should be taken lightly.
MYTH 1 - DON’T SMILE ‘TILL CHRISTMAS
First impressions are important. You have to build a rapport with your classes and pupils like their teacher to be friendly. What you say is only 10 per cent of your total communication. Your body language and facial expressions comprise the majority of how you communicate with your classes. Being friendly and welcoming is a positive move. You could spend the first three months scowling at your classes, but it won’t make them respect you more.
MYTH 2 - GOOD TEACHERS ARE BORN, NOT MADE
Some people have a natural teaching ability, they seem to be able to do the right thing instinctively. The science and art of teaching is one that can be taught and even the naturals need to understand why what they do is effective and build on their skills.
All teachers need to engage with continuing professional development and this starts in your induction year. Within the first few weeks you need to have a discussion with whoever is in charge of newly qualified teachers and decide on what you need, based on your career entry and development profile. Identify areas that you feel less confident with and ask for training, help, or opportunities to work with experienced staff who are experts in your chosen area, such as special educational needs. Gaining qualified teacher status is a bit like passing your driving test. Now you need some “road” experience in new situations.
MYTH 3 - TEACHERS SHOULD KNOW THE ANSWERS
It takes about five years on average for a teacher to feel fully confident that their subject knowledge matches what they are required to teach. Even then, pupils can always surprise you with a question that you hadn’t thought about. There is no shame in admitting to pupils that you don’t know the answer to a question. You could turn a good question into a useful teaching point or research homework for the pupils. One idea would be to set yourself homework from pupil questions, showing that you have to work hard as well as them.
MYTH 4 - THE ONLY WAY TO FIND OUT WHAT YOUR PUPILS REALLY KNOW IS BY TESTING THEM
We have developed a culture of “if it moves, test it; if it doesn’t, test it ‘till it does”. Testing has a place in teaching but what’s most important is teaching.
Assessing pupils can be done summatively (tests and exams) or formatively - using a range of measures from talking to pupils to looking at their written work and giving helpful comments.
Try to avoid just giving pupils regular tests. Assess your pupils as you teach using assessment for learning techniques. It’s a far better way of identifying what your pupils know, understand and can do. Testing takes time and if you test too frequently it will reduce the time available for teaching.
MYTH 5 - PICK ON A PUPIL AND GIVE THEM A GOOD DRESSING DOWN. THE OTHERS WON’T GIVE YOU ANY TROUBLE AFTER THAT
Apart from the fact that this would be unprofessional, pupils have no respect for teachers who pick on them for no reason. Such teachers rule by fear rather than by respect. Some pupils may also see this as a challenge - can they get the better of you? Have a firm disciplinary approach but make sure that it’s fair and that you insist on the same standards of behaviour from the best pupil in the class to the worst.
MYTH 6 - ALL LESSONS SHOULD BE FUN
Don’t confuse fun with engaging. Fun lessons make children happy, but it shouldn’t come at the price of learning. Now and again, a fun lesson is fine, but engaging lessons are just as enjoyable. Engaging means interesting, with a motivation for pupils to succeed and finish the task or find out more. Making lessons relevant to pupils is good, so find out something about the interests of the children you teach and think of ways of incorporating these into lessons. Also provide lessons that are rooted in real-life contexts, this will help the pupils understand the relevance of what they do.
Pupils also need to know that sometimes you need to work at tasks, even if you don’t find them fun. Very few real life jobs are all fun and games and no hard work.
Education should prepare pupils for life and that means sometimes having to do things that are not fun, but need to be done
- James Williams, TES Online
Top 10 Common Teaching Mistakes to Avoid
People enter the teaching profession because they want to make a positive difference in society. Even teachers with the purest intentions can inadvertently complicate their mission if they're not careful. However, new teachers (and even veterans sometimes!) will have to work hard to conscientiously avoid common pitfalls that can make the job even harder than it inherently is. Do yourself a favour and avoid these common teaching traps.
1. Aiming To Be Friends With Your Students
Inexperienced teachers often fall into the trap of wanting their students to like them above all else. However, if you do this, you are damaging your ability to control the classroom, which in turn compromises the children's education. Instead, focus on earning your students' respect, admiration, and appreciation. Once you realize that your students will like you more when you are tough and fair with them, you'll be on the right track.
2. Being Too Easy On Discipline
This mistake is a corollary to the last one. For various reasons, teachers often start out the year with a lax discipline plan or, even worse, no plan at all! Have you ever heard the saying, "Don't let them see you smile until Christmas"? That may be extreme, but the sentiment is correct: start out tough because you can always relax your rules as time progresses if it is appropriate. But it is next to impossible to become more tough once you've shown your pliant side.
3. Not Setting Up Proper Organization From The Start
Until you've completed a full year of teaching, you are unable to fully appreciate how much paper accumulates in a school classroom. Even after the first week of school, you'll look around at the piles with astonishment! And all these papers must be dealt with... by YOU! You can avoid some of these paper-induced headaches by setting up a sensible organization system from day one and, most importantly, using it every day! Labelled files and folders are your friend. Be disciplined and throw away or sort all paperwork immediately. Remember, a tidy desk contributes to a focused mind.
4. Minimizing Parental Communication and Involvement
At first, it can feel intimidating to deal with your students' parents. You might be tempted to "fly under the radar" with them, in order to avoid confrontations and questions. However with this approach, you are squandering a precious resource. Communicate clearly with students parents from the start and you'll have a band of allies to make your entire school year flow more smoothly.
5. Getting Involved In School Politics
This pitfall is an equal opportunity offender for both new and veteran teachers. Like all workplaces, the school can be rife with squabbles, grudges, backstabbing, and vendettas. It's a slippery slope if you agree to listen to gossip because, before you know it, you'll be taking sides and immersing yourself in between warring factions. The political fallout can be brutal. Better to just keep your interactions friendly and neutral, while focusing intently on the work with your students. Avoid politics at all costs and your teaching career will thrive!
6. Remaining Isolated From The School Community
As an addendum to the previous warning, you'll want to avoid school politics, but not at the expense of being insulated and alone in the world of your classroom. Attend social events, eat lunch in the staff room, say hello in the corridors, help colleagues when you can, and reach out to the teachers around you. You never know when you will need the support of your teaching team, and if you've been a hermit for months, it's going to be more challenging for you to get what you need at that point.
7. Working Too Hard And Burning Out
It's understandable why teaching has the highest turnover rate of any profession. Most people can't hack it for long. And if you keep burning the candles at both ends, the next teacher to quit might be you! Work smart, be effective, take care of your responsibilities, but go home at a decent hour. Enjoy time with your family and set aside time to relax and rejuvenate. And here's the most difficult advice to follow: don't let classroom problems affect your emotional wellbeing and your ability to enjoy life away from school. Make a real effort to be happy.
8. Not Asking For Help
Teachers can be a proud bunch. Our job requires superhuman skills, so we often strive to appear as superheroes who can handle any problem that comes our way. But that simply can't be the case. Don't be afraid to appear vulnerable, admit mistakes, and ask your colleagues for assistance. Look around your school and you will see centuries of teaching experience represented by your fellow teachers. More often than not, these professionals are generous with their time and advice. Ask for help and you just might discover that you're not as alone as you thought you were.
9. Being Overly Optimistic And Too Easily Crushed
This pitfall is one that new teachers should be especially careful to avoid. New teachers often join the profession because they are idealistic, optimistic, and ready to change the world! This is great because your students (and veteran teachers) need your fresh energy and innovative ideas. But don't venture into Pollyanna land. You'll only end up frustrated and disappointed. Recognize that there will be tough days where you want to throw in the towel. There will be times when your best efforts aren't enough. Know that the tough times will pass, and they are a small price to pay for teaching's joys.
10. Being Too Hard On Yourself
Teaching is hard enough without the additional challenge of mental anguish over slip-ups, mistakes, and imperfections. Nobody's perfect. Even the most decorated and experience teachers make poor decisions every so often. Forgive yourself for the day's blemishes, erase the slate, and gather your mental strength for the next time it's needed. Don't be your own worst enemy. Practice the same compassion that you show your students by turning that understanding on yourself.