20 Teaching Mistakes

We all like to think we are good teachers but even so, we all make them.

Some are big, some are whoppers and thankfully, many are small. But mistakes are inevitable even for seasoned campaigners and those with over 10,000 hours in the experience bank.

Let’s take a look at some:

1. Breaking a promise

Don’t make promises because you may not always be able to keep them. If you do promise to do something and then fail to deliver then trust can just evaporate. It’s probably better to say “I’ll do what I can” rather than offering something 100% cast-iron certain. Communicate and set realistic expectations.

2. Not knowing what you are saying

The classroom is not the place to ‘wing it’. If you are teaching something then it’s down to you to get your inner-script battle ready. If you don’t explore common misconceptions before a lesson there is a chance you could end up teaching one or two and giving students faulty knowledge. Don’t pretend to be an expert and if you don’t know something then quickly admit to it and fill your own knowledge gaps through extra study and CPD.

3. Talking too much

Teachers are not one great army of clones but there is something many of them do too much of and that’s talk. Teaching doesn’t not mean spending 80% of a lesson teaching and being centre stage. Students are not passive spectators. They need to be active, talking and doing. Teachers who love the sound of their own voices and talk at students are failing them. Talking for more than ten minutes at a time without allowing students to ‘breathe’ is a mistake. Talking too fast is another no no.

4.  Following fads

It’s an easy trap to fall into but there might be something that everyone is doing and so you feel like you need to jump on the bandwagon too. Don’t! Step back and look at what the evidence is saying. There are so many initiatives that simply don’t work and need debunking: the learning pyramid, learning styles, Maslow’s hierachy of needs, multiple intelligeneces, brain gym etc.

5. Talking to the whiteboard

Do you write stuff on the board and talk at the board at the same time? If you turn your back to the class then stop talking. You need to see faces and talking at the board disconnects you from students. Not only can what you say get lost but students will lose interest.

6.  Underestimating students

Don’t fall for labels and what others tell you. Make your own assessments and keep an open-mind. Students are constantly changing and will keep on surprising us. Having an idea that someone is in ‘the bottom set’ or ‘top set’ is dangerous thinking and flawed thinking. You colleague says Sophie has dyslexia. Really? You might want to think again.

7.  Taking things personally

If a student winds you up then they have won. If what they say makes your blood boil then they have won. They might do and say things that could be perceived as being almost personal attacks. They aren’t and it is a mistake to see it this way. Professional responses at all times keep you on an even keel and let students know that you are in control and unperturbed.

8. Not teaching with passion

There will be plenty that you teach that might not float your boat but that doesn’t mean you have to show it. If you are having a rough day and not feeling fully with it then that’s not the fault of the students. Everything you teach needs to be injected with enthusiasm and passion for maximum engagement. Teaching is a heart and soul job and that needs to come across by the bucket load.

9. Focusing on data

Some teachers obsess over data to the point of it being unhealthy. Yes, those little numbers and letters in a spreadsheet might be important to someone but we don’t judge pupil progress purely on the academic. Learning is in a constant state of flux and any data that you focus on soon becomes meaningless as these are just snapshots.

10. Watch your media

If you plan on showing a video in class then make sure you have seen it before the students. There are sometimes inappropriate adverts, messages and bits of content that can make you look a real amateur. Be prepared and never assume that filters work and things are ‘safe’.

11.  Saying “This is so easy”

It might be easy to you and it could be for most of the class but ‘easy’ is subjective. If we use the word too casually then it can inadvertently mock some students. It tells them that if they don’t ‘get it’ then they aren’t up to it and not very bright.

12. Setting a test and then not doing it

Some teachers will tell their class to revise for something ready for a test next week. Then if the test doesn’t happen students rightly feel disappointed and resentful because they will have prepared. It’s no use saying “It’s not time wasted, it will still come in handy” because it can be valuable time wasted if students had other commitments they sacrificed.

13. Doing a test and not giving timely feedback

A test needs feedback as close as possible to the actual event for it to have any real meaning and impact. It’s no use giving a test back 2 weeks down the line because you’ve been busy. By this time students will have done a hundred other things.

14. Not setting high enough goals

The bar needs to be set high and that means letting students know that you have high expectations of them. Don’t settle for second best and make sure that you are constantly on at students to better their own personal bests.

15. Going through the motions

If you have taught a topic a few hundred times before then it can get a bit pedestrian…for you. But teaching is not different from acting in a play. The audience who see the play see it as if it as fresh as a daisy. They need to see a professional performance even if the actors have performed it for 12 weeks already. Teach the material you have and remember that for those in front of you it is their first time.

16. Turning a blind-eye

If you allow low-level disruptive behaviour then you are setting yourself up for some huge problems. Nip things in the bud from the outset to keep your classroom management water-tight.

17. Shouting

Shouting uses a lot of energy and doesn’t really have any positive outcome. It isn’t big and it isn’t clever because it eradicates rapport and can frighten children. Shouting shows everyone that you have lost control and when that happens some teachers really can lose it.

18. Mass punishing

It’s something that you might have seen a colleague do – someone misbehaves and so you punish the whole class by making them stay in at break. That’s pretty pointless and will get everyone complaining. This isn’t a power-trip.

19. Getting too ‘matey’

When we start calling students ‘mate’ we are getting too familiar. There are personal lines that we need to keep in order to maintain professional boundaries. Students are not our friends.

20. Sitting behind your desk

The teacher desk is a huge barrier in the class and it is something that doesn’t need to be there. If you sit at ‘your’ desk then you are creating a ‘them’ and ‘us’ relationship and some students find it intimidating.


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