4 Mistakes New Teachers Make (and How to Avoid Them)

Veteran teachers share their advice on how to have a successful first year in the classroom and avoid new teacher mistakes.

As a new teacher, your first year in the classroom can be fraught with doubt and worries: Do I know enough? Are students learning enough? How do I deal with behavior problems? The fear of making a mistake can be overwhelming.

new teacher mistakes

To help you through those early days in the classroom, we asked successful, veteran teachers to share the top four mistakes they made as a new teacher along with their advice for how to avoid these missteps.

New Teacher Mistake #1: Not taking the time to get to know students

Research shows students perform better and have fewer behavioral problems in classrooms where teachers work to connect with them.

Kevin Parr, a fourth-grade teacher for the past 13 years, learned to connect with students early in his career. “One of my biggest mistakes starting out was focusing too much on content and not enough on kids,” explains Parr.

Often, children are trying to manage a life outside of school that is unimaginable to many adults.

“The danger in doing this is it can lead teachers into labeling kids for their perceived laziness or disinterest in the material when the root of the problem is factors outside of school. Often, children are trying to manage a life outside of school that is unimaginable to many adults.”

His advice, "Get to know your students, and let your students get to know you.” Parr shares personal stories about his family and childhood, plays games with students at recess, and talks with them about their interests and hobbies.

He says building relationships helps students feel safe and supported and more willing to take risks— which is necessary because, as he explains, “Learning is impossible without taking risks.”

Featured TeacherVision Resource: Learning Students’ Names Quickly

New Teacher Mistake #2: Failing to set classroom management expectations right away

When you create structure with classroom routines and provide a clear set of rules and expectations, your school day runs smoothly. Students know what to expect as well as what’s expected of them.

On her first day as a teacher in 2009, Amanda Brooks used a PowerPoint presentation to introduce her fifth-grade students to the rules and procedures of her classroom—a process she learned at a pre-school in-service given by Harry Wong, author of The First Days of School.

She and her students practiced everything from their morning routine to how to behave when a visitor enters the classroom. Brooks says this one step set the tone for her to have a great year with her students.

Brooks—who now teaches incoming teachers in her district how to manage their classrooms—says having procedures in place early on helped her focus on teaching and enjoying her career, instead of worrying about behavior issues.

Featured TeacherVision Resource: Classroom Management Strategies

New Teacher Mistake #3: Forgetting that students need to actively participate in learning

Michael Fisher taught for 13 years before becoming an education consultant in 2008. Early in his first year as a teacher, he realized he was so focused on avoiding behavior problems and keeping students on task that he wasn’t involving students in learning.

In an early lesson on potential and kinetic energy, for example, Fisher’s students watched a video about roller coasters and completed a worksheet. When tested at the end of the week, half the students failed the test.

“What happened was I didn’t teach them anything. They weren’t engaged,” explains Fisher.

It was the difference between a ripple in a puddle and a tidal wave. The change was so significant, it underscored the fact that I needed to be a better planner of these discovery-level modelling type moments.

The next year, Fisher let students construct makeshift roller coasters with clear tubing and weighted balls. Without mentioning potential and kinetic energy at first, he asked students to test out different scenarios and see what happens when they create a short hill or a high hill and use a metal ball versus a wooden ball.

Fisher says once students were involved, their learning went through the roof. “It was the difference between a ripple in a puddle and a tidal wave. The change was so significant, it underscored the fact that I needed to be a better planner of these discovery-level modelling type moments.”

Featured TeacherVision Resource: The Basics of Centers

New Teacher Mistake #4: Not taking advantage of online and offline support

Failing to create a professional learning network is a major mistake Fisher sees new teachers make in his role as an education consultant. Whether you use Twitter chats like #hacklearning, Instagram or blogs (like TeacherVision), Fisher says these tools can provide new teachers with personalized professional development.

Creating connections with colleagues in your school is also helpful. Ask if your school or district has a professional learning community or mentoring program or simply reach out to teachers in your grade-level. Whatever you do, don’t try to operate as an island.

As Fisher explains, “I think it’s hurtful for teachers to hold themselves up in their rooms and not let anything else in–new experiences, new ways of doing things, new methodologies. If you’re not willing to share and give and receive, are you doing what’s best for kids?”

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TeacherVision has resources to support you through your first year as a teacher and beyond. Visit our New Teacher Resources for tools, activities, lesson plans and advice designed specifically for you.

Author Bio:

Wendy McMahon is an education technology writer who has been working and writing in the edtech field for more than 15 years. She currently writes for EdSurge, EdTech Magazine and Pearson. She holds a Journalism Degree from the University of King’s College. Follow her on Twitter at @wendymcmahon.