Teaching is regarded as a very noble profession where one can really educate future generations. However, when teachers start their career they usually make some fundamental mistakes. In today’s blog post and video, we look at ten common mistakes new teachers usually make and should avoid.
Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, caliber, and future of an individual. If the people remember me as a good teacher, that will be the biggest honour for me. (Abdul Kalam)
Mistake 1: Trying to be friends with the students
There is nothing wrong with being friendly and approachable with students as a teacher. I try to make myself as approachable as possible with all my students with the hope that it helps develop that all important rapport. However, there is a clear problem when teachers attempt to become friends with their students. If a teacher tries to befriend their students, it will cause learners to view their teacher with less respect.
If a teacher has befriended their students and then this teacher needs to express some form of authority in the classroom, words or actions will fall on deaf ears. Students will respond less to authority and disregard any strong-worded views of the teacher. So, it is highly recommended that new teachers avoid trying to be a friend of students in the class.
Mistake 2: Lack of consistency with rules
As with the previous mistake, whereby you contradict your role as a teacher, the lack of consistency and fairness with rules within the classroom can cause many issues. It is natural for teachers to respond more positively to good students and more negatively to more challenging students. In fact, in sociology and psychology we call this either the ‘halo’ or ‘horn’ effect when dealing with other people. However, such a bias can cause difficulties when implementing rules within the classroom.
One issue that I had in my first year of the career was that I would be more supportive with my ‘better’ students, while my less popular students would be disregarded. It was terrible in hindsight but now I try to encourage fairness for all and embrace all students. Actually, I really reward those more problematic and challenging students as they have made the effort to improve. Just make sure that any bias is removed from the classroom when teaching or implementing rules and maintain consistency throughout the lesson.
Mistake 3: Planning too much for lessons
It is a critical role for the teacher to plan a lesson to best suit their learners. Naturally, teachers early in their career will find it difficult to know how long particular lessons may last and this will lead to over-planning. It takes a while to understand how long a task may last or whether a particular activity would suit your students and the only way to discover this is by planning and reflecting on how things were successful and what areas could be improved upon. I remember spending the entire night before my first ever lesson worrying and stressed about whether my lesson would be received positively or flop.
However, for professional teachers and educators, it is natural to worry and over-plan. After some time, you would discover a particular style and groove that helps you learn what works best for your students. Throw into the mix a few observations and some in-house professional development sessions, and you will be developing the skills necessary to deliver quality lessons in no time. Just remember to reflect on your lessons and respond to lessons accordingly.
Mistake 4: Working too hard and burning out
The over area that is usually overlooked is the fact that teachers have a lot of other administrative duties included with their teaching: student reports, moderating exams, weekly plans, liaising with other teachers, communicating with parents or students, etc. There is a lot of work involved with teaching behind the scenes. Therefore, it is important that you do not make the mistake of working too hard and burning out.
Consider starting a hobby, playing a sport, meeting non-teaching friends or spending time with family. If you are consumed with teaching within the school as well as after you leave, you will find yourself getting stressed. Try to not bring work home with you and once you leave the school, focus on yourself. Early on in your career, you may start to bring student material home to mark or decide to plan a lesson. If you start to bring work home, you will soon find that it becomes a habit and before you know it, you are working before, during and after school.
Mistake 5: Relying upon too much technology
One of the best things about being a teacher is being able to use technology within your class. You can try out new tech with your students’ consent and then report to your colleagues or provide an in-house training session to share your thoughts and ideas. However, you may start to find that you end up using all the technology that you wish to the detriment of the students’ learning.
I remember deciding to use an interactive PowerPoint with my class of English learners. It had all sorts of flashy animation, random discussion questions, games – the works! The students responded positively to it to begin with and then I thought, “Oh, they like this so I should use it again in my class!”. I started to use it again and again but before I knew it, the students grew disengaged and bored. Don’t just technology for the sake of it, believing that it will improve your lessons. It will initially but the focus should primarily be the students rather than the technology.
Mistake 6: Focusing solely on the coursebook
If you are teaching a class of language learners, you will normally be given a coursebook to follow for the term or course. Coursebooks are absolutely brilliant and save you quite a lot of time planning entire lessons and activities with your students. However, an over reliance with coursebooks and prescribing lessons based on a set-book can cause quite a lot of issues with your teaching. If you follow the coursebook religiously, then learners will start to find that your lessons are not dynamic and quite uninteresting. However, try to strike that balance between using the coursebook or adapting it is a fine art.
New teachers will naturally rely on the coursebook heavily to best inform their teaching and the curriculum. It is best to view any coursebook as a springboard and always think about how best to adapt lessons to better suit language learners. Perhaps in a future blog post and video, I could share some ideas on adapting coursebooks for lessons.
Mistake 7: Not grading teacher language for students
One area for particular focus as a new teacher is about grading language for students. What I mean about ‘graded language’ is the ability to form sentences and use language which is comprehensible for students. If you were studying a foreign language and you have some comprehension of language, if your teacher were to use more complicated and incomprehensible language, it would cause issues with understanding. When you first start teaching English as a foreign language to young learners or adults, you need to start using language that learners are aware of. Initially, this is problematic as you need to learn what language would be suitable to use at particular levels. You will make mistakes to begin with but as long as you reflect and adjust language that is more comprehensible to learners, the better.
Personally, I encountered this during the CELTA course when I was monitoring students. I remember setting up the task for learners. They were in the middle of the task and I was wandering round, ensuring that learners were on task and I asked students, “How are you getting on?”. The response was, “Huh?!!?”. Obviously students couldn’t understand my utterance and I initially found it quite embarrassing but a necessary development for evolving teacher language in the classroom. As long as you respond to student reaction positively and develop your language accordingly, you will find an opportunity to improve.
Mistake 8: Just using the same game or activity
The eighth mistake that I encountered early on in my teaching career was using the same game or activity all the time during lessons. When I discovered an activity that students responded positively to, I decided to exploit this. Unfortunately, as with the mistake of using technology all the time, students will initially find this task enjoyable but then the interest would be short-lived. When using a task in class, ask yourself why you are using it and what the benefit is to the students.
Rather than exploiting a task or activity for use all the time, consider varying or experimenting using a variety of games. You will encounter more tasks and then develop more activities that can be used at various times during future lessons. Students will find it more rewarding if they are exposed a variety of tasks and you will then start to gain more confidence with your teaching practice.
Mistake 9: Expecting too much from students
The next mistake that newly certified language teachers make is expecting too much from students. As teachers, there is an overall expectation that we deliver content that is professional, organised and appropriate for learners. However, there could be a greater burden placed on students during the lesson from the teacher. There is that idea that as practitioners, we are planning and putting in a lot of effort for classes and students should match that effort with their language learning and their own contribution during the class.
This can be problematic. Students have their own strengths and weaknesses with language learning, as do teachers when they attempt to acquire another language. We should not expect too much from students during the lesson and if a particular task is not as engaging or interesting for students, then as a teacher it is best to reflect on possible reasons. Furthermore, we should reflect on our teaching and learner reaction with amending future lessons. It is a difficult activity but do not expect students to perform perfectly at all times and try to better understand how you can accommodate a range of learning styles for future lessons.
Mistake 10: Pretending to know everything
The final mistake that some new teachers could make is pretending to know absolutely everything about their subject. When you teach, two learn: yourself as a teacher and the student. Always remember that as a teacher, you are not there as a central figure imparting knowledge to students. You are there with the students to help them navigate their life-long learning. There are some parts of the world that place a greater respect towards teachers as if they are the fountain of all knowledge. However, as a language teacher, it is important to not to pretend that you know everything.
If you pretend to know something and try to baffle the students with something which is incredibly complicated, the learners may have an incorrect understanding of the language. If you are unsure of a language phrase or grammar construction, tell them that you need to review this in your own time or consult a colleague and perhaps reviewing this in a future lesson would be best. This shows students that as a teacher, you are willing to let them know that you do not always know and you are leading by example. You would like your students to follow the same principle with their language learning: reflecting and learning before making judgements about a language phrase.
So these were the ten most common mistakes that newly certified teachers could make early on in their career but being aware of possible mistakes or areas that need developing does not make you anything less as a teacher. As long as you evolve, develop and reflect, you will become a professional in whatever field you wish to focus on. Good luck and I hope you enjoyed this blog post.