Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top Ten Mistakes of First-Year High School Teachers (That I Made Personally)

— Paul Moliken

Being too "friendly." It is always easier to dial back on discipline than to ramp it up. Many students can sense teachers who are reluctant to be strict in class, and they will take advantage of this perceived weakness in an instant. You can be the students’ friend, but not until they respect you. No jokes for at least a week.

Not knowing how to improvise.
The lesson plans so carefully constructed during the weekend to cover what you’re going to teach on Monday is perfect, but if it runs five minutes short, what do you do? Always have some leeway built in so if the lesson takes too much time or too little, you’re prepared. A n important question, a puzzle, or a story that’s relevant to help cover the last extra excruciating minutes is invaluable. Keeping an eye on the clock during the class allows you to go a bit faster if things are slowing down.

Not recognizing problems immediately.
The student who comes into class acting differently than he or she usually does may have had a problem that can disrupt the entire class. Always be on the alert for unusual behavior before class starts. Talk to the student in confidence; it may help.

Issuing too many bathroom passes.
One permanent pass is sufficient for both sexes. Make the pass large and clunky to discourage its use. Having a handy pass also eliminates the need to keep signing your name.

Being too smart.
You don’t need to have the answer every time. Allow your students to know you’re not infallible, and they will respond better than if you make them feel you’re perfect. The smartest student will invariably confront you with the correct answer. However, if students understand that you are willing to do some work to find out the answer, they’ll appreciate it. Your saying, “I just don’t know, but I will find out” can be enormously helpful in the long run.

Having too many rules, especially on the first day.
Students getting oriented to their school year have heard or will hear many, many rules and regulations—from other teachers, administrators, their handbook, and parents. Condense what will make your classroom run smoothly into just a few important rules. BUT stick to them.

Allowing students to sit where they like.
Close friends or couples will inevitably want to talk with each other, so a simple alphabetical seating is preferable. The A’s are in the front all the time, so reverse the alphabet, or seat students alphabetically by first names. It’s also a very handy way to remember allll those names. Of course, take vision and hearing handicaps into consideration when arranging seating.

Not knowing how your writing looks from the back of the room.
This is a skill many new to the profession do not have. Practice! Write large enough for every student to see. A corollary to this one is to speak loud enough to be heard in the back of the room.

Misunderstanding student interest.
Be prepared when the most important detail you want to get across is met with complete indifference or a total lack of understanding. Making information more relevant can make students want to learn it. Repeat, restate, and repeat again.

Allowing students to call you by your first name. Few errors are worse. Few can be so easily avoided. DON’T do it.


Annie Rizzuto Urbanik said...

In regards to the bathroom pass, I had a theology teacher my freshman year of high school who had non-traditional passes: 8x11 portraits of Mary and Jesus. Mary for girls, Jesus for boys.

Nothing got you back from the bathroom faster than having to lug around a wooden religious icon — especially when the other teachers knew you shouldn't be found anywhere but the ladies room or on your way back to class.

Mr. Wheeler said...

I think we've all done most of these at one time or another! I still write too small...

Anonymous said...

It may not be easy...but you need a sacrificial lamb: someone will test you, and when they do, show the class you're prepared to handle anything they throw at you. Sacrificial lamb. You'll know what it means soon.