Avoid These 3 Mistakes as a New Teacher

by Guy E. White on 3 November, 2014

Being new doesn’t mean you have to make newbie mistakes.

My first year teaching was fraught with time-wasting, stress-inducing mistakes that could have been totally avoided. The worst part about it all was that I did not even know I was making these mistakes until it was too late.

As I shared in this previous article, my first teaching position was an utter disaster. Walking into the classroom, I thought I knew what a teacher looked like and what they were supposed to do. I had images of teachers on TV that I had seen, ideas from my own high school career, and lots of baggage about my own learning style weighing me down.

It got so bad at one point that I was staying four-or-so hours after the final bell rang just to get my assignments graded.

I knew something was wrong when at 8pm one night, I got a knock on the door of my classroom: it was the police, wanting to make sure everything was okay. Someone had called about a suspicious man pulling into the school parking lot after dark. It was me; holding a bag of burgers (yes, plural), fries and a milkshake, and hobbling to my classroom to finish grading yet another essay.


In retrospect, I had no idea what I was doing to myself and, worse yet, to my students because of my newbie teacher mistakes.

Here are the top mistakes that I implore new teachers to avoid at some of my live trainings:

1. Don’t Act Like Homework is the Most Important Thing

It’s not. Do you obsess about ensuring that students are submitting homework? My first year, I was assigning five homework assignments a week – and I thought I was doing them a favor by not assigning seven!

The purpose of homework has been debated for eons. As time has gone on, I now see homework more as a way by which to create a learning discipline for students: building a habit of engaging with the material beyond the lesson.

The high-level learning takes place in the classroom when it comes to what we’re learning together. What happens outside of it is something slightly different – it’s a self-directed type of learning.

Change your stance toward homework: it’s your responsibility to get the students learning the most they can while they are in the room. Homework is simply a support to that.

Note: I just saw a documentary about the schools in Finland, which boasts the best school system in the world. They apparently don’t assignment much homework at all. Is there a lesson there? More to come.

2. Don’t Stay At School Past 90 Minutes After the Last Bell

Some seasoned teachers will read this and say, “WHAT? I’m always at school this late!” I’ll address that in a future article, but I have most definitely addressed a bit of that here and here.

New teachers naturally have a lot to do. You are creating lesson plans for the first time. You are creating assignments that you have never created before. You are learning how to provide feedback, submit grades, and do all of the hundreds of tasks required of teachers.

However, staying too late means that something is wrong. It could be a sign that you’re overdoing it or making things way more complicated than they have to be.

Look at a task and decide how long you are going to give yourself for that task. There is a philosophy out there that tasks tend to fill the time space allowed for their completion. If you have to grade those assignments within an hour, you have an idea of how long you can spend on each sheet of paper.

3. Don’t Always Say Yes

A common myth is that new teachers need to say yes to every administrative request placed upon them. “Will you teach yearbook?” “Will you take over leading this club?” or “Will you coordinate this program (without pay)?” are all common requests received by new teachers.

A strategic “yes” is a great thing, but you don’t have to say yes to everything. Frankly, if your desire is to have a family, spouse, or personal life outside of work, some instances of saying “no” have to take place. “No” is a powerful thing. It’s called discernment: mindfully deciding for this over that. What would be possible if you made the right “yes” choices? Give yourself grace as a new teacher. You’re learning a lot in a small span of time! Do your best, within the time allowed. What would you add to this list?

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