the time I realized that I’d made these
blunders, I’d already lost my students’
respect. It was too late to convince them
that I knew what I was doing.
Sherlock Holmes always maintained,
“Eliminate all other factors, and the one
which remains must be the truth.” We
can apply this principle to teaching:
It’s a lot more efficient to learn a few
mistakes that you should avoid than
to learn all the things you should
do right. When I compare my
awful first year with my
very successful second
year, the main difference was not so
much what I did
as what I didn’t
do. Here are 10
rookie teacher mistakes
I wish I’d avoided.
1. Don’t try to teach too
much in one day.
This is an easy mistake to make because
it’s intertwined with another rule for
new teachers: Have high expectations.
Of course teachers should always
expect students to do their best. But
the oversold exhortation to “have high
expectations” needs further explanation.
If it were only that easy, every teacher
would be hugely successful.
New teachers, particularly those
without extensive student teaching,
take this advice too literally and create
lessons that are too difficult, too long, or
developmentally inappropriate. Even as
a veteran teacher, I still often attempt to
do too much in one day. It comes from
my desire to not bore students by doing
But the risks of overpacking a class
period are too high; better to split a
lesson originally planned for one day
into a two-day affair. If you rush your
lesson, it might not be received well by
students. Then you’ll have to spend the
next day doing the dreaded reteaching.
2. Don’t teach a lesson
without a student activity.
One problem new teachers have is that
they think they need to plan each lesson
“chronologically.” First they plan their
opening exercises, then their direct
instruction and classroom discussion
questions, and, finally, their activity.
The problem is that they frequently
spend so much time thinking about
all the great things they’re going to
say in their direct lesson that they
use up their planning time—or
fall asleep—before creating
the most important,
component. I advise
new teachers to always
plan their activity first,
even if it’s the last thing that
will occur. We can wing direct
instruction and discussion if nec-
essary but not a thoughtful learning
When a lesson has no activity, students get restless and tune out. And I
find I’m more enthusiastic and efficient
with direct instruction when I know I
have a great activity coming right after
TRY TO BE A
“So,” you might be thinking now,
“what should I do when students are
misbehaving?” I have no pat answers
about the complex question of how to
handle challenging behavior, but I do
know that if you avoid the mistakes I
mention here, you won’t have as many
discipline problems. And, unfortunately, if you do make these mistakes,
anything you try to do to fix your discipline problems will be as ineffective as
sending kids to the office.
4. Don’t allow students
to shout out answers.
Watch any current movie about a transformational teacher and you’ll notice the
lively discussions that go on in her class.
She’ll pose a question. One student will
call out a poignant response, another
will chime in, and then yet another.
These scenarios could make a novice
teacher feel that in a well-run classroom
students don’t need to raise their hands
to make comments.
But novice teachers need to know
that it takes a fictional teacher-hero or
heroine to get away with letting students
call out. Other students in the class
often zone out when they know there’s
no chance that the teacher will call on
3. Don’t send kids
to the office.
No matter how many
times a principal says,
“just send them to me,”
it’s not a good idea. When
you send kids out, it soon
becomes the only thing
they’ll respond to. In
some schools, the office is
nothing more than a place
where disruptive kids hang
out with one another. In
my first teaching year, I
intercepted a note that
said, “Get sent to the office
6th period. I’ll meet you
Don’t try to
teach too much
in one day.