Wednesday, July 1, 2015

First Year Mistakes

I've been thinking about some of the mistakes that I made as a first year teacher: partly inspired by a "Reflections" post I read over at Big Time Literacy (great blog, by the way, check it out!), partly due to an influx of emails I've recently received from FACS teachers preparing for their first year this fall. Why not share?  Here are three biggies that come to mind:

1. I assumed that students knew or knew how to __________.

The biggest mistake I made as a new teacher was overestimating what my students already knew or knew how to do; boy was this eye opening! Some examples:

  • Measuring spoons and eating spoons are different
  • How to tie a knot
  • How to use a microwave
  • 3/4 cup, teaspoon, tablespoon, etc = 1/2 + 1/4 
  • What "boiling" means
  • Trash goes IN the trash can, not in the near vicinity (okay, some snark in that one)
  • How to summarize (this planted the initial seed for eventually seeking a Reading Specialist degree)
  • What a textbook "index" is
  • How to properly open a container
  • How to wash dishes
  • Proper way to hold scissors
I could go on for quite some time, but you get the idea. Over time I learned to assume nothing - though I'd get the occasional "duh" or eye roll, it helped immensely in making lessons and activities go smoother.

2. I didn't think out/properly explain how exactly I wanted students to __________.

Alternatively titled "Woefully underprepared in the procedures department." This is huge in any classroom; in a FACS course it can absolutely be your undoing. Now we're all familiar with The First Days of School (really? You're not? Stop reading this and go order it from Amazon - I've even linked it for you), so I did have routines in place for the beginning of class, end of class, etc, etc. But when you're in the thick of things, you have to give directions for so many different activities during a single class period - again, especially in FACS - and you don't have lovely pre-made posters on the wall or previously practiced routines to refer to for everything. Think it through, boil it down to a few short clear steps, and repeat repeat repeat. Even if it seems like something is the most obvious common-sense thing in the world ("...put your trash in the trash can..."), include it in the directions. Incidentally, when I mastered this, I became a master at transitions, even on the fly.

3. I didn't have a plan for ALL THE PAPER.

I thought a few file folders would do it: a grading folder for each class, a handout folder for each class, then maybe a couple more for school documents and other things. Right? hahahahahahahahahaha. Seriously, that obviously didn't work. if you've spent time looking through this blog, you know that I became a paper Nazi. What worked most brilliantly for me was never physically accepting an assignment from students or utilizing trays/baskets/etc - once I moved to having them keep everything in their binders or folders life became much more sunshine and rainbow filled. This came in especially handy with those students who accuse teachers of losing their work. First of all, I've known a LOT of teachers who do frequently lose work (if this is you, some tough love: GET IT TOGETHER! Once you establish this reputation, you can never dispute a student who says you've lost something, even when everyone knows they're lying through their teeth! Also, you make life harder for the rest of us). But even though I don't believe I have ever actually lost an assignment, when you have paper everywhere (even if you somehow "know" your system) it does not inspire confidence, and kids can/will take advantage. When students have to submit all work in a folder or binder, this argument is null. An actual conversation from last year:

Boy #1: I turned it in, you must have lost it!
Me: (looking him straight in the eye, unflinching)   I.     Don't.     Lose.     Things.
Boy #2: She's got you dude. This one doesn't lose stuff.
Girl: No lie, look at this place. you know she's not like {other teacher} or {other teacher}.
Boy #1: (hanging head and sighing) Yeah, you're right. What did I do with that thing?

You can't pull that line off unless you have a seriously established reputation for organization.

There are plenty of other mistakes I made that year and in subsequent years, but fixing those made a huge impact on both my quality of teaching and quality of life. How about the rest of you - first year mistakes to warn the newbies about?


  1. Brilliantly said!!!! Thanks for the reminders and motivators!!

    1. Thanks! Hope you're enjoying your summer!

  2. After 15 years, I am still amazed by students who don't know how to wash dishes. I demonstrate in class. I give a homework assignment requiring students to wash dishes at home and have a parent sign. When we do labs, it is evident which students just had their parent sign without doing the work.

    1. Crazy, right? Who doesn't teach their kids how to wash dishes? Yet every year there are so many students without this skill - and without interest in learning it!