We’ve all made mistakes in the classroom. A spelling error left for students to catch or losing our patience during a moment of weakness. We’ve all been there, but the key is to be aware enough to use those moments to grow as a teacher and as a person.
I love this quote, and I remind myself of it regularly—especially when I still find myself making some of the mistakes listed below. Take a look at some of the errors I’ve observed and experienced. I hope that they will offer some perspective as you soak in the daily challenges of being a life changer to so many little minds.
1. We try to go at it alone.
When we start out, we are fueled up and can’t wait to get started. What we quickly realize is how many questions we still have. Don’t hesitate to seek answers and suggestions from others with experience. Reach out for support. Ask for help from colleagues. Collaborate.
2. We expect perfection.
Before stepping foot into our own classroom, we dream of having that beautifully decorated room filled with Pinterest ideas gone right and color-coordinated walls. We believe in our hearts that our students will behave, learn, and succeed. Our days have to go flawlessly! This is not realistic nor what we should expect. Teaching isn’t the perfect profession. Lessons can go terribly wrong and piles of stuff will accumulate dispelling your “picture perfect” ideal. Yet those things are what help us see what is truly important. We are here to teach and to help students learn.
3. We lack classroom management strategies.
One of the biggest challenges facing teachers is classroom management. We are introduced to groups of different personalities, needs, and learning styles. Without a system in place or a plan on how to handle complexities, we may find our days difficult and stressful. It’s important to have a few positive strategies in place before anyone walks through the door. Be prepared to teach the ins and outs and make your expectations known. Strategies may need to change as your classes do, but being open and willing to this change is important.
4. We avoid parent contact.
I try to think of ways that relationships with families can help the classroom environment and strengthen student outcomes. Parent volunteers can help with classroom projects and help lighten a teacher’s prep load. Make that necessary phone call. Keep lines of communication open so that, when needed, they are ready to reciprocate your level of concern. The support of parents at home to help with school work when needed can mean the difference between success and failure.
5. We try to do it all.
Teacher burnout is a real thing and unfortunately leads to many hard-working educators leaving the profession too early. Once you realize this, make it something you strive to avoid. Leave work at work. Do something fun that you enjoy on the weekend besides lesson planning. Strive for balance.
6. We are disorganized at times.
The endless amount of papers to grade, notes from home, and supplies to sort can quickly take over if there isn’t a system in place to stay organized. Think logically and map out a space in your room for all the “stuff.” Teach your system of organization to your students at the beginning of the year and stay consistent. It will save you a lot of time and help promote student responsibility.
7. We treat all students the same.
While it is important to care for each student equally, they come to us with different needs and concerns that need to be addressed. A lesson cannot be taught and an assignment cannot be delivered in only one way to all students. There is a need for differentiation in lesson delivery to follow-up activities. Students with special needs require that their learning environment and assignments be tweaked to meet their needs. Listen, observe, and adapt daily.
8. We want to be a master of everything.
Elementary teachers teach many different things. While we need to know a lot, we don’t need to know everything. Recognize and utilize your strengths. Work on your areas of weakness. Have a growth plan and goal for the school year. Pick something new to focus on each year and work on it. Strive to grow and learn continuously throughout your career—you don’t need to know everything right away.
9. We lack preparation and knowledge.
Do you ever feel like you don’t have the answers or materials ready? It’s what happens when you teach something without doing your due diligence. You quickly recognize how important lesson planning and preparation is. Spend time reviewing facts, practicing a skill, or reading appropriate facts to become well versed in a topic before presenting it to students. Educate yourself first. Being under-prepared for lessons is unfair to students. If a lesson lacks clarity to you, imagine how hard it will be for students to learn.
10. We don’t have purpose.
Ever choose an activity just because it seemed fun? Plan a craft that would look cute hung on your wall? We’re all guilty of using assignments like this to fill time. Unfortunately, activities like this can lack purpose. Lessons that engage, excite, and decorate our classrooms have a place if they are tied to a goal. If the goal is for kids to improve their cutting skills, then that craft is meaningful. If the goal is to build number sense, then that card game has a purpose.
11. We fail to properly assess.
One of our jobs as an educator is to track the growth of our students. We need evaluations in order to properly serve our students with what they need to grow and learn. Not having a clear plan of how to properly assess students, what data to collect, and when to perform the evaluations, leads to a lack of focus in lessons and planning. Ask yourself what you want to know and what you need students to show and tell you.
12.We take it personally.
There will be moments and meetings when things will be said or done that will make us question our ability as an educator. Stay strong and stay true to yourself. Keep your chin up. Walk away and give yourself time to reflect. When you are ready to act, be professional. Often we get upset when what was said holds some truth. Think about that. Think of ways that you can improve instead of becoming critical of one’s self. Growing a thick skin comes with experience and maturity.
Teachers, tell us: What would be your #13? Share in the comments.
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