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Don't Be Like Me: 5 Giant Mistakes I Made My First Year of Teaching
posted by: Garry | August 03, 2014, 11:30 PM   

1. I didn't ask for help.

I felt like asking for help from other teachers—especially veterans—would annoy them. I definitely didn't want to ask my administrators for help either, as I didn't want to be seen as weak or incapable. As a result, I spent my first semester wandering around like a lost kitten. I probably taught about as effectively as a kitten too.

If you need help, ASK! Your coworkers should be understanding and helpful toward first-years, but if you feel like you're annoying them and the information is important to your teaching success, you'll just have to get over it and ask anyway.

2. I was afraid to be firm with my students.

During my first year of teaching, my sense of classroom management/culture was basically nonexistent. I'd never been in the position where I'd had to a) earn anyone's respect, b) deal with people not listening to me or c) be firm with anyone I didn't know well.

One day after school when I was on the verge of tears and venting to some fellow teachers about the disrespect from my students, a brilliant fellow teacher came up to me, put her hands on my shoulders and said so sweetly, "I think you are afraid to show them you're unhappy with their behavior because you think it's the same as being mean. Think about the kids in your class who are trying to learn but can't because it's so disruptive and unsafe because you won't take charge. If that doesn't make you angry enough to be firm and take control, you need to have a come-to-Jesus. With yourself."

3. I didn't know it was OK to leave my to-do list unfinished at the end of the day.

One of the hardest things about teaching, as pointed out by this article, is that there's always so much more you could be doing. During my first year, I was regularly staying at school until 7 or 8 at night because I felt like I couldn't leave until EVERYTHING on my to-do list was finished. Obviously, this was impossible, as a teacher's to-do list is never finished, so it made things doubly terrible since I was overworking myself and at the same time feeling like I wasn't doing enough.

4. I spent way too much money.

I shudder to think of how much money I spent my first year. I offered way too many extrinsic rewards, restocked my own supplies before asking around or doing research, and didn't know about other resources/discounts available to me. It's true that as a teacher you will definitely have to spend a good bit of your own money, but it doesn't have to be an amount that will make you tear your face off when you see your bank statement.

5. I worried too much.

Some of the worrying I did my first year of teaching was valid. I worried that I had zero control over my second-period class (true), that the vocabulary game I made up was actually very boring (true) and that my caffeine intake was approaching lethal territory (true). But I also worried about things that were ridiculous, like that I was the world's greatest failure of a teacher, that every time I was called into the office, I was about to get fired, or that my students weren't going to remember anything I taught them and would fail their standardized tests with perfect zeros.

But here's the bottom line, first-year teacher friends: If you are investing in your students, designing reasonably effective lessons (even if they aren't as effective as they were in your head), and being diligent about identifying and fixing the things that truly aren't working, they will learn. Even if you feel like a total failure, I can promise as someone who's been there that you're not. (Definitely keep doing your best and try to improve where you can, but don't get so hung up on the worrisome stuff that you are paralyzed by fear or burn out.)

Love, Teach teaches English at a Title I middle school and writes about it at In addition to teaching, she enjoys dystopian literature, looking at pictures of baby animals and laughing at herself. The full post is available on We Are Teachers.


What were some mistakes you made?
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