Editor's note: This is an updated version of our list of positive life lessons we can share with..
Everybody makes mistakes; it's a fact of life. It happens in professional, personal, and social situations of every kind. Making mistakes is part of what it means to be human.
Some of the mistakes teachers make will be part of the job, but others like the ones below are those that can be planned around. If there was no failure, there would be no learning.
However, there are also ways to learn from others and practice avoidance, which is what we're talking about here when it comes to teaching. With this done effectively, such gaffs and their consequences never have to see the light of day.
Here are 5 teaching mistakes you must avoid making at all costs.
Skimping on PD
Ignoring professional development is like ignoring personal hygiene—sooner or later, someone's going to notice. If the wrong people notice you've gotten lax on honing your craft at every level, they'll wonder just how seriously you take your job.
Not keeping up with their own professional development in a field that's changing as fast as education is can be one of the most self-harming teaching mistakes.
That said, we get it—sometimes busy teachers can neglect this aspect of their career to a degree. They may feel overwhelmed with just the day-to-day tasks. But the fact is that you should try to seek out even the simplest ways to improve your craft whenever you can.
If there was no failure, there would be no learning.
Fortunately, more schools are acknowledging the need for improvement through professional development and responding appropriately. You can still begin taking your own initiatives, though. Why not start with learning the do's and don'ts of building a PLN? Then go on to explore these 6 tips for starting your professional development off right. We know you'll figure out where to go from there.
Underestimating Your Learners
At one time this was one of the most common teaching mistakes by far. The education system of a hundred or so years ago didn't encourage the development of creative potential and independent thought because it simply wasn't what it was designed for.
The world has experienced this view take a dramatic turn towards the positive over the years. Nevertheless, it still happens from time to time. That's why when we talk to teachers we ask them to seriously contemplate what surprises them most about their students.
Here are some of the answers we've heard in the past:
- "I had no idea they would take their projects this far."
- "It amazed me just how much independent thinking they were capable of."
- "This was a wonderful demonstration of their capacity for thinking critically and independently."
- "Our students showed themselves to be true problem-solvers."
- "The students were very capable of using a variety of Web-based tools."
- "We were very pleasantly surprised at what the students could produce.”
All this proves an interesting point—in the end, our students want to work hard. They're capable of far more than we can conceive and they want to demonstrate creativity and ingenuity in their own unique ways. They also want to succeed at building their own pathways to learning. All we need to do is trust them and be their guides and they will amaze and inspire us every time.
Not Focusing on Relevance
Connecting content to our students' interests and to the world they will inherit outside school ensures real learning will happen for them. Richard Saul Wurman brilliantly described learning as, "the process of remembering what you are interested in." Interest must always happen before real learning can happen.
But how does one define "real" learning? Real learning is when learning stays with you long after the concept is taught, and when what you've learned becomes useful to you. It's when a skill or a piece of knowledge becomes second nature, and you're enriched for knowing it.
Connection to something meaningful and enlightening paves the way for real learning. In short, real learning is what learning was meant to be.
Interest must always happen before real learning can happen. But how does one define "real" learning?
It's for this reason that we have to think beyond memory and recall for testing, and continuously challenge our learners at the higher end of Bloom's Taxonomy. Further, we must do it in ways that connect to their interests and expand on their inherent talents.
Giving our learners abilities to think independently, reason effectively, live successfully, and solve problems constructively is our focus as educators.
Not Prioritizing a Work/Life Balance
It's unfair to call this one of the mistakes teachers make exclusively. After all, many stressful and highly specialized occupations run the risk of monopolizing one's life. That said, teachers can especially fall prey to the loss of work/life balance so vital to their holistic well-being.
It seems like there is always one more task to tick off, one more paper to grade, one more student to talk to, and one more meeting to attend. Afterwards they promise they'll take some time off for themselves, but sadly this doesn't always happen.
The cumulative results can be disastrous, and teacher burnout becomes a real thing. So how can busy teachers get much-needed time for themselves in such a demanding profession?
There's no easy answer, but we do know the choice to take care of your own needs has to be yours, first and foremost. You have to decide for yourself that you're going to say, "You know what? For the next few hours, this is about me."
Selfish? No way. Necessary? Absolutely. Trust us, the world won't come to an end if you take a little time to take care of yourself.
It also comes down to employing many beneficial practices. They include proper time management, classroom management strategies that let students lead, and flipping your classroom to encourage more independent learning. All of these things and more can work to take the edge off tired teachers with too much to do and not enough time.
Explore what some teachers from the Edutopia community do to take care of themselves.
Believing You're Not Making a Difference
Big, big, BIG mistake.
The true rewards of teaching are the ones you don't see. Henry Adams dutifully reminded us that a teacher can't tell "where their influence stops." The whole idea of exceptional teaching is accepting the possibility that you may never experience firsthand how much you've left your mark on someone, but making the best effort anyway.
You may not feel you're reaching that difficult student. You may feel like you're in over your head with technology compared to your learners, and even the teachers. You may feel like an angry parent is targeting you specifically.
But what if you're the only one who's impacted that student all day?
What if your learners and colleagues, even though they can see you struggling with tech, are inspired by the fact that you're at least trying?
What if that angry parent who seemed to take their frustrations out on you did so because you told them exactly what they needed to hear?
And what if one day that changed someone's life forever?
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes teachers can make is believing that their efforts don't seem to mean anything in the moment, and therefore probably never will. Then one day, it happens. You bump into that successful ex-student on the street or that angry parent in a coffee shop somewhere, and the first words to come out of their mouths when they see you are, "Thank You."
You're making a difference—true story.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Aug 27, 2018, updated September 30, 2021