What are the common mistakes new teachers make?

Opinions of two veteran teachers

  1. Under plan their lessons – when you first start out, it’s best to over-plan rather than under plan. You do not want to be stuck at the end of the lesson with nothing left to run with. If you’re experienced, you have the skills and knowledge to fill in any unexpected gaps in the lesson. When you’re not, things quickly deteriorate.
  2. Over promise on discipline – If you say you’re going to do something, you have to do it. Rookie teachers often pull out their rocket launchers, when gently patting the gun at their waists would have done the trick. You need to work your way through the steps of discipline. Don’t threaten a kid with suspension, when a) you can’t actually give them a suspension, and b) the behaviour doesn’t warrant that as a punishment. Try not to leave yourself with nowhere to go.
  3. Under promise on discipline – I get it, all your teacher training has told you that it’s important to build rapport with your students. And it is. But make no mistake, you are not there to be their friend. It’s lovely if your students like you, but it’s far, far better that they respect you. You can be chill for the first few weeks if you want, but I guarantee you, by the first term break, things will be chaos in the classroom.
  4. Think they have to know it all – I know, it’s scary when a student asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to. It’s even more embarrassing when a student corrects you. But, you know what? Experienced teachers embrace these moments. It might be tempting to lie to answer a question, or to humiliate a student who corrects you, but this only leads to worse problems down the track. The mistakes you make, and the things you don’t know may just be the best teaching moments of your lesson as you search for the answer together. I’ve been teaching for about fifteen years, and I actively reward my students if they find a mistake I’ve made.
  5. Marking everything themselves – peer marking is the best thing in the whole world. It means less marking for you, and it allows students to develop their editing and critiquing skills. Why not leave those papers at school and write a rubric instead? Then the kids can practice critically analysing their peer’s work and you can watch another episode of Stargate. Or something.


  1. you are not there to be the student’s friend, you are there to teach and often that involves working them hard and making sure that they have to go over the subject until they grasp it. It requires a intellectual rigour that is sometimes missing in other professions
  2. Don’t expect to make loads of common sense inspirational observations at meetings and have everyone mark you as management material. Teachers tend to be type a personalities because how else are they going to convince 30 fifteen year olds to be studying physics.
  3. I’m afraid you shouldn’t expect praise when you do something right, but expect criticism when you do something wrong. I’ve seen this with student teachers many times and ultimately the teacher has to be their own north star with how well they think they’ve done. Be reflective, think about how you can improve your professional skills and performance, definitely. In the end the only real arbiter of performance when learning to teach is you.
  4. Don’t try to be someone else. In teaching you have to find your own voice, your own way of delivering a subject and most of all your own way of discipline. Student teachers often make the mistake of watching a more experienced teacher and trying to be them..they mimic delivery and even stance without realising that the other teach is working with the procedures they find works for them. Take away bits you like, individual tricks and tips that improve pedagogic delivery by all means but you have to find what works for you.
  5. They tend to think it’s about them. It’s not of course, it’s about the students and always needs to be about the students. It’s certainly not about the parents or the middle management or even the senior management. Teaching is a job that involves hard work, hard thinking and honesty with yourself.
  6. They tend to think discipline doesn’t matter if they’re nice. That’s rubbish of the worst kind, discipline always matters and if you go in soft you have nowhere to go. I’ve found some headway with what I call the ‘crusty jam sandwich’ approach.    You start hard discipline, get a little softer in the middle and end hard again. It’ll be those that define your experience.                                                                                         If you start the school year with firm steady and fair discipline and you find you have groups that rarely need it, congratulations, steadily relax as you see fit and using your judgement. However, if you go in soft in discipline and you get the ‘10F’ group, the year tens who don’t care and probably want to be there less than you do…you’ve nowhere to go and you’ll be fighting them for what scraps of discipline you’ve maintained for the rest of the year.
  7. Be prepared. If I had a $1 for every student or new teacher I’ve seen with minimal preparation and planning…I’d have over $100. You need to plan the time and if you over prepare…good, take some of that and use it the next time. Preparation is key and I firmly believe a new teacher should plan their lessons down to the 5 minute blocks. Also, have some short activities at hand, past papers or just short quiz things. If you can fill the 5 minute silence of a load of teenage minds, all the better but never…every give them not much to do.

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