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4 Educators Share the Biggest Mistakes From Their First Year of Teaching

professional skills

No matter how well prepared a first-year teacher is, chances are the school year won't be perfect. Keep reading to find out some of the biggest mistakes teachers made as they started their careers.

Starting a Career in Teaching

Life as a first-year teacher can be exciting and stressful all at once. Teachers may start the year with a clear picture of how they want everything to go, but mistakes can happen. We asked teachers to share their stories about mistakes made during their first year of teaching and how they turned things around.

Getting Needed Resources

''The biggest mistake I made as a first-year teacher was being afraid to ask for what I needed. Because I was teaching in a high needs subject area in a low-income environment, I felt like I had to do all the heavy lifting. After my first year, I realized I had more support than I thought!

You don't get what you don't ask for, and I wish I had advocated for more support from my administration instead of trying to create my own curriculum and classroom resources. Because you have so many responsibilities and everything is so new your first year, it made me feel like I had to go rogue to make the magic happen in my classroom. Then, I learned there were resources available to me if only I had advocated more! Yes, your first year is hard, but that doesn't mean you have to go it alone.''

-Jessica Altounian, Community Manager, PenPal Schools

A teacher with her students

Communicating with Parents

''One of my biggest mistakes as a first-year teacher was lack of communication with parents. My students would receive grades and I would contact parents twice a quarter: at mid-term and the end of the quarter.

My second year, I created a website as well as social media pages and a weekly newsletter. The website and social media pages include project examples and other cool classroom activities. The weekly newsletter is emailed to parents every Friday and provides parents with what we did in class the current week and what we will work on the following week. I also created classrooms through Google Classroom and a semester pacer guide so that parents can keep up with what we're working on in class. I have seen tremendous growth in parental involvement with the new format.''

-Monica Simpson, Health Teacher, College Preparatory Charter School in Little Rock

Being a Teacher Instead of a Friend

''My first teaching job was in a high school in Georgia. I was 22 years old, and I was teaching math to juniors and seniors. The biggest mistake that I made was starting out the year trying to be their friend instead of their teacher. It was difficult for me to learn to be an authoritative figure to students who were only four or five years younger than I was.

Experienced teachers had given me the advice 'don't smile until Christmas,' but that was easier said than done! As the year progressed, I managed to get tougher and distance myself from the students. I survived my first year of teaching, and the next year I began the year with more control of my classes.''

-Patti Askew, Math Teacher, The Burlington School in North Carolina

A teacher in her classroom

Participating in a Behavior Correction Project

''The biggest mistake I made as a first-year teacher was to participate in my vice principal's education thesis. He asked me to focus only on correcting the negative behavior in one class for one week and then disregarding the negative and focusing on the positive in the same class the next week. My students were shocked and confused.

My vice principal interviewed me each Friday, asking me questions and saying he would support me in case of parental complaints. I said I didn't like being negative, and it was much easier to focus on the positive behavior, instead. Nevertheless, I was fired due to parental complaints, including a board member whose son was in that class, which really upset me. I recovered by getting another teaching job in another school district and learned that I am a positive person and that students need positive role models. I eventually became a mentor teacher, won a $500 scholarship for my teaching, and our school district's high school teacher of the year.''

-Steve Sonntag, High School Teacher

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*Submissions were edited for clarity and length

By Jessica Lyons
November 2018
professional skills engagement & retention

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