The Five Biggest Mistakes Teachers Should Never, Ever Make

by | Jul 26, 2017

Everybody makes mistakes; it’s a fact of life. It happens in professional, personal, and social situations of every definition. Making mistakes is what it means, in part, 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. But there are also ways to learn from others and practice avoidance, which is what we’re talking about here today 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 mistakes teachers should never make, ever.

Skimping on PD

Ignoring professional development is like ignoring personal hygiene: sooner or later, someone’s going to notice. And 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 mistakes teachers could make.

That said, we get it—sometimes busy teachers can overlook this aspect of their career. 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.


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 this article on the do’s and don’ts of building a PLN? Then go on to explore these 8 tools 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 mistakes teachers made by far. The education system of a hundred or so years ago didn’t encourage the development of creative potential and independent thought. That 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 in debriefing sessions, we always ask them to seriously contemplate what surprised 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.”

Wow—imagine that. 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 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. It’s when what you’ve absorbed 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. Otherwise, it’s not learning—it’s just short-term retention of content.


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.

If you have to, start small. You can use some of the activities in this fun Bloom’s Taxonomy Periodic Table, or use some of the questions on the Ultimate Critical Thinking Skills Cheatsheet. Next, combine these resources to build lessons on the Solution Fluency Activity Planner, the home for engaging your learners with relevant and inspiring real-life projects.


Not Prioritizing a Work/Life Balance

This is unfair to call one of the mistakes teachers make exclusively. Many stressful and highly specialized occupations run the risk of running one’s life. But 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; one more meeting to attend. (Then I promise I’ll take some time for myself!)


Sadly this doesn’t always happen, and the cumulative results can be disastrous. Teacher burnout is 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. Don’t ever let us catch you doing this.

We recently wrote in one of our articles about the fact that 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’re the most important part of a young student’s life. You’re a worthy and experienced provider of knowledge, a giver of encouragement, and a nurturer of human potential. You are called upon in an age of uncertainty to be certain, and you are facing the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced, which is the challenge of change. Take pride in knowing that you can, and do, make a difference.


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 students. You may feel like a livid parent is targeting you. But what if maybe—just maybe—you’re the only one who’s impacted that student all day? What if your learners, 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 meet that wildly successful and worldly student on the street, or that once-surly parent in a coffee shop somewhere, and the first words to come out of their mouths when they see you are, “Thank You.”



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