Home

About

Contact
Topics

Beyond the
Classroom

Professional
Development

Teaching
Moments

Classroom
Innovation

7 Mistakes to Avoid Your First Year of Teaching

An intimidating teacher points to a chalkboard with an incorrect math equation written above.

I've been a teacher for 27 years and a mentor-teacher for 20. It still upsets me to see a new teacher with so much promise make a few simple mistakes that can spoil their chances of being called back for hire after their first year of teaching. Some private schools can choose not to rehire a teacher at will, according to Education Rights, and most public schools can decide not to rehire a teacher in their first three years of teaching, so teachers need to be aware of the behaviors that could lead to them being let go.

How do these teachers ensure that they will not get hired back? Here are seven fatal mistakes:

1. Tardiness or Frequent Absences

A few years ago, I mentored a new teacher who lived a few towns away from school. She was late nearly every morning, and an administrator spoke to her about this tardiness. The teacher argued that there was simply too much traffic to be on time. As you can imagine, this did not sit well with administrators.

Further Reading: New Teacher Tips: Don't Quit or Change Careers Just Yet!

If you need to get up earlier to start your commute sooner to account for traffic, do it. There is simply no excuse for being habitually late. As Inc. points out, the trend can also be interpreted by your colleagues as a signal that you believe their time "is less valuable than yours."

In that same vein, be careful about calling in sick too often. Obviously, you may get sick or have to stay home with an unwell child, but be careful—schools like punctual teachers with strong attendance records, and nothing can sink your teaching career faster than being habitually late or out too much.

2. Being Rude to Support Staff

Being rude to janitors, security, secretaries, or cafeteria staff is a quick way to ensure you won't be hired back for another year. Schools operate like families, and being ill-mannered to a family member will incur the wrath of the relatives.

There's no excuse for any teacher to be discourteous to any staff member. In fact, experienced educators know how important it is to cultivate relationships with support staff members, who are often the hearts and souls of a school building.

3. Gossip

In their first year of teaching, a new teacher cannot possibly know all of the relationships that exist in a school. When I first started teaching, a fellow English language arts teacher was the wife of the superintendent, their niece was a director, and another family member worked as a secretary. In addition, long-term friendships and other connections in schools are not always apparent.

So stay away from gossip, and avoid areas that are ripe for chattering like teachers' lounges if you're not able to stay above the fray. Be careful with email, and don't talk about the issues in your school with people in the community.

4. Not Being a Team Player

Teaching is often collaborative, and teachers are frequently required to work together on committees and in professional learning groups. Be sure to be a strong team member by pulling your weight and contributing outside of your own classroom when necessary.

Educators in their first year of teaching are sometimes too shy to get involved, but it is absolutely necessary to do your part and work collaboratively when called upon.

5. Overstepping Boundaries

I once watched a new teacher tell a strong veteran teacher how she should manage her classroom. Nearly every teacher present was horrified. Good intentions aside, acting like a know-it-all in your first year of teaching will always backfire.

This doesn't mean new teachers need to remain silent; it just means they should weigh their words carefully and think honestly about what they can add to a conversation. Often, new teachers bring a much-needed fresh perspective. But it's important to be tactful when providing input, making sure you are being helpful and not coming off as critical or arrogant.

6. Turning Down Professional Development

Chances are if an administrator recommends a teacher take part in professional development, there's a reason. Maybe the administrator has identified a deficit in the teacher's pedagogy, and the recommendation is with the hopes of making the teacher a stronger practitioner. Maybe they've identified a strength in the teacher's practice and want the teacher to become an expert.

Whatever the case, it's best to say yes to professional development opportunities as they arise. It shows you are eager to learn and improve and you are passionate about your work.

7. Disregarding Feedback

I had a mentee a few years ago who tended to use lectures as the primary source of instruction in his classroom. The teacher's evaluator told him frequently that he needed to do more student-centered learning activities, cooperative learning, and project-based learning. The teacher did little to change and was not asked to return at the end of the year. If your evaluator urges you to focus on certain areas of improvement, listen. Do everything you can to make certain you learn and grow.

Further Reading: Read this Letter on Your First Day As a Teacher

The first year of teaching is busy and overwhelming, but it is almost always a rewarding time. It's important to remember, as driven and capable as you are, you're still new. As long as you respect the experience and wisdom of those around you and demonstrate an investment in your own growth, nobody is going to hold your freshness against you. By avoiding these pitfalls, you can be sure you'll be offered a position in the next school year!