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How to Find Your Weaknesses as a Teacher

How to Find Your Weaknesses as a Teacher

Step out from your fear of looking at your weaknesses.

Discovering your weaknesses as a teacher is tough. We're alone with our students most of the day, and coming up with fresh ways to present a topic or engage kids can be hard.

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Feedback from colleagues or students can show us what we can't see for ourselves. As third-grade teacher Lauren Christensen said in an NPR interview, "You can get so wrapped up in this own little world of yours with the students you teach. The opportunity to see how another person is teaching, and to see what's working or not working, is really invaluable."

Further reading: A Teacher Self-Evaluation Checklist 

Challenge yourself to identify your personal weaknesses with these tips.

Utilize Another Set of Eyes

Having another set of eyes in the classroom can really help us identify our weaknesses as a teacher. One year, I invited a respected veteran teacher into my class to give me some feedback. I was pretty sure she'd be impressed with my teaching skills and my rapport with my students.

Afterwards she said, "You presented a very good lesson—to half the class."

"What?" I said. "I teach all the kids."

"Actually, you basically teach the kids on the right side of the room," she said. "You make good eye contact with those kids and you call on them frequently. Maybe it's because your desk is on the right or the kids on the right are more responsive. But you favor the right side and the kids on the left know it."

I guess my teaching skills weren't as impressive as I thought! The next day I made big changes in the class to involve everyone. I knew my colleague was right because the kids on the left were surprised and disappointed when I asked them to take their earbuds out.

Survey Your Class Often

If you think one set of eyes can see things you can't, how about 30 sets of eyes? Your students may lack the professional expertise of a fellow teacher, but as the ones being educated, they know what works and what doesn't—even when we think they're not paying attention.

Teacher and coach Terry Heick says that one of the problems teachers have in identifying their weaknesses is that they focus on what they're doing, not how the kids are responding. Heick says that as a soccer coach, he's not just looking at what the kid with the ball is doing, but what the kids without the ball are doing. Likewise, he says, in the classroom, instead of just focusing on what we're doing as teachers, we should be trying to read kids' faces, responses, and behaviors.

One way to identify weaknesses in a lesson is by checking for understanding afterward. Specific questions at the end, such as "How do we find the area of a triangle?" require kids to show they know the answer. But general questions, like "Does everybody understand?" can result in kids nodding their heads agreeably so they can pack up and leave when the bell rings. They'll think about triangles tomorrow!

Surveying students regularly, and asking what they like and don't like, where they need more help, and what suggestions they have to improve the class is really helpful. Kids appreciate being asked what they think.

Look Through Your Students' Eyes

Some experts suffer from "the curse of knowledge," say researchers Chip and Dan Heath. In other words, people who already know how to perform a task may have a hard time remembering how it feels to be a beginner.

Their observation reminds me of trying to follow my grandmother's elderberry pie recipe. "If the dough is sticky, add flour," she wrote. "Add sugar to taste and a little cornstarch." And finally, "Bake in hot oven until done." What? How sticky is sticky? What's "a little" cornstarch? How hot is hot? Grandma's directions were based on her own level of expertise—which was probably 15 levels above mine!

Sometimes we make the same mistake with kids, and we forget that they don't know what we know. Remembering how it was to be a student isn't easy. The Heaths suggest breaking down concepts into smaller chunks and remembering that it takes kids longer to complete a project than you might think.

Asking kids how they're doing along the way can reveal teacher weaknesses in instruction that we may have missed.

Be Aware of Your Weak Spots

Sometimes our teacher weaknesses are the result of habit. We say or do things without thinking about them. If we want to continue to grow as professionals, however, we need to continually be aware of our weak spots.

Some teacher weaknesses have to do with making assumptions about kids without knowing what their lives are like outside of school. A student designated as "lazy" or "unmotivated" may have spent the night in a shelter, and it's a wonder she even got to school that day. We need to keep in mind that we don't know about the challenges some kids experience.

Some teachers may inadvertently compare the student they now have in their classroom with a sibling they had earlier—for better or for worse. I often make the mistake of calling my current student by her sibling's name, much to her embarrassment. On the other hand, some teachers may call on boys much more often than they call on girls—or vice versa. Take time every day to reflect on your behavior in the classroom.

Further reading: How to Prepare for a Teacher Evaluation

As teachers, it's important that we constantly strive to be the best educators we can be. Continually asking for feedback from your students, colleagues, or administrators is the best way to reveal areas you need to work on. No one is perfect, but doing your best to turn your weaknesses into strengths will benefit you and all of your students over the years.