For Administrators

4 Pitfalls Teachers Need to Avoid at the Beginning of a School Year

By Brian Gatens September 8, 2015

Dedicated and hardworking teachers are like a coiled spring at the start of the school year. The summer break lets them rest and recharge, and they begin the new school year filled with ideas and goals borne from the ability to think long-term.

Yet I caution teachers against doing too much too soon. It’s better to walk — not run — into the new school year. Avoiding these key errors in the opening weeks pays dividends as the year rolls on.

Being too ambitious

Assume you teach fourth grade. Rather than think of your new students as fourth-graders, consider them “old third-graders” who need guidance and direction to start their school year strong. Your last experience with fourth-graders was back in June, and they were all a year older than your new students.

Many teachers overestimate the work capacity and writing skills of their new students upon first meeting them, and they leave some children in the dust just as school starts. Focus on understanding what the children can and can’t do at the start of the year.

Sacrificing culture for structure

Too many teachers over-structure their classes at the beginning of the year. This comes to life with long lists of rules, expectations, and requirements for the class. Along with those documents, there are school forms to sign, including medical releases and acknowledgment of school policies.

This desire for structure comes at the expense of growing a strong classroom culture. Instead of beginning your time with the children by reading and reviewing dry sets of rules and regulations, use ice-breaker games to get to know your students and have them complete some simple, fun activities that reveal more about their academic skills.

A legendary teacher I worked with simply wrote “Pay Attention. Work Hard. Be On Time” on the board and then dove right into the class content. That’s one way to streamline the process on the first day.

Under communicating

The other side of being too structured is not being structured enough. Strive for the “Goldilocks effect” (not too much, not too little) when communicating with students and parents.

Parents begin the year hungry for information about your class. Aside from the fact that you’ll be working with their child and assessing their academic growth, you are also a brand new adult in their lives, and they want to know more about you.

You don’t surrender any of your authority by humanizing yourself. Share your background, your pursuits, and the abilities you bring to the class. I’ve seen too many wonderful and engaging colleagues hide their appeal behind a facade of trying not to be too friendly.

Not working with colleagues

Teaching is hard work, good and necessary work, but it’s still a challenging profession for those who do it with enthusiasm and vigor. But you can make it far easier and more enjoyable if you connect with your colleagues.

Set time aside to collaborate and assist your colleagues. A laser-like focus only on your classroom will cut you off from valuable resources and opportunities to both give and receive advice. Of course, your students will always be number one in your work, but you can still make time to connect with others.

Begin the year thinking about how to get to know your students and their families before making big decisions that will impact your relationships and the overall classroom culture. Make the time to engage with those around you instead of creating a habit of isolation. If you avoid the aforementioned pitfalls, you’ll find that the entire year will flow even better than you expected.

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