Four simple mistakes to avoid as teachers

Over an expansive career in education, Professor Susan Wallace has gained an insight into the most common mistakes teachers make, and how to avoid them.  

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of observing countless teachers of exceptional quality. However, I have noticed four simple mistakes that keep arising, for both new teachers and more experienced ones. They can be highly damaging to the quality of teaching and reduce student engagement significantly. 

Here are the top four most common mistakes and how to easily avoid them: 

1. Talking to the screen 

Talking to the screen can be a common trap for new teachers. Whilst turning your back on a sea of faces may seem to offer a moment of safety, it’s about as effective as putting a bucket on your head. It's no real protection from disaster, and worse, you won't see disaster coming.  

If we want to communicate effectively and build up a rapport with learners, we shouldn’t turn our back on them. 


2. Telling learners how boring the lesson is 

If a teacher starts a lesson by saying: "I know this is boring, but we've got to do it", they might misguidedly think it will create a sense of solidarity with the learners. Not only does this not work, but they’ve just told their students they’ll be bored for 45 minutes and their engagement will plummet.  

If you’re struggling with a subject, try to find new ways to make it engaging and interesting – there are plenty of tools and resources online to help, and your colleagues might have some helpful tips. 


3. Approaching wrong answers with a negative mindset 

As a learner, it can be very dispiriting to hear your answer is wrong or foolish. It destroys their confidence and discourages others from participating. Worst of all, it creates a fear of being wrong in the class – one of the greatest barriers to learning.  

There are lots of positive ways to respond, such as: "good try" or "interesting idea, but I need a bit more". My personal favourite is: "I like your thinking, but that's not the right answer.” 


4. Always being the one who knows everything 

There are three things a good teacher learns to say early in their career. They are: "I don't know", "I was wrong about that", and "Does anyone else know?". 

As teachers, we need a sound grasp of our subject. But no one expects us to be a walking Wikipedia. What we do need is the ability to draw on our existing skills and knowledge, as well as guiding students towards independent learning. 


Teachers are not perfect 

It’s important to remember that teachers aren’t perfect – we do our best with the tools and training we have. The best way to improve as a teacher is to learn from our mistakes and those made by others! 


Professor Susan Wallace is Emeritus Professor of Education at Nottingham Trent University. Formerly Professor of Continuing Education, her work at NTU has included mentoring early career researchers, supervising PhDs and Professional Doctorates and teaching across the range of Education programmes.

This article has been adapted from an article originally published in the summer 2020 edition of inTuition