5 Common Back-to-School Mistakes Teachers Regret All Year

It was sometime around October when my principal called me into his office & sat me down for a chat. “Do you know what’s happening behind your back?” he asked me. “You’ve got to muster all the authority you have and regain some control.”

I’m pretty sure he could see the tears I was so desperately trying to hold back.

How did this happen? I wondered. How did I let my class get so far out of control?

5 common mistakes teachers make the first week of school during back-to-school

That conversation was no fun, but looking back I’m so thankful for a principal who cared enough to step in and have that tough conversation. You see, I was floundering. I remember standing in front of my class, trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to get their attention while half of class chatted, a third were wandering around the room, and only a handful actually had their homework done and ready.

It was, in a word, a nightmare.

And it all started the first weeks of school.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had made some key mistakes that really came back to bite me all year.

These are mistakes you certainly don’t want to make.

5 Mistakes Teachers Make the First Week of School

  1. Not realizing the importance of the first week of school. That first week sets the tone for the whole year & can easily be the difference between a calm, productive class and an out-of-control, disastrous one. If you just let your students do what they want (figuring you’ll deal with problems later), guess what? Your students will get in the habit of doing what they want. And that will make things quite difficult.On the other hand, if you value the first week of school, you can use it as a fresh start to make big changes from last year. During this new phase, students are open to change, and you have the ability to set any expectation that you want (within reason). Recognize the power of this fresh start & use it to your full advantage.
  2. Expecting good procedures to just happen. Teachers make two mistakes when it comes to procedures: not thinking them through, and just telling them instead of teaching them.To avoid this mistake, you must first carefully think through your procedures. If you’re a new teacher, you need to think through a procedure for everything – from bathroom breaks to how students will pass in papers to how & when students will sharpen pencils.

    Veterans – stop & think which procedures didn’t go so well last year & brainstorm better options. You can ask fellow teachers for help at your school or in our Facebook group. I also share some awesome procedure suggestions in my articles “10 Classroom Procedures that Will Save Your Sanity” and the sequel “10 More Classroom Procedures…” 

    Secondly, it’s not enough to simply tell your students your procedures. You must carefully teach & practice them. Click here to read my 4-step process for teaching procedures so that your students will actually follow them. 
  3. Letting the little things go.

This mistake really derailed me & was the single largest reason I ended up in that awkward conversation in my principal’s office. You see, when I saw little problems like Brandon talking, Rylie wandering around the room, or Elizabeth blurting out answers, I didn’t do anything about it. I figured they weren’t big problems, so I just let them go.

But the problem is that little problems don’t stay little. They grow into bigger & bigger problems, and by the time you realize what’s happened you have a big mess on your hands & don’t even know where to begin addressing all the issues.

What I learned was that I need to address every small issue the first week of school. This doesn’t mean I have to hand out consequences or be mean. I simply needed to correct problems as they come up. A simple, “Greg, we don’t run into the classroom. Please step back outside and come in calmly” does wonders.

When we correct small problems, we not only nip them in the bud, but we also send a strong message to our students that procedures matter, our instructions matter, we mean what we say, and we’re all here to focus & learn.

p.s. I’ve heard many people give the advice to “not sweat the small stuff.” But here’s my thought: In February, in April, in May, don’t sweat the small stuff. But in August – during the first week of school – please, please do. You are setting expectations. You are establishing the tone. And you will certainly be glad you did.

4. Worrying about being liked.

We all like to be liked – no question there. But do you worry about it? Do you let that desire drive your decisions? If you do, you’re setting yourself up for a tough year. Your students probably won’t respect you and, ironically, may not even end up liking you.

As teachers, we cannot worry about being liked. Instead, we should focus on gaining our students’ respect. Instead of trying to be our students’ friends, we must strive to be good mentors. And that means instead of letting the little things go, we must have high expectations & hold our students to them.

We must be both kind & firm, personable yet not a pushover, understanding yet still dealing with issues. When we’re this type of teacher, we will gain the respect of most of our students (and – BONUS – they will probably even end up liking us).

[For more on this topic, check out my post “If You Want Your Students to Like You.”]

5. Not being fully prepared.

Let me ask you: Do you know what you’re going to do when a student blurts out an answer? When someone just gets up & wanders around the room? When a student uses profanity? Or when any other number of classroom issues come up?

If you don’t have a plan, you’re not going to have much confidence when these issues inevitably arrive. And because you have no confidence & no idea what to do, you will probably not do anything. And that, in turn, leads to bigger problems which result a nightmare situation.

I can tell you from personally experience, this happened to me & it is no fun. I wished so much I had prepared ahead of time what to say & how to handle various situations.

The next year, I didn’t make the same mistake. I came up with a plan, wrote it down, and had it ready to go. I implemented it and – wow! – it made dealing with problems so much easier.

So how do you develop a plan? Talk to fellow teachers either in your school or in our Facebook group. You can also check out these awesome resources that I’ve developed to help you do just that:

  • Classroom Management Podcast Series (free) – In Season 1 of the Teach 4 the Heart Podcast, we discuss various classroom management strategies to help you regain & keep control.
  • Classroom Management MiniCourse (free) – If you’ve already started the year off on the wrong foot, this minicourse will help you turn things around and get back on track.
  • Classroom Management 101 Online Course – Classroom management is nuanced, and one missing element can really frustrate even your best efforts. That’s why I developed Classroom Management 101 – a complete, organized system to ensure you don’t miss any crucial elements. The course will guide you step-by-step through the process of developing and implementing a strong classroom management plan. Click here for more details about Classroom Management 101.

What other back-to-school mistakes have you made?

Linda Kardamis

I believe that when God calls us to teach, He promises the strength & wisdom to do it well. All we need to do is keep learning, growing, and depending on Him. I'm here to provide practical advice and Biblical encouragement so you'll have the confidence and perspective to not only inspire your students but reach their hearts as well.

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