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3 Teaching Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

1.      Sell it, Don’t Force it!

Why does teaching often feel like you’re being asked to perform like Bert’s One-Man Band from the opening scene of Mary Poppins? You feel like you’re being pulled in so many directions. You may even find yourself thinking, “Oh great, now the district wants me to teach less and watch the students miraculously figure it all out. I tried that yesterday and all they figured out was how to take a nap even faster! They might as well ask me to walk on water.” Why are we trying to force our kids to “Step in Time” with us when we don’t slow down enough to teach them the basic steps? The kids have seen this song and dance before, and they’re simply not buying in. Instead, we need to break down the new content to the size we know they can handle and sell them on it creatively.

I’m a new father of an 8-month-old baby girl. Right now, my wife and I are introducing her to different foods, but before we can ever get her to “buy in” and try something new, we must offer her a bite that is small enough for her to handle. Then, we must sell her on the idea that it’s fun and good! We do nothing short of making crazy faces, sounds, voices and playing games to show her how fun it is to try and learn new things. Eventually, we find a method that works, and she is sold! She sees how much we enjoy what we’re teaching her to do, and she decides to jump in and do it with us.

Like a small baby who’s just figuring things out, we must approach our students in a similar way. Let’s break off pieces of the content that the kids can chew, and sell them on how much fun it is to try something new.

2.      See Your Students, Not Your Problems!

It starts with an email… Joni, the ISS teacher, wants you to send her some work for Jeremiah for the 4th time this week because he just can’t stay out of trouble and administration won’t suspend his @#% already! You have work piling up because twice a week you must submit a status report of your department’s PLC meetings, and you’ve had zero time to plan your lessons during the school day. You’ve been taking your work home every night this week, and all you can think about is, “How many more hours is it before the weekend?!” You’ve reached a state of stress that has turned into all-out survival mode where every waking moment is focused on how you’re going to make it through the next class period. I like to refer to this state as “The Dead Zone.” I should know - I lived there for several years!

It’s in this state that genuine connection with your students gets thrown out the window. All you can think about are your responsibilities…your pressures…your worries…your job security…YOUR, YOUR, YOUR…you get the point! This is perhaps one of the subtler mistakes you may not know you’re making. It accidentally became all about YOU! And the worst part is, you don’t even know how or when it happened. I think it all comes down to that blasted email from Joni… Yeah...let’s blame her!

A few years ago, I decided that either something had to change in my job and classroom, or I was finished teaching. I realized that I had only been concerned with what was going on with me, and knew that was the real problem. So, I set aside about an hour every weekend and wrote down positive things I had noticed about at least 2 kids in each one of my classes.

This simple task accomplished three things:

I was forced to think about someone else. I became increasingly surprised of the fact that I could always find something positive to say about a student.Any time that I spent thinking about others was not time spent thinking about ME and my issues. This always put me in a better mood and helped me forget what I was so upset about in the first place. By committing to do so, I could communicate to my students the positive things I had noticed about them the prior week. This commitment eventually became habit and always helped build rapport with my kids. The atmosphere of the classroom lifted, and my job became enjoyable again. I actually looked forward to being with my students.

So how do you get out of this funk and get back into the driver’s seat where you belong? The answer is simple. GET YOUR EYES OFF YOURSELF AND BACK ON THE KIDS!!! Did I scream that loudly enough?

3.      Strum That One-Stringed Guitar.

I can remember an illustration from my pastor about playing a “one-string guitar” and committing to pluck that string over, and over, and over again. He was likening that “one string” to being consistent with reading your Bible, but it also brought another idea to mind. Just because something is simple doesn’t mean that it isn’t the most important thing to do. But, simple as something may be, it can be so easily forgotten. How could I apply this concept in my classes to help my students remember those simple things that I must constantly remind them to do? How could I spare us all the annoyance and irritation of hearing me say the same thing every fifteen minutes?  

During an exhausting lesson on polynomials, I became so sick and tired of kids forgetting to first look for the greatest common factor (GCF) before trying to break down polynomial problems. How many times did I have to keep explaining this?! I decided that since they couldn’t seem to remember the words I was saying, maybe they needed a more memorable approach to the lesson. I literally went out and found a plastic, one-stringed guitar.

Following my pastor’s advice, I figured…why not?! Maybe we just need to pluck this onestring over and over until this concept becomes ingrained. Before we started to work on any new problem that day, I pulled out my little one-stringed guitar and plucked away while singing “GCF, GCF, GGG…CCCC…FFFFFF!!!!” With every pluck of my string, I pitifully sang out that acronym, making it impossible for the students to forget that initial step. About 40 minutes into the lesson, what seemed difficult for the kids to remember yesterday became fun and exciting! By the end of the day, the students starting yelling for me to “play that one-stringed guitar” before they began their work factoring problems.

As teachers, we have an opportunity to do something great for our kids. You can strum your“one-stringed guitar” and break up the mundaneness of the lesson. Make those easily forgotten simple steps suddenly fun, exciting and unforgettable. Don’t be afraid or too shy to do something completely out of the box. We make the mistake of forgetting to just have fun! Bring in a funny prop from time to time. Consider wearing something goofy that keeps the kids puzzled and entertained, but goes along with the theme of the day’s lesson. Leave your kids wondering, “What will this teacher do next?!” It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to happen every day. Just have fun with it, and they’ll have fun with you. And who knows…maybe you’ll ALL learn something new.

If you are a teacher or an educator, I invite you to email us at

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