Friday, July 15, 2016

6 of my BIGGEST Teaching Failures :(

I am getting ready to begin my 7th year teaching. 

Seven is the number of completeness or perfection, so I’m pretty sure I should be a perfect teacher this year. Go ahead and laugh out loud, I know I am! 

However, I thought it would be fitting to share six of my biggest teaching failures. 


A few reasons…

  • I’ve learned a lot from those failures and maybe reading about them can be beneficial to others.
  • Teachers have exploded on social media—which is a great thing—but it can also be intimidating, overwhelming, and discouraging (to be explained further below).
  • I think I am finally finding “my way” as a teacher.

So without further delay, let’s begin.

1. Being too strict.

Yes, it is possible to be too strict. My first year teaching, I expected complete and total obedience at all times and when I was teaching those little kiddos better have their eyes on me and not being playing with anything! I was consistent and fair—no exceptions!

Positive: My students were very well-behaved and attentive during lessons. 

Negative: One of my best behaved students got in trouble for playing with something while I was teaching and I had to spend weeks rebuilding her trust.

2. Following the curriculum too much.

I was given teacher’s manuals and resources (for which I am very thankful), but it is against my nature not to “finish” something. I kept to my lesson schedule no matter what! I taught the terms quarter-to, quarter-till, and quarter after to first graders who were not ready for it. They became frustrated. I became frustrated. After introducing these terms, my students seemed to lose the ability to tell time to the half hour and the hour. But I stuck to the curriculum!

Positive: We completed the curriculum and covered everything it said I should, even things not in my standards (like those pesky telling time terms).

Negative: It caused unneeded frustrations for my students and me.

3. Communication – lack of it and too much of it!

There really are no positives here, so instead I will present the alternative of each failure.

Early in the school year, I did not communicate my expectation and consequence regarding a certain procedure in my room well to my students which resulted in a HUGE misunderstanding with one student and her parents.  I should have been willing to slow down when explaining new rules/expectations to ensure understanding.

I have at times not communicated enough (or soon enough) with my administration regarding problems in the classroom. Better to over-communicate with your administration so they don’t have to be surprised when contacted by a parent.

When I saw an “Oops” note on Pinterest, I thought it was the greatest thing ever! As a parent, I would have appreciated getting them. However, in some special situations parents don’t want or need to know every time their child has a problem at school. You know the ones I’m talking about…the ones that would be getting an “Oops” note all the time. This would be the rare occasion when it is possible to over-communicate. The notes were part of my management plan—no exceptions! I’ve since realized that all students are not the same and behavior management involves taking that and the actual behavior into account before deciding on the severity of the consequence.

4. Implementing too many new ideas at one time.

You may have realized by now that I don’t do anything half-way, so when I saw interactive notebooks all over social media I jumped in head-first. We had a reading INB, a math INB, and a science INB! Fortunately, that was the year I had a well-behaved, academically high class who could handle the craziness. I loved watching them actively engaged in their notebooks and taking pride in their finished work. I hated the time we wasted cutting and gluing. I knew that it was too much for my next class, so I went down to two INBs: reading and math. I then watched that class slop through their INBs and perform many of the activities in a meaningless way. Did I scrap INBs completely? Nope. I still use a math notebook in the way that best suits my particular class.

Positive: Remember I mentioned how teachers have exploded on the internet. It is awesome to have so many new ideas at our fingertips. In fact, I think we should all be willing to try new things from time to time.

Negative: Sometimes those new ideas that are popping up all over the internet will not work for you or your students (we’ll come back to this) and you certainly don’t have to try them all at once!

5. Implementing ideas because others were doing it.

In order to explain this, I have to give you a snapshot of my classroom management plan. I have always used some sort of clip chart. When I first started teaching, the chart only went down. Then I added the ability to clip up. As Class Dojo became popular, I gave that a try. I liked it for the positive reinforcement (did not take away points), so I began using it with the clip chart only going down again. As a side note, let me make something clear about my clip chart. It was used with love and compassion. I spent time talking to students about misbehavior, consequences, and how we could try to do better next time. It was not used in an unfeeling way that shamed my students (as I’ve seen some blog posts portray). You need to know that I liked my management plan. In fact, I’m pretty sure my administrators and coworkers would agree that I have good classroom management.

Then I saw a new idea—Brag Tags! Oh, they looked so cute and fun. I was always looking for ways to add in more positive reinforcement. I could picture myself handing those little tags out and my students feeling so special for their accomplishments. I was concerned about the name because I hate to see kids “bragging” to their classmates, but I plunged ahead. I called them Smart Tags and students earned them for making smart choices.

Positive: Remember I mentioned how teachers have exploded on the internet. It is awesome to have so many new ideas at our fingertips. In fact, I think we should all be willing to try new things from time to time.

Negative: Sometimes those new ideas that are popping up all over the internet will not work for you or your students (we’ll come back to this). I was not good at giving out Brag Tags spontaneously, which I think is key to using them successfully. And you know that bragging I was worried about? It happened. It happened no matter how many times I explained that we weren’t competing with one another. And it made me sad because deep in my heart I knew that this particular new idea wasn’t for me and I did it anyway.

6. Making too much work for myself (again, no positives here).

Teaching is hard work! There are so many things demanding our time and attention. It is imperative that we simplify where we can.

Part of the reason Brag Tags didn’t work for me was because it was just one more thing I was trying to do in an already full classroom management plan. I need to simplify and have plans to do just that!

Trouble filling your treasure box? I had one my first couple years. Not needed! Your students would love choices like show-and-tell, no shoes, trade desks, etc. Easier and costs you nothing.

Struggle to keep up with your classroom job board? Make one special helper for the entire week who does all the jobs.

Constantly working on daily lesson plans? Make them by week so that you can make minor adjustments and reuse next year.

I’m pretty sure I could accumulate quite a list of ways I’ve simplified my work here, but I’ll save that for another post.

Let’s wrap this up, shall we? 

This list is definitely not an extensive list of my teacher fails. It is also not intended to tell you that if you do any of these things, you are wrong. I’m a firm believer that we as teachers have to find what works best for us and our students. 

I felt compelled to admit my failures because the season of new ideas is upon us, and you’ll notice a few of my failures were the direct result of jumping into those new ideas. I was susceptible to these mistakes because I was a “new” teacher looking to find my teaching identity among the abundance of information available to me via social media.

Don’t misunderstand! We should try new things in our classroom.

In fact, one of my core beliefs about teaching is that if you think you don’t have anything else to learn and are unwilling to try something new, it is time for you to retire.

I have to say that Tammy from Forever in First really put this in perspective for me. I listened to a podcast of her interview on Inspiring Educators (click here to listen). She said that she considers herself the “gatekeeper” of her classroom.

That resonated with me. 

You see, I’m the gatekeeper. 

It is my job to ensure that anything that comes into my classroom is for the benefit of my students. Those new ideas (dare I call them fads?) that I see need to be examined critically and researched if possible. I need to take it slow and really think things through. I need to know myself, my teaching style, and my students. I need to listen to my gut (also known as the Holy Spirit because of my relationship with the Lord). 

I’m the gatekeeper.

You’re the gatekeeper.

P.S. NEW Teachers – Take it slow. Learn your style. Get to know your community and students. You don’t have to do everything everyone else is doing. You’ll still be a great teacher. Teaching isn’t about following the latest trends. It’s about doing what is best for your students at any given time.


  1. What an excellent post! Thank you, Crystal. I love how you concluded. It is easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. As you said, learning something new from colleagues is a good thing. That doesn't mean we should do everything they do. Asking the Holy Spirit to lead IS the answer, because He knows our students best and loves them even more than we do! Thanks again.
    Laughter and Consistency

    1. Thank you, Jan. I was a little worried to put myself out there so it is nice to hear you understood what I was trying to say. :-)


  2. Crystal, I loved your post. I've been teaching for over 20 years and I can relate to everything you said! Since I've stopped trying every new thing on the block I feel much more relaxed and accomplished with my own teaching. Thanks for your thoughts!

    1. Thanks, Barb. I'm finally on my way to that relaxed feeling---I hope!


  3. This is an honest, powerful, and inspiring post. It's smart to reflect, especially on the things that haven't turned out like we hoped they would. Thank you for being brave and letting us share in your reflection. And thank you for the shout out. Yes, we are gatekeepers!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Tammy. It was hard to put myself out there this way, but I needed to do it. And you really have helped to shape me as a teacher from miles away, so a shout out is definitely appropriate!



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