Bad teaching advice has been abundant throughout my career. Veteran teachers have always come to me to criticize my teaching methods and push their philosophies down my throat.
What has their problem been with my work? Many believe that I overemphasize mindset, equity, and “soft skills” in my teaching. They cannot understand why I refuse to give suspensions, or why I let students eat or chew gum (seriously, this is a big one for some) in class.
It is important to see the bad advice for what it is. When you hear wisdom from an experienced teacher, you want to trust them and learn from their knowledge bank. However, don’t let these pieces of bad teaching advice fool you…
What Not to Do
- Rule your class like Hitler – This gem was delivered by a Jewish educator who had many years of experience in the field. She explained that you should drive fear into the hearts of every child so they are terrified of disappointing you. They shouldn’t even be able to imagine the pain they will experience if they miss an assignment. Yikes!
This advice will only assist you in spiking the anxiety levels of your students. You can potentially obtain academic results this way, but it will always come at the cost of their mental health. Expectations can be given without fear.
- Kick out unruly students – The logic was simple… They are disrupting the classroom environment, so protect the environment. They told me to have zero tolerance and kick out all the misbehaving kids.
That’s all well and good, until you notice them kicking out students for whispering to other students for help with an assignment they don’t understand. The definition of misbehavior is so subjective that students were getting bounced for seemingly no reason. This led to further protests from students, more kicked out kids, and a destroyed learning environment. No thanks!
I was motivated to write The Perfect Ten by watching teachers cling to this failing method of classroom management.
- Spend more time in the teacher’s lounge – I got razzed often for avoiding the teacher’s lounge. Veteran teachers explained that it was our opportunity to connect, grow in the profession, and support each other. I gave it a chance and started bringing my lunch to the lounge to see what the fuss was about.
Within a week, I found that the topics were either about bad students that the other teachers hated, bad parents they hated, bad administrators they hated, or the things that happened when they were drinking over the weekend.
I found myself leaving those moments frustrated and on edge. It was only contributing to my burnout and making me think much less of my co-workers. The venom they constantly spewed made me look at them as toxic. I avoid the faculty lounge now.
- Do not smile until December – The experienced teachers in my building said this often. The kids need to know you are a teacher before they can start to know that you are a human. They warned me not to show any personality or give them any positive body language until my expectations were set and met.
Two problems are created instantly from this advice. One is that students learn more and improve classroom behaviors with better relationships with their teachers. The other is that teaching without personality is less fun for you!
Many of the teachers who followed this advice were joyless in their profession. They did not have stories of the fun times they shared with students in class or the learning journeys they went on. It was strictly business, and a total bore.
- PD isn’t worth it – The veteran teachers at my school went to PD meetings with the intention of ruining them. They watched and listened carefully for opportunities to ask asinine questions, make fun of the presenters, and criticize every negative they could imagine would stem from the PD topic. If all else failed, they would play on their phones and loudly make disruptions.
Even when I did not join in with their shenanigans, their attitudes still rubbed off on me. I went into PD meetings expecting the worst, and that’s what I would get.
The game changer was when I started expecting the best from PD and went in looking for help. Whether the PD was excellent or left something to be desired, I still found a benefit of being there and learning. My focus shifted to getting the most out of each session, rather than dreading each minute of every session, and I was more fulfilled from it.
Taking Bad Teaching Advice With a Grain of Salt
“Trust me” became a dangerous phrase as I got into the teaching profession. It was the set up to bad teaching advice consistently. Every time I heard an older teacher say “trust me,” what followed was a projection of the mistakes that made them unsatisfied in their career.
Most advice is given with good intention, but do not assume that every teacher has good intent to begin with. Much can be learned for what was done wrong, just as you can learn from what teachers are doing right.
Whether you have been in the classroom for 3 years or 30, focus on what is right for you and your students. Do not adapt the personalities of everyone around you, hoping that it will fix your classroom woes. The best fix is to apply your compassion, empathy, and professional training.
Read next: Building A Teacher Mindset: Gratitude