By Teachers, For Teachers
As much as we focus on trying to build strong lessons, positive classroom environments, refined classroom management techniques, and engaged students, some bad habits inevitably creep into our teaching. We might feel like we have it down when it comes to those big-picture elements of our teaching – we probably do. But when we zoom in and look at the little things, we might discover some ways that we’re actually doing more harm than good.
Here are seven “Bad habits” that teachers might find themselves doing. I’m writing these because I’ve caught myself doing all of them! And now that I’m aware, I’m trying to be more conscientious about using classroom management to break these habits. Which of the following can you relate to? What would you add?
A student raises his hand and asks a straightforward question. The teacher’s response could be as brief as a single phrase, but instead of giving a clear-cut, definitive answer, the teacher springboards off of the student’s question and pontificates on the idiosyncrasies and nuances of the topic brought up. The students are likely to feel more confused than clarified on the issue.
I think teachers feel the need to elaborate, and it’s necessary at many times. But the bad habit here is that teachers sometimes fail to recognize when a blunt, straightforward answer would be more appropriate. The goal is to say only what’s necessary to help increase students’ understanding.
Now that many of our classrooms are riddled with various tech devices, our temptation is to look at the screens when we shouldn’t. We are constantly communicating with students, but if our eyes are glued to a screen while we’re muttering to them, then our interactions become depersonalized.
The trick here is simple: Look at your students when you’re talking to them. I think we’ve all experienced moments when we’re trying to speak with someone, but we feel frustrated, ignored, and deflated when their screen seems to be getting more attention than us. Don’t do that to your students. One other thing to think about is that we’re modeling communication skills to students, so if we talk to people with our eyes averted on a screen, our students will begin to mimic that behavior themselves.
It’s important that we do not outright blame technology when it goes wrong. All this technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but the truth is that it can backfire. It’s unfortunate how frequently it can feel like tech doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, and in those moments we openly denounce technology.
Now, we all know that in many cases it truly is “Technology’s fault” that something has gone wrong. Our LMS is down for the day; we can’t connect to the projector; student devices are acting up; the network is slow. But it’s very important how we respond to technology’s glitches. If we say things like, “It’s technology’s fault!” or “This is why I don’t like using this stuff!” then we’re teaching students to adopt a similar attitude of disappointment and skepticism toward technology. We’re teaching them to blame the machines and allowing it to be an excuse.
This habit is a normal reaction. We all feel frustration. However, we cannot allow our feelings to drive the way we communicate about technology in front of students. Instead of blaming technology and dismissing it as a problem maker, model for students how an adult professional deals with technology’s shortcomings in a calm, solution-oriented manner.
Our traditional classrooms have a teacher’s desk and a squishy, comfortable teacher’s chair. While working with students, it’s tempting to treat our derriere to the refreshing cushion of our privileged seat. Sitting behind our desks is definitely appropriate at times; it becomes a bad habit when we attempt to conduct our classes from this location.
Sitting behind the teacher desk is a removed position, physically distanced from our students and putting us in a passive posture. When engaged in a lesson or working with students, it’s important to resist the temptation to sit in a spot that distances us and puts a large obstruction between us and them. Instead, try to stand up and walk around, or at least have a seat in a location that positions you to physically engage with students.
Every speaker knows that they have a set amount of time to engage their audience before that audience “Tunes out” for good. Teachers, however, sometimes forget this and implicitly demand that students pay attention for the entire duration of class. Having this expectation is reasonable, but failing to recognize when our audience starts to tune out leads to missed opportunities.
The first step to break this habit is to recognize when students’ attention is largely straying from the conversation or the task at hand. Once we see we’re losing their attention, sometimes our tendency is to forge ahead, with or without them. Instead, our second step should be to utilize some strategies to bring student attention back to where it is best engaged. Build a small set of re-engagement strategies such as telling a story, playing a short game, or giving a verbal cue to ensure students are listening.
Or, if the lesson you’re leading students through really is just not working out, feel free to call an audible and change your plan on the spot!
Tests should be challenging, but not tricky. If we genuinely want to have strong data related to student performance on our assessments, then those assessments ought to be comprised of tasks that directly relate to what we have had students working on.
I used to throw in a few questions that would “Trick” the students into thinking one thing when it was another, or would be “Similar” to what we studied but not actually what we studied. My logic was that I wanted to see what students would do when they encountered a challenge or see which students could see through the trick. I think challenges and variations are important for students to engage with … but not on the test!
Instead of laying these traps on the test, now I incorporate them into our activities and discussions. This gives students a fair chance to engage with them in ways that are safe and guided by an instructor. The tests feature the tasks that are going to give me the most reliable information related to how students are performing. By separating these, I have stronger assessment data and stronger incorporation of special challenges in the curriculum.
I often find that I’m scrambling before class starts to get each material perfectly ready to go. This sometimes leads to students filing in while I’m still clicking around on the computer or scampering to arrange desks or hustling to get the projector up and running. The consequence is that I hardly acknowledge students as they come into the classroom.
I have two solutions for this habit
First, I just need to be ready with the materials earlier. I cannot sacrifice greeting my students because of my own last-minute preparations.
Second, if for some reason I cannot have all the materials perfectly ready to go before students come in, then I drop what I’m doing and greet the students anyhow. The students are more important than the materials, and taking another minute or two to finalize what I need after I’ve said hello to students hurts absolutely no one.
These are a few of my bad habits that I’ve noticed and am trying to break. What would you add to this list? Share your ideas with our TeachHUB.com community in your comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.