Common teacher mistake #7

Common Teacher Mistake #7 — Overconfidence.

This is one that particularly applies to new TFA teachers. I was a victim of this myself, back in the day, and the fact that it’s still a prominent issue makes me worry that TFA contributes to building that overconfidence.

You know the famous Western movie cliche “It’s quiet out there — Too quiet.” There are some CMs for whom the summer school experience is easy — too easy.

It might be easy because you’re just that good, but there are other reasons possibly. It’s important that you consider those other possibilities since if you just rely on the ‘fact’ that you are a natural born teacher and that wasn’t the reason for your success, then you will fall flat on your face, not close any achievement gaps, execute ineffectively, etc.

One question to ask is how many students are in your class right now, and how many will you have when you start really teaching? As you add students, the difficulty grows (as we say in the math world) ‘quadratically.’ This means that 20 kids are 4 times as difficult to teach as 10 and that 30 kids are 9 times as difficult as 10. So if you’re a rock star with 10 kids, be careful on what conclusions you draw from that.

I don’t know if TFA makes this point strong enough. I think they would be taking a risk if they reminded people too much about this since then they would open themselves up for criticism, like “Well, then why am I teaching just 10 kids? Why don’t you create a model where I’m able to teach 30 and get real practice in?” I don’t know how they do or don’t address the issue. Maybe someone who is currently training can comment and let me know.

Another thing that you should remember is that the summer school is so short that you barely make it out of ‘The Honeymoon Period’ This is the two or three week time period where kids act relatively good. Whether they’re being nice and giving you a chance or whether they are studying you to find weaknesses to exploit, I don’t know, but there is a honeymoon period. Even in my awful first year (You can read about it in ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ — shameful plug) my students we very well behaved for a few weeks.

Anyway this rant was inspired by a blog I read (people hate when I single out a blog by someone who is just trying to learn, but I really need to give a concrete example) magicschoolbus blog

This entry was posted in Common Teacher Mistakes, Teach For America, Teaching Advice. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Common teacher mistake #7

  1. Z_Quake says:

    Have to agree with you here. As a CM currently going through training, it is easy for me to feel like most of the struggles are with planning, and not with execution. That may be true at this point, for the reasons you listed, but it’s certainly a problem.

    Like any organization, some members are better about warning us than others. My experience, at Delta Institute, is that they warn us about the “honeymoon period,” they warn us to make sure were accounting for how we’d do things differently with 30 kids, they tell us that if we aren’t seeing serious gains with small numbers there’s a big problem. In short, they warn us a lot.

    Does that keep some of us from being overconfident, absolutely not. More often than not though, I find that CMs are anything but confident about they’re teaching. We are, by and large, more critical of ourselves than the CMAs and SDs are of us; most of us are our own worst critics.

    I hope that answers your question, and thanks for the blog- I don’t agree with everything you write, but it’s a great resource for incoming CMs

  2. Ben Guest says:

    Class size during summer training with Mississippi Teacher Corps is an issue we have struggled with for a while. This year, for the first time, we were able to offer school free-of-charge for students (we run an extended year summer program in Holly Springs, MS). We have 270 students in grades 7-12 attending the program. Because we are a small program with only 23 first-year participants and ten classrooms during the summer training we have an average of 27 students per classroom (our smallest class has 11 students and our largest class has 33) and each first-year is teaching two, and sometimes three, 50-minute periods a day. For the first time our participants are getting a real experience before the school year starts.

    Ben Guest
    Mississippi Teacher Corps

  3. david says:

    I’m feeling a lot of these fears here at Chicago Institute. My high school geometry class started with 12 and was whittled down to 9 incredibly well-behaved students by the end of our first “semester.” I’ve observed in some other CM’s classrooms this summer and been horrified at the behavior that was going on. I don’t know if I just got an incredibly awesome bunch of kids, but I’m very scared of what I may walk into in the fall. Thanks for taking an honest look at this.

  4. E. Rat says:

    In re honeymoon period: They’re being nice. One thing first year teachers need to remember is that kids, for the most part, want the year to be successful. No kid wants to sit in a classroom with an angry, depressed teacher who’s totally worn down.

    One mistake teachers get into is when kids do start acting up – and they will, because they are kids – is assuming their motivation is hating the teacher/wanting the class to fail. It’s very hard to relate to people who you believe are out to get you, and paranoia doesn’t make for a good classroom environment.

    So when there are management problems, don’t blame the kids (or yourself, really). Analyze the situation and try not to take it personally. And apologize to your class if necessary.

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