My Biggest Mistake as a New Teacher

The graphic reads "My biggest mistake as a new teacher". There is a picture of a woman sitting in a classroom looking defeated.

I began teaching at just 22 years old. I had all of these bright-eyed and lofty ideas about how my 5th and 6th graders were going to be independent and self-running. In these fantasies, my class would run without a hiccup! Everyone would be quietly on task and making good choices.

In reality, my first year teaching was chaotic. My class was noisy and disorganized and students were often off task.

“Where did things go wrong?” I asked myself.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I know exactly what my mistake was. I was so busy teaching students academics that I never taught my procedures and routines.

The graphic reads "My biggest mistake as a new teacher". There is a picture of a woman sitting in a classroom looking defeated.

What procedures should you teach?

I have a free planning sheet in my TpT store that you can download here or by clicking the image below. This guide will help you with which procedures to plan for.

The graphic says "Classroom procedures planning guide". There is a picture of a hand writing on a sheet of paper.

Examples include:

  • How will students ask for help?
  • How will students turn in work?
  • How will students sharpen their pencils?

How do you teach procedures?

Once you’ve planned out your procedures, it’s time to teach and practice them. When I plan out the first week of school, I pencil in my procedures and remind myself which ones to teach on which day.

One of the first procedures I teach is how to get water. I show students how to use ASL to sign “water” to me. We practice and I show them how I give a silent nod. Then I model as if I were a student. I stand up, push in my chair, walk straight to the water fountain in my classroom, and return back to my seat. Then I ask students, “What did you notice?” I let them talk to a partner about what they noticed, and then I call on hands. They’ll say things like, “You pushed in your chair.” “You didn’t talk to anyone.”

The graphic says "My biggest mistake as a new teacher". There is a picture in the middle with a woman sitting at a desk with her hands on her head looking stressed.

Next, I tell students that I’m going to model what NOT to do. I don’t push in my chair, I walk a very convoluted route to the water fountain stopping to talk to students, I mess around with the water, and talk a long walk back. The students usually giggle as I do this. Then I ask, “What was wrong with that?” Again I let them talk to a partner and we discuss the things I did wrong.

Then I say, “Now that we know the right way and the wrong way, who thinks they can show us the right way to get water?” It’s important to note here that I never have students show the wrong way. Only the teacher does that. This is because I don’t want students practicing incorrect procedures and routines. I have 2 student volunteers show us the right way. As they do it I narrate their behavior like this, “I see Jesse is pushing in his chair. He’s walking straight to the water fountain without talking to anyone. He’s getting water without making a mess. He’s coming straight back to his seat. He sat back down.” Then we all give Jesse a little golf clap and I have another student volunteer. All in all, teaching this one routine takes about 10 minutes but saves so much time throughout the year because the students know exactly how they should be acting at any given time.  

The graphic says "My biggest mistake as a new teacher". Above that, there is a picture of a women biting her lip and looking anxious.


My biggest mistake as a first-year teacher was not taking the time to teach procedures and routines. I made a huge assumption that 5th and 6th graders should know how to behave in school and didn’t think through explicitly teaching them my expectations and having them practice. Once I began to incorporate this into my beginning of the school year routine, my classes became those self-running and independent students that I had dreamed of my first year. 

Be sure to grab your free classroom procedures planning guide!

You may also enjoy:

new from the blog