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July 9, 2024

3 Mistakes I Made in My First Year of Teaching

It was a cloudless day in early September as I stood at my classroom door greeting students with a muddled mix of excitement and terror ping-ponging inside my stomach. Anxious to make a good impression that first day, I was overdressed, the un-air-conditioned room and my nervousness caused unwanted beads of sweat to appear on my forehead. 

Once my 24 students had settled in and found their places in the classroom, I turned to face them. I took a deep, steadying breath and launched into my career. 

Although I made loads and loads of mistakes in that first year (anyone who is trying something new does), here are the top three:  

1. Going It Alone

One of the biggest mistakes I made was thinking that I had to know it all and do it all – all by myself. I mistakenly thought that if I asked questions, reached out for help, or admitted that I didn’t understand something it meant that I was weak or unprepared. 

Nothing could have been further from the truth! 

Teaching is a noble and sometimes very lonely enterprise because there are ways in which it is mostly done alone. Our teaching lives must be punctuated with opportunities to collaborate, ask questions, and seek support from others. 

Ask to be paired with a mentor teacher, join a teacher chat online, or ask your principal or instructional coach to cover your class while you observe another teacher. Lean on the work of other, more experienced teachers. And remember to share your expertise with them, too! 

We need each other. 

2. Talking Too Much

After my first full week of teaching, my voice was almost gone. I tried to speak – to give directions or provide explanations to my students – but my voice came out in a raspy, high-pitched squeak. I had talked a lot that first week. There was just so much to tell them!

I chalked it up to the fact that my vocal cords just weren’t strong enough yet – I was a new teacher after all. Throughout that first year, I continued talking way too much. I thought that my students weren’t learning unless my mouth was moving. They needed me to impart all of the knowledge they would need.

I’ve heard it said that the biggest obstacle to a learning child is a talking teacher. It’s true! If we do all of the talking, students might learn to only trust the voices of others rather than learn to listen and value their voices. Instead, when we teach a bit and then pause to give students a chance to think, reflect, wonder, and talk with a partner, we invite them to become active participants in their own learning and we send a clear message that, in this classroom, every voice matters. We send the message that we are a community of thinkers, learners, and speakers. 

Some teachers find it helpful to assign “thinking partners” so that no time is wasted trying to find a partner once students have joined you for the lesson. If you change partnerships once a month, students will have a chance to work with a variety of classmates throughout the year. 

One of my mentors often reminds me that the smartest person in the room is the room. So, get “the room” talking and watch the learning bloom! 

3. Trying to Do It All Perfectly

Webster’s dictionary defines perfectionism as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” Whoa. That described my approach during my first year of teaching. 

I’m a third-generation teacher and, in my family, teaching is considered to be one of the noblest of professions. When I began my career, I wanted to do my absolute best for my students – which was a worthy ideal. However, I soon noticed that this desire to do my best quickly morphed into thinking that everything I did – every lesson I taught, every bulletin board I created, every interaction with parents – needed to be perfect. 

It became clear right away that this was not sustainable. Perfection is not something we mere mortals can achieve. We are stubbornly human – utterly finite. 

When I finally let go of perfectionism and, instead, embraced learning as my goal, my energy and enthusiasm for teaching returned. I now know that I don’t have to perfect. My students might just learn more when they see me try something new and learn from my mistakes! I now hold fast to the motto: “I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to be brave.” 


I started my career and my love affair with teaching over thirty years ago. The mistakes I made and the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching continue to shape the work I do. Now, in my work with teachers, instructional coaches, principals, and students around the country, I remind myself to reach out for support, make sure there are ample opportunities for everyone to share their voices, and do my best to ditch the desire to be flawless.

For the record, I still make mistakes – even after three decades in education. Perhaps we can all give ourselves a bit of self-compassion and embrace our mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. If we don’t permit ourselves to try new things and to make mistakes – well, that would be the biggest mistake of all!


About the Author

Kelly Boswell has served as a classroom teacher, staff developer, literacy coach, university instructor, and district literacy specialist. She authored several books with Heinemann Press and  Capstone Press including Write This WayWrite This Way From the Start, and Every Kid a Writer. She also authored several nonfiction children’s books with Capstone Press. Kelly works with schools and districts around the country to support educational leaders, coaches, and teachers. Her focus is developing literacy practices that help students become joyful and engaged readers and writers.

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