6 Teaching Myths to Stop Believing

I have slowly let go of many expectations and impossible standards over the years—and if you are hoping to survive as a teacher, you’ll probably have to let go of a lot as well. How and why these teaching myths are spread I don’t know, but you’ll be a much happier educator as soon as you stop believing these common myths.

Martyrs make great teachers.

Blame too many movies where the teacher comes in and changes the lives of everyone she touches or blame the people I worked with who stayed up until midnight to get a quiz back to students within 24 hours. Teachers are often led to believe that the more they do for students, the better.

I often think of the lyrics of old song by a group called “The Offspring”: “The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care.” Except it isn’t possible to teach for very long this way. Instead, the great teachers fill their own cup first—they take care of themselves even if that means leaving a stack of ungraded papers on their desk when they leave school right after the bell.

Students learn in a logical progression.

I used to think that there was a magical progression of learning—if only I could just figure out the right combination. Since I teach ELA, I looked for the most efficient way to teach writing. Was it sentences, then paragraphs, then entire essays? Or was it better to teach students to write rough drafts of essays and then come back to the individual sentences? Parts of speech first or punctuation first?

Finally, I realized that students learn at wildly different rates and different times. I might explain a comma rule five times or twenty or one, and different minds in the room would understand it at different times. Now I like the idea of the spiral—we keep looping back, hoping to pick up everyone in the room eventually, and coming at the same idea in as many ways as possible.

You have to be the show every day.

For the first few years of my teaching career, my classes were all discussion every day. This might be lots of fun for some students, but it’s also exhausting to maintain. Then, I realized that there are ways for me to be off the stage and still have a productive, engaged class. I figured out ways to get students to teach themselves more—I learned how to get them to do the work. We still do discussions, but the rest of the time is spent in small groups, with partners, or just quietly writing or reading.

Great plans will always make for successful classes.

I remember the early days that I stayed up late, planning what I thought would be super fun activities and games for my classes, only to see those plans crash and burn on the following day. Sometimes, even the best plans don’t work. But as long as I looked back and reflected on what went wrong, those plans worked a little bit better the next time around.

Students want feedback on each and every error that they make.

I often see newer teachers eagerly marking up student work with their red pens, believing that once they write out a thorough explanation of why this sentence is grammatically incorrect, they will never see this kind of mistake on that student’s writing again. But when kids are trying something new, stretching beyond their comfort zone, the last thing they need is to be told every single way that they have messed up. Instead, I now focus on one way that they can improve—and I always try to give that feedback in a sandwich, by starting and ending with what they’ve done well.

One day, teaching will be really easy.

It does get easier for sure, and some days seem almost perfect, but I have to admit that teaching is never really an easy job. It’s hard work and it’s stressful and it changes and shifts and just when you think you have it all figured out, you realize that you haven’t even begun your journey.

Teaching is wonderful and great and the best job in the whole world—but it is hardly ever easy.

Christina Gil was a high-school English teacher for sixteen years, but she recently left the classroom to follow a dream and move with her family to an ecovillage in rural Missouri. She believes that teaching creative writing helps students excel on standardized tests, that deeply analyzing and unpacking a poem is a fabulous way to spend an hour or so, and that Shakespeare is always better with sound effects. When she is not hauling water to her tiny home, she can be found homeschooling her two kids, meeting with her neighbors about the best way to run their village, or writing in her blog, Gil Teach.