Thursday 25 April 2013

The Top Ten Stupidest Teaching Tips

There is a lot of advice out there for teachers. As an NQT, every experienced teacher you meet will probably start their first conversation with you by imparting some "words of wisdom". Often this begins with, "I don't know what they've taught you on your PGCE, but in my experience [insert gratuitous advice here]".

I have been given a lot of bad advice is my short time as a teacher. Some of it was from my PGCE course, some from books, and some from the soapbox in the corner of the staff room.

So, here is my list of the top ten stupidest teaching tips (in no particular order):

"Don't smile until Christmas"

This is probably the most oft-quoted teaching tip. But does anyone actually do this? I think it's terrible advice!

I love maths. I want my students to love maths. Can you share your enthusiasm for a subject without smiling?  If I explain a topic in maths completely straight-faced, doesn't that imply to my students that I don't find that topic interesting/exciting/inspiring? And they'll be thinking, even Miss finds this boring and maths is her favourite subject!

Also, the first term of teaching a new class is when you're trying to make relationships. Is it possible to make a relationship with someone without smiling?

Of course you want to lay down the law and show them who's boss, but without coming across as cold, boring, and unrelatable.

"As your students leave the room, stand by the door and tell each of them you love them".

You probably think I've made this one up. But no, I read this in Rocket up Your Class! which I actually thought was a great book until I read this particular titbit.

However, being the diligent student that I am, after reading this advice, I decided to try it out. I don't think I can really call it a success. The first student out the room was definitely uncomfortable, the last person out the room only got a very lacklustre "Uvyoo" (you try saying "I love you" thirty times in thirty seconds!) The students didn't even find it funny, they just thought I was weird.

The main problem I have with this is that to be quite honest, I don't "love" my students. They're perfectly nice people (some of them) and all, but my love is reserved for immediate family, pets past and present, and chocolate-covered popcorn. Sorry kids.

"Positives and negatives should be given out in the ratio of 4:1"

I've already written about my scepticism of this. I know teachers who are highly effective and have excellent relationships with students who very rarely use praise, and never use rewards.

I hate over-praising. It just devalues the whole currency. I'd rather be praised meaningfully once in my whole seven years with a teacher, than shallowly every lesson.

"Never take work home with you"

If it were possible to not mentally take work home with you, I might have thought this was good advice.

In terms of physical work: marking, lesson planning, reports, various admin (far too much of it, considering teachers aren't technically supposed to have to do admin)... the way I see it there are two choices.

Go home lugging your books on your back (or in the boot, if, unlike me, you have a car), get home at 4:30, make yourself a cup of tea by filling the kettle from the kitchen sink, not from the communal toilet's sink (the closest water source to the maths office), using milk that's not perpetually "on the turn", in your favourite mug, not whatever vessel you can find that hasn't been appropriated by the faculty slob. You can immediately change into your jammies, put on your guilty-pleasure music (a certain adorable quintuple springs to mind), and mark/plan/do stuff whilst stuffing your face with roasted chickpeas (too smelly to eat in the office).


Stay at school, do your work, get home at 7pm, and smugly say to your spouse/kids/tamagotchi: "I don't take work home with me. Check out my work-life balance!"

"Don't do more than one of the same type of question"

This advice was actually given to me by an OfSTED inspector. Despite my new-found respect for HMIs, after they showed excellent judgement in awarding me the coveted title of "outstanding teacher", I still feel I have to disagree with this particular tip.

I talked at length about this in this post. I won't bother repeating myself.

"Never touch a student"

Way too many teachers are terrified of being called the P word. A gentle hand on the arm isn't going to cause any trouble! A pat on the back isn't going to put you in jail! (Obviously if the student in question has ASD or is a CP case then exercise caution).

On January results day just gone, one of my year 12s asked me for a hug. I am ashamed to say I almost said no. But then I thought, screw it, this girl was so nervous this morning and now she's overcome with relief, of course I should give her a hug! She shouldn't have had to have asked, I should have offered her a hug! It's a one-off ting, it's not a big deal. Stop being scared.

"Show students the insides of your wrists to show them you trust them"

This wee gem was imparted on me by someone at university when I was doing my PGCE. Not only is this advice bizarre, it is also incredibly hard to do. I challenge you all to attempt this in one of your lessons this week. Unless you have a curiously-shaped mole on your wrist you can somehow incorporate into your starter activity, I don't think you'll manage it.

"Keep your hands above waist height to demonstrate power"

Another PGCE one. I should point out these were external speakers, not my actual teachers, who were all brilliant.

My question is this: where can you put your hands above your waist? On your shoulders? Under your armpits, in the manner of a gorilla? Stroking your chin with your left and scratching your head with your right?  Or arms spread wide, as if welcoming in your students' ideas and basking in their insights. Hmm.

Oh dear, a quick google has revealed to me that this advice is not only given to teachers but to business people who have to make important presentations and speeches. Listen up guys, here's my public-speaking advice: if you need to resort to body-language tricks to get people to agree with you, the content of your speech is probably rubbish.

"Do vocal exercises in the shower every morning"

We had quite a few sessions on looking after your voice during my PGCE. Teachers talk a lot compared to people in other jobs, and voice strain is definitely something that could be an issue. I know that the first day back after a holiday my voice always hurts by the end of the day.

But do any teachers ever actually do vocal exercises? Every morning? In the shower? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my sessions with the loofah-microphone as much as the next person, but certainly not at 5:45am, and anyway, my performances are limited to actual songs, not odd bird-like squawks and exaggerated vowel sounds. I can't believe I attended those lectures.

"Get a gun"

No, I've not gone crazy. Read this article. I'm not even going to pass comment. Except perhaps to say: oh dear, America.

Got any stupid teaching tips for me? Post them in the comments!

Emma x x x


  1. I could talk all day on this!

    1. "Poor behaviour is the result of poor planning" i.e. if kiddies are naughty in your class then it was your fault because your lesson plan was rubbish.

    Bugger that! Not only have I had to endure a crappy hour of naughty kids but I'm going to be made to feel guilty about it too? No thanks! My own behaviour management problems as a PGCE/NQT stemmed from a lack of confidence and assertiveness - making me blame myself just exacerbated the situation. I take the view that pupils are responsible for their behaviour, and their teacher's job is to react appropriately to it, not feel bad they didn't prevent it in the first place.

    2. Objectives should be shared within the first 10 minutes of a lesson.

    Screw that. I may share objectives, I may not. Maybe at the start, maybe later. I'm not tickboxing stupid rules for the sake of it.

    3. Textbooks are bad.

    There seemed to be a big feeling about this on our PGCE. I'm very lucky I get total freedom in how I teach so do investigations, card sort,team games, relay races, treasure hunts, etc. And sometimes I get kids to sit in near silence for the best part of an hour and work their way steadily through a textbook exercise. I pick the activity for maximum learning, not looking good.

    1. Ooh those are good ones!
      I absolutely NEVER ovey number 2, although I used to at the start of my NQT before I realised it was restricting the lesson too much.
      As for number 3, I use textbooks almost every lesson, with other activities thrown in. You know people who say textbooks are bad? Well they give their students worksheets with questions on instead. How is that different?! Apart from being less environmentally friendly, and more expensive!

  2. Your comments have made me feel so much better about teaching. I hate those myths people say to make you feel bad about your classes are just that - myths! The lesson objective thing I struggle with particularly and the no textbooks, and I agree the people that don't use textbooks just do death by worksheet or powerpoint.

    1. The problem is that there are no "perfect" text books and, as you point out, "variety is the spice of life". However, here has been one series of "text books" that has achieved near perfection in my eyes - SMP 11-16 from many moons ago. The only detraction was that they should have produced the whole series as bite-size booklets that you could truly mix and match at will.

    2. At my school we use MEP textbooks and I think they're really good.

  3. I was told on my PGCE course by an experienced teacher simply to whisper threats in the ear of a student who was misbehaving - along the lines of "Watch your back - one day I'm going to get someone to follow you home and beat you up". He reckoned that it was perfectly safe because the student would be too scared to say anything and it was so outrageous that nobody would ever believe the student if they did!