Five banana skins that teachers should watch out for

Teachers should be aware that, as they gain more experience, it is all to easy to slip up because of complacency and fixed-thinking

Gordon Cairns

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A point comes in every teacher’s career when you think you’ve cracked it.

Unfortunately, experienced practitioners then have a new problem to deal with: the dangers of fixed-thinking.

Here is a list of five pitfalls that experienced teachers can fall into: 

  1. Confirmation bias – This is otherwise known as believing what we already think. It is easy, after many years of practice, to believe that what you have always done is the right way of doing something. We tend to have trouble believing evidence that  challenges this.
  2. Hierarchical thinking – This is when we blithely pass responsibility for a problem further up the hierarchy, assuming a solution will be forthcoming, rather than considering that a senior position does not equate with an ability to resolve everything.
  3. Fixation error – This is where we keep on following the same process even though it has become clear that it is no longer working. It is very easy, as a confident teacher, to blame the kids rather than yourself when something goes wrong and stick rigidly to favourite lesson plans.
  4. Outcome bias – A favourite: we ignore small issues with our teaching as long as the result is successful. I know of an established teacher in another school who has taught exactly the same novel, play and poems to his senior class for more than a decade. His notes are great and he teaches these texts really well, but what could he achieve if he catered more to the changes in young people and our greater knowledge about how people learn?
  5. Default mode – During quiet days, am I alone in sometimes thinking it would be good if the pupils’ started acting up? Nothing too serious, just a little to break the monotony? It happens when my mind has slipped into default mode – which could also be called daydreaming mode. This can have serious consequences for car drivers and airline pilots – it is not ideal for educators either.

For five suggested solutions see this week’s TES magazine, or click here (free to subscribers). This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

Gordon Cairns is an English and Forest School teacher in Glasgow

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Gordon Cairns

Gordon Cairns is a forest school and English teacher who works in Scotland

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