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Three teaching mistakes you only make once

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As a teacher, you’re taught to be reflective. That is, to learn from your slip-ups and move on unabashed. But a few mistakes leave you so red-faced that moving on is rather difficult.  Here are my top three. 

1. The wrong whiteboard pen. Nothing makes your stomach drop faster than filling a whiteboard with a comprehensive spidergram on Great Expectations, only to find you’ve used a…permanent marker.  

The solution? Invest in your own stash of waterproof whiteboard pens, which you keep on your person at all times.  

2. The minimised email. Sometimes technology is not as helpful as you'd like it to be. You’ve got your students working on some questions on the interactive whiteboard while you’re busy replying to some of your emails. You get distracted by a pupil requiring attention and forget about the emails you’ve been writing. While dealing with the pupil's request, the rest of the class are reading draft emails entitled "Not more ridiculous things to do from SLT", "The continuing sorry saga of Andrew Brown in 11H" and "The date with Mr Smith was awesome!"

The solution? Funnily enough, the kids are much more eager to analyse these emails than they ever are Shakespeare. If at all possible, it’s probably best not to reply to emails during lesson time – there’s always that pile of marking to tackle instead.

3. The unprepared teaching material. Kids can be particularly punishing and all it takes is the mispronunciation of the word "misled" as "mizzled", for example, and a band of cheeky sixth-formers have branded you Ms Mizzled for the rest of their school days. And maybe even yours, if it catches on.

The solution? However familiar you are with the text, reread it regularly so that you are prepared. Prepared not to ask the shy girl in the corner to read the passage with three expletives in it, prepared not to be caught out by the meaning of the word "fuliginous" and prepared to prime your students for that passage where someone’s tongue is cut out and fashioned into a table ornament.

Fran Hill is a writer and part-time English teacher at a girls' independent school

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