Professional Development

The 3 Most Harmful Assumptions About Teaching You Need to Avoid

The most harmful assumptions about teaching we make can seriously affect a teacher's practice

There's a profound saying that claims assumption is the mother of all screw-ups. Whether true or not, what is true is that if you're human you've made an assumption about something sometime (or at least, we assume you have). As much as we try to avoid it, making assumptions sometimes happens, even in a field as precise and disciplined as education. The most harmful assumptions about teaching we make can seriously affect a teacher's practice, and thus a student's opportunity to learn something valuable. But how do we avoid letting this happen?

Johanna Rauhala talks about this in her Edutopia article 3 Assumptions Teachers Should Avoid. She profiles three harmful assumptions about teaching that any educator can make. By giving them proper attention, she advises, teachers can avoid the potential effects of frustration and burnout.

"Beliefs we have about how we should operate or how students should behave can sometimes cloud our vision, preventing us from seeing who stands before us. Luckily, if we’re aware of these assumptions, we can work to counteract them."

We've talked about teachers learning from mistakes in the past, and also giving up misconceptions about teaching. In such instances, we can forge new productive mindsets from such experiences and then pass them on to our learners. Let's take a look now at the assumptions Johanna talks about and discuss how to avoid "assumicide."

3 Harmful Assumptions About Teaching (and how to avoid them)

As we go through these, we'll combine some sage wisdom from Johanna's article and some suggestions of our own. Together, we'll give you the tools you need to combat harmful assumptions about teaching.

I should know this

Often teachers who see many different learners can make the mistake of thinking that they will mostly respond to the same content equally. However, our students and their learning styles are as diverse and unique as you can imagine. "The class in front of you is a new group," says Johanna. "Their needs are different from those of the last class. So every year involves some relearning how to teach them."

What you can do: Make friends with practices like personalized learning or sharing learning intentions, which are among our own shifts of practice. Both of these will allow your learners to approach the content in thier own way, and thus experience more meaningful learning with you as their guide. Beyond this, Johanna suggests relearning the content, which is common for teachers functioning at optimum brain capacity. "Preview the unit, keep summary notes, and trust that once you dive back into teaching it, the 'aha' of recognition will return," she says.

The kids should know this

As a teacher you'll often find that concepts you figured would be second nature to kids are things which escape them. At this point, shifting responsibility and playing the game of "who did what" is fruitless. "It’s common at this point to shift blame onto prior teachers, to blame the students, to point at poverty, culture, the state of education funding," says Johanna. "But the point, the heart of this, is really: What will you do?"


What you can do: This is one of the most harmful assumptions about teaching by far, so it has to be addressed carefully. First, avoid finger-pointing and the urge to lay blame, because at that moment your one and only job is to teach kids what they need to know to move forward. Next, Johanna suggests that you forget about pacing and focus on the task at hand. "See what students need, at this moment, here and now," she says. "Reality and the present moment are your friends, and along with support and conscientious practice, they will help you and your students grow."

I should be better/do better.

In such a high-pressure vocation as teaching, it's easy for us to be highly critical of ourselves. Between administration, our colleagues, and our learners, there are many eyes on us every single day. The key here is to relax and embrace the journey of professional development as a non-linear one. "The impulse to grow and better serve students is a worthy one, yet the road to effective teaching is not a straight line," Johanna reminds us.

What you can do: Find ways to make professional development enjoyable and not a chore. It is, after all, an ongoing process in any teacher's journey. "At some point we take stock of where we’ve traveled and realize how far we have yet to go," says Johanna. Above all, don't ever give up and think you aren't reaching your kids. Remember that your efforts may one day transform a student's whole life.

If you want more advice about avoiding harmful assumptions about teaching, read Johanna's full article on Edutopia.

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