Classroom Managment · Education · Teaching

The Dirty Baker’s Dozen: 13 things teachers need to stop doing.


1. Calling the roll 

Johny, Yes

Harry Yes

Betty She’s not here miss. “Yes she is.” Someone else calls out.

This is an horrendous waste of learning time and the worst way to start a lesson. Don’t do it.

It wastes 2 or 3 minutes of prime instructional time right at the point of the lesson when it would probably be most effective.  Now multiply this by 60 lessons in a semester and you have wasted at least two hours of learning time. You can learn a lot in two hours.

Some staff say it settles the class down.

It does not.

Don’t call the roll.

I’m not saying don’t mark the roll, legally you have to,  but don’t call the student’s names out.

You are excused for the first two lessons of the year. After that, you should know students names and be able to mark the roll when students are in the guided practice phase of the lesson.

If your school requires the roll be marked at the beginning of the lesson have some board work or a “do now” activity planned so students get to learning straight away on that while you mark, not call, the roll.

2. Making their own rules

Students love it when one member of staff doesn’t enforce school rules. They play on this relentlessly.

I’ve seen staff make their own rules on all kinds of things.

  • Bell times. They let students leave early.
  • They let students leave class to get a drink when they want,
  • They don’t escort students to detention at the beginning of lunch.
  • They don’t record students who are out of uniform.

When staff do not form a united front on common expectations, students will play one off against the other. “Mr Jones lets us get a drink. Why don’t you?” While it is tempting to reply “Because I’m a professional and Mr Jones is slack.” We don’t.

We state the rule and the reason for the rule. “No you can’t get a drink during class time as it wastes your learning time. You are responsible for getting a drink between lessons and can bring a drink bottle to class. Be more organized next time.”

We don’t buy into the playoff of one teacher against another but boy we wish we had a united front and didn’t have to.

3. Using Collective punishments

“The next time someone calls out I will keep everyone in during recess.”

NOOOOOO. Don’t do this.

You have just empowered the disruptive unruly students. They can now get the whole class kept in.  The student who calls out now has power over the rest of the class and you just gave it to them. And when they do yell out what often follows is a chorus of bellows “Shut up Alanah. You are going to get us kept in.”

I know this group policing is what you seek. The theory is that the class will be self-organizing and will do some of your classroom management for you but you are the adult in the room. You can’t hand that duty over. You most definitely should not empower the most disruptive students with the ability to sabotage the rest of the class’s recess time.

What usually happens is you get all the students who have done the right thing offside. They go home and complain to their parents. “I was late for band practice at lunchtime because Alana got us kept in.” Mum listens then gets angry at the unfairness of that too. She rings the Assistant Principal and complains, quite rightly, that her child did nothing wrong yet was punished.

Collective punishments are unfair and should not be used.

4. Research on the internet

“For our next topic, we are studying global warming. Do some research on the internet and see what you can discover before we start.”

Why not just write on the board, “Learning Intent: To allow you to wallow in your collective ignorance and waste the next 30 minutes of your life looking up cat videos or reading things you won’t understand because I haven’t taught you anything.”


Minimally guided instruction does not work. Read about it here. The evidence against project-based learning is starting to stack up. Read about it here. Giving students time to “research on the internet” may have merit as a homework activity when you are not around to use instructional strategies that actually do work like “explicit teaching”.

5. Group assignments with more than 3 in a group

Having students work in groups may be good for learning how to work in groups. It is usually not good for learning content. Once you have more than 3 students in a group you are certain to have passengers. Large groups generate Hogs and Logs. The Hogs dominate the discussion and the Logs do nothing. Advocates of group work talk of the benefits to students who like to learn in a social context. There are just as many students who don’t like working in groups. Make sure you take the introverts into account as well.

Use group work sparingly and keep the groups small.


6. Allowing students to listen to music with headphones  in class

We have a clear school policy/rule/directive: don’t let students listen to music in class via headphones. The reasons are self-evident.

  1. The child misses any incidental instruction because all they can hear is their music. You may be explaining a concept again and students can tune in or not but if they have headphones in they won’t even know you are doing it.
  2. The child does not just listen to music. The child often swaps songs. This is task switching or multitasking. This makes learning less effective and efficient. This is a scientific fact.
  3. There is no evidence that listening to music helps you learn. The MOZART effect has been well and truly debunked.

We are not saying don’t use music in the classroom. Play music to the whole class to set a mood or embed a concept.

Students try to talk the teacher into the letting them listen to music by promising to be quiet. “It helps me concentrate Miss.” “I don’t get distracted when I listen to music.” “I can work better if I’m listening to music. ” The answer here is “I need to help you learn to concentrate without listening to music.”

For some teachers, the temptation to let little Johnny plugin and not annoy the teacher and other students is too great. The teacher breaks ranks and lets it happen. Refer to number 2 above.

When Johnny walks into his next lesson the young, first year out of college teacher tries to follow the school policy. She directs Johnny to put his headphones away. He pipes back immediately “Mr Slack lets me listen to music Miss. Why won’t you?”

7. Packing up early

“OK, when you have finished that task you can play a game on your computer.”


Is that as good as we can come up with for an extension activity?

Is our so-called “crowded curriculum” so sparsely populated with content that we can let students down tools early and play a game.

The answer is no.  Packing up early is similar to the playing a game when finished a task. Effective teachers have activities on hand or online that always allow students to use every minute of every lesson for learning. Packing up early just indicates the teacher is not well prepared.

8. Allowing off-task talk

This typically occurs during the guided practice or independent practice phase of the lesson. You have just explained a concept. You’ve hooked the students, used dual coding, gone from concrete to abstract, checked for understanding. The class has really got this. You’ve then scaffolded some examples and now it is time to release the class to work independently while you circulate and provide assistance where it is needed.

“OK, guys I think we’ve got this. Have a try on your own now. Do these three problems.”

As soon as you finish talking. Jemma and Harry start. “Are you going to the footy on Saturday?” “No. Did you watch Masterchef last night”? They are doing it quietly. They are opening their books and copying the examples from the board while talking. Do you tactically ignore or do you redirect?

I see over and over again this behavior being at best, tactically ignored, or at worst just plain tolerated. It is impossible for a student to focus simultaneously on a discussion of the weekends’ activities or last night’s episode of MasterChef and the maths problems you have set. Multitasking in a myth.

Teacher’s must insist on no “off task talk”.

Start with a low-level redirect. “Jemma you are off task, I need you focused on the problems please.”

“But I was doing my work.”

Demonstrate your withitness now.

“You were talking about Master Chef. To learn something well you need 100% focus. Get back on task now, please. “

It is OK to insist on silence in the guided practice phase of a lesson.

Student to student talk needs to be on task not about the weekend’s goings-on.

9. Sitting at the front of the room

A teacher on their feet is worth two in the seat.

Get up and walk around. The chance of a student being off task is directly proportional to the distance they are from the teacher yet some teachers spend large blocks of time sitting at the front of the room while the back row does whatever they like.


10. Asking “Does everyone understand what they have to do?”

The teacher explains a concept or gives instructions about the next activity to be completed. “Does everyone know what they have to do now?”

Save your breath. Students will rarely if ever admit they have no clue what to do next.

Even if they think they do know what to do next, they probably don’t. The Dunning Kruger Effect is real.


Ask questions that check for understanding? “Billy, what do you have to do first?”

Fred “What is the best way to start this problem?”

Student “self-report” of understanding is notoriously unreliable. Check for understanding by asking specific questions that show you if understanding is actually present.

A corollary of this is commonly heard in staffrooms the world over. “But I taught them that.” You may have taught it but did learning take place? Did you check for understanding after you “taught them that”?

11. Giving Zero’s for work not submitted

“If you don’t complete that worksheet by Wednesday and hand it in you will get zero for it.”

What the disengaged student hears is, “That’s good.  I won’t have to do that worksheet then.” They could care less about a zero. In our system we have social promotion and students don’t actually have to do anything to complete a Unit in Years 7 to 10. There is no such thing as a pass or fail. What you are really saying here is any learning that the student will get from doing that worksheet won’t be worthwhile unless it is done before Wednesday. So the questions on the worksheet won’t be relevant any more on Thursday?

If you set the worksheet you must think it will be worthwhile for the student to do because they will learn some content by doing it. Otherwise, you would not have set it.

If you set it and want the student to do it, then insist they do. Don’t give them an “out” by giving them a zero and saying it now does not need to be done.

12. Using engagement as a proxy for learning

Here is a job interview question we ask teachers applying to work at our school.

“Can you describe a lesson or learning activity that you have delivered that was particularly effective. How do you know it was effective?”

Teachers normally launch into describing their pet lesson or unit. “We were doing a unit on Dinosaurs and I got the children to design their own dinosaur and then make a paper mache model of if. Blah, Blah, Blah about the wonderful models produced and posters done. They normally forget the most important part of the question so we ask them again.

“And how do you know it was effective?”

The answer they almost always give is, “Well the students were really engaged and seemed to enjoy it.”

There is a theme park in Melbourne called Luna Park. The slogan above the entrance for Luna Park is “Just for Fun”

If I was hiring staff for Luna Park, I’d give a big tick for the answer  “Well the students were really engaged and seemed to enjoy it.”

“Just for Fun” is not our school’s mission statement.

Did the children learn anything? Engagement and learning are not the same things.

If we get Engagement and Learning that is wonderful.

If we get Learning and poor engagement that is OK too.

If we get Engagement and no learning that is not OK.

No Engagement and No learning is disastrous. engaged

Did you know that the highest performing maths nations in the world as measured by PISA have the lowest levels of engagement in Maths? Engagement and Learning are not the same thing.

13. Extending Due Dates when some students have not completed the assignment

The major assessment piece is due in on Monday. Students have been working on it for three lessons and have the weekend to finish it off and hand it in.

Monday comes around and the teacher asks the class to hand in the assignment.

Only 4 out of 21 students have finished so the teacher says “OK you can have until tomorrow but get it done.”

Consider how the child who was one of the 4, who gave up watching their favorite TV show on Sunday night and spent 2 hours finishing off the homework feels. How is that OK? What message are we sending the class? Due dates don’t really matter because if enough of you are slack I’ll just extend them.

My suggested logical consequence. The four students who completed the homework have a nice time at lunch. The rest stay in and complete the assignment.

These are my Baker’s dozen of “don’t do it”.
What are your “don’t do it” suggestions for teachers?

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