How to fail as a teacher

I was sitting in the hot tub thinking. I actually do some of my best (and weirdest) thinking in the hot tub. It occurred to me that one way teachers fail their students is by letting them know that they don’t like what they are teaching. Perhaps they are teaching a class because the administration was stuck for someone and they were assigned. Or they are a teacher who has to teach several subjects (like many elementary teachers) and the hate Math or History or something. But for what ever reason they are teaching something they would rather not be teaching. If they hide that fact great. If they let it all hang out the students are going to be turned off. They may never recover and may miss out on the chance to find a great love for their life. After thinking about this for a while I started thinking of what other ways could teachers fail there students. Below is the list I came up with. I doubt it is complete but it covers a lot of ground.

Let your students know you hate what you are teaching

This lets them know that what you are teaching is not important. You are giving them permission to not care about it.

Do as I say not as I do

Hold them to tight deadlines and then miss the deadlines you set for returning things graded. This does two things – first it means that feedback in not timely and so is much less useful for learning. It also teaches them that life (and you) are not fair and reliable. It says you don’t respect them and they will reciprocate by not respecting you and what you are teaching.

Avoid asking questions that force students to think

Of course you want to ask questions. But ask questions that require only rote regurgitation of facts. Questions that make students think encourage them to think independently and to understand things more deeply. That would contribute to you being successful as a teacher and them more successful as learners and as adults.

Curb your enthusiasm

Chances are good that you will teach something you care deeply about. Hide it! If students see that you are excited about something they will get the idea that it is important, useful or even interesting and so learn it better. Worse still they may want to learn more on their own or even go into that field. Only successful teachers want to see that sort of thing happen.

Teach to the test

You can teach things that have value in ways that show value beyond the test. Avoid that. By emphasizing the need to know something because it is on the test you can narrow student’s view of the subject. Better still you are implicitly giving them permission to forget it all once the test is over. You wouldn’t want them to retain knowledge and build upon it now would you?

Drill and practice all the time

Bore the heck out of them. Rote memorization is good. Well really the only two times I can think of when it really matters are learning the alphabet (silly teachers teach that with a fun little song – shame on them for making it fun and easy) and the times tables. Somebody may have a fun and easy way to learn them but don’t go looking for it. Just think of the frustration they can have the rest of their lives if they don’t learn this well!

Grade based on things other than what students know

Johnnie’s mother is president of the PTA so doesn’t that mean her son is an A student? Of course it does. Jenny always sits quietly and never says a word. Isn’t that worth an A? Jack is always asking tough thought provoking questions taking up time and forcing you to cover more material. C student? Why not. Arbitrary and capricious grading with convince students that study is pointless, grades and meaningless and the whole testing and grading process is a farce.

Assume all students learn the same way

If you learned it one way that should be good enough for everyone! Differentiated instruction is a time waster. Let them figure it out on their own. Or not – who cares.

Always view test scores as about the failure or success of the student and not as a tool to evaluate your teaching

Everyone failed one part of the test? The whole class much be dummies. Never assume that you might have taught it wrong. That sort of thinking could lead to new teaching methods, reteaching material or worst case differentiated instruction.

Write “gotcha” questions for tests

Trick questions. Questions with several very good answers but only on “best” answer. Weirdly phrased questions that are targeted at common misconceptions. Anything and everything that will ensure students have some level of failure. Remember you are going to blame them anyway. These questions will give you opportunities to make students feel like the dummies you know they are. Plus it will ensure that some number of students will just plain give up trying for good grades and not bother learning.

3 Responses to “How to fail as a teacher”

  1. Matt says:

    I had a professor somewhere along the line — I don’t recall who, but I suppose it’s immaterial — that had a rule that if your previous assignment wasn’t returned on time, no new work would be assigned. That was perhaps excessive, but it gave me a lot of respect for them, if only because it showed that they respected us.

    Two more I’d add:

    * Be a totalitarian. I had some teachers (and even a few professors!) who were really just mean-spirited and clearly loved disciplining students for every minor transgression. Even as someone who never got in trouble, this made me really hate their classes and think of everything they did as mean.

    * Be easy-going and don’t worry about people talking during class. Or better yet, enforce it for some people but not others. The opposite of being a mean-spirited totalitarian is having a really hands-off approach and not worrying if some people in the class are goofing off and distracting others. Some of us are distracted easily. It doesn’t make you look kind and accommodating, it makes you look weak and indifferent.

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