10 Potentially Great Things About Bad Teachers


Great teachers make an impact. They care about each and every individual in their class, and strive to make the learning experience fun, relevant and meaningful. But having only great teachers in a school could deprive students of some important learning opportunities.

(A word of caution: By ‘bad teachers’, I’m not talking about the kind of teacher who should be fired immediately for reprehensible or deviant behaviour. I’m talking about that teacher who uses the same notes and the same lessons, year after year. Or the one who knows less about their own subject than their students, but who doesn’t care. Or the one who does not see the need to enrich and enlighten, instead seeing his job as being the presenter of cold, canned curricula to a vague sea of lesser people. Or the one who thinks professional development is something done by personal trainers. These are the ones I call bad teachers. They’re not evil… just lacking.)

So what could kids learn by being stuck in a class with a bad teacher? Here goes:

By distrusting what the ‘authority’ in class has to say, they can begin to be suspicious of all the ‘authorities’ vying for space in their minds, including the media, politicians and religious propagandists. They learn to demand convincing evidence from anyone who wants to manipulate their thinking, and so learn to be responsible citizens who can have a positive impact on the world, instead of being on the end of a puppet string. They also discover what convincing evidence is in the first place.

If the knowledge that comes their way is flawed, unreliable and / or outdated, students in the bad teacher’s class can learn to ‘flip’ the system: Researching on their own both before and after particular sections. Whether they do this to get the facts straight in their own minds, or to challenge the teacher with what they’ve found, they will be well on their way to establishing the habit of life-long learning.

Building on the previous point: students become self-driven learners and independent thinkers in a bad teacher’s class. They may even go so far as to research additional areas of interest they come across in trying to figure out what the heck is going on in class.

If a teacher is that bad that students feel something should be done about the problem, they could learn the power of banding together and mobilizing for change. This teaches them that they can do something about the state of the world, and that acting as a group can provoke positive change.

Students inevitably learn to unlock the abiding power of diplomacy when they have to tell the teacher that she made a serious factual or procedural error. This teaches them something chess players know very well: that the best way to defeat an opponent is to make them think they’re winning.

In a failing teacher’s class, students learn to fail safely themselves. They can tinker and experiment without the fear of judgement they might feel in a more competent teacher’s class.

Students learn to problem-solve more effectively in a bad teacher’s class. Since they are often left to fathom things out on their own, they learn how to puzzle through complex problems with confidence.

Bad teachers often set bad assessments. Ideally, this could unlock students’ creativity. Since the assessment procedure and criteria are often poorly defined, it gives them the wiggle-room to create some extraordinary products. In the end, they may have to defend these products… which can again encourage them to be creative in inventing a justification for what they’ve done. (‘Embellishment’ is a great way to develop creativity.)

Most importantly, a bad teacher might be the one who can reach that child no-one else can. I have actually seen this happen more than once.

Having a bad teacher might even encourage a few students to become teachers themselves – if only because they can see how much better it could be done.

In the end, it might even be a good thing for us all to try being bad teachers once in a while. If we step back and pretend not to care, perhaps we can encourage all of these potentially great things to take root.

But just once in a while.

(The tongue remains firmly in the cheek…)


Don’t forget to look me up on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/SeanHCole

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