Do We Really Need Bad Teachers and Bosses?

As my children look forward to their school summer holidays one of the things they are celebrating is the retirement of a teacher who has almost wiped out any interest they ever had in his subject area, led to many Wednesday night, Thursday morning tummy aches and headaches, and generally undermined their confidence and closed down their learning.

This, in the same week that Zenna Atkins Chairman of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) told the BBC “every school should have a useless teacher”.

She goes on to say:”In society there are peosple you don’t like, there are people who are incompetent and there are often people above you in authority who you think are incompetent, and learning that ability to deal with that and, actually surviving that environment can be an advantage”.

So do we really learn as much from bad teachers as good teachers? My children would vehemently deny this. When I was at school I had a maths teacher that scared me silly. I used to pray that he would be off school ill or on holiday. He was a big man with crew cut hair, a huge thick neck and a handlebar moustache. He reminded me of “Spike” the bulldog in the “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. He used to have us all stand out at the front of the class playing mental arithmetic games and when we got the answer wrong he would call us “Fathead” or similar names and send us back to our seats.

What did I learn from him as a child? I learned to fear maths, I learned to hate standing up in front of people, I learned I was stupid and I learned that I was over sensitive.

As a grown up I have unlearned those things and learned the truth. I am a speaker who loves to get up and share with my audience. I’ve learned that I am intelligent. I’ve learned that although Maths remains a weakness, it’s a weakness through lack of application, and I don’t need it enough, and I’m not interested enough to do anything about it. That’s my choice.

It’s clear that teachers are not just passing on knowledge but are also modelling behaviour and values so their impact is more far reaching than mere subject knowledge.

Am I grateful for that experience? I’m not sure. It may have eventually made me stronger as a person but it made me feel weaker at the time, and I’m still poor at Maths. Would I have benefitted more, socially, personally and in relation to the subject, from a good teacher?  Yes! You Bet!

So how does this relate to good and bad bosses? Well again, we learn from both good and bad bosses not as teachers but as role models. According to Michael Lombardo and Bob Eichinger in their book “The Leadership Machine” good bosses model values and skills, and we learn from them by observing them and asking them questions. Bad bosses help us learn about integrity and compassion by experiencing how awful it is to be on the receiving end and therefore how not to be the same.

However, if I asked you whether you’ve benefitted more from good bosses rather than bad bosses I suspect your answer might be the same as mine. Yes! Absolutely!

So my questions for you are:

  • Who is more memorable to you? Good or bad teachers? Good or bad bosses?
  • What was their impact on you?
  • How has that shaped who you are now?

I’m really looking forward to your responses.

7 Responses to Do We Really Need Bad Teachers and Bosses?

  • Thanks for all your comments. You make some very good points. I agree that teachers may not have the opportunity to observe role models and to receive the feedback and support they may need.

    A lot of this discussion revolves around what constitutes a “bad” teacher and my horned monster represents my childhood perception of my particular teacher.

    I was particularly interested in the comments around teacher’s different styles and how they may not suit people but that didn’t make them a bad teacher. In all my studies of how people learn and my experience of training adults I am convinced that in order to learn effectively we need to feel safe, secure, challenged, stretched, valued and energised. Our ability to learn closes down when we feel scared, or bored. So for me a good teacher and for that matter a good boss brings the passion, belief, challenge, care and consideration required to create that learning environment.

  • In the sense that we human beings have the ability to learn from all of our experiences, positive and negative, I suppose that having a bad teacher or boss is not the end of the world. Most of my teachers were good ones, which in primary years is especially important. The vulnerabilities of children give the adults in their lives so much power to impact their self esteem and developing skills.

    Just because we can survive and learn something despite poor teachers isn’t a reason to keep them on staff or tolerate abusive behavior.

    As adults we have better defenses and a perspective which both protects us and enables us to learn and develop despite them. I had a boss who ironically provided an object lesson in how NOT to deal with other people.

  • Depends on you measure of what a “bad” teacher is. Teachers do not have to go down well in the popularity stakes to be “good” teachers. If a techer is well prepared and passionate about their subject they are quite likely to be good even they may have an unpopular style of delivery.
    Having met a number of half baked, uninspiring, lazy, unprepared people resently who just happen to be teachers fills me with concern.
    No! Our children and the generation who are set to be the next leaders of our country deserve to have the best teachers, the most dramatic teachers, the most passionate teachers, teachers who can drive and inspire our young talent – even though their delivery may not always suit all.
    Lets do away with apathy and make learning and growing fun!

  • Hey Julie – we can change our bosses but we can’t change our teachers (from the perspective of a child!). While the bad teachers may have given us lots of good stories as adults I don’t think they prepared ua well for life at all – sack ’em I say !

  • Enjoyed the post Julie, and Duncan touches on something that I had thought myself – I can remember several teachers and a couple of bosses whose style just did not suit me. They may have upset or terrified me ( Star role for that actually goes to a vindictive dinnerlady) but that didn’t necessarily make them bad teachers or bosses.

    I was pleased to leave their influence but appreciate now, looking back, that some students and workers thrived under their style.

    Have to stick up for my short lived profession as a primary teacher and say that with the lack of definition of what actually constitutes a bad teacher – some have management or organisation problems rather than being the horned monsters depicted. Unlike some businesses they do not get some of the opportunities to be observed or even the benefit of being able to learn and develop their skills from watching successful teachers at work. Where would we be in the workplace if we didn’t have the chance to learn from the successes or styles of our colleagues and managers.

    Very thought provoking. Thanks.

  • Hi Duncan, Thanks for your response. The fact that someone like my Maths teacher is likely to have made you more determined, when I just wanted to crawl into a hole, highlights the importance of us taking time to understand people and their values and drivers so that we can adjust our approach to suit doesn’t it?

  • Hi Julie

    Great blog post. In my experience we learn something from every boss.

    For me the bosses who modelled good behaviours, treated people with respect and as human beings really stood out. I also like those who set challenges and challenged you to go that bit further.

    When you get a really good boss you will almost go to the end of the earth to deliver.

    Bosses and teachers shaped me in many ways.

    Starting with teachers, I found those who put me down made me all the more determined.

    As regards bosses, they helped me to shape my own leadership and management style.

    Duncan Brodie
    Goals and Achievements Ltd

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