Learning Failures – Why Some People Just Can’t Teach

Posted on by Nancy Slessenger This entry was posted in Feedback, Learning, Training and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Why is it that you see people repeating ghastly failures? Mainly it’s because of a lack of feedback.

Think back to the worst teachers you had at school – I mean the worst, not just the poor or ‘not very good’, but the really bad ones.

You know the type, the ones who were disorganised, who couldn’t keep control and who didn’t know what they were doing.

How was it that they carried on for years?

My daughter really wanted to learn Italian. She was very keen so picked it as one of her options when she was about 12, in spite of the fact that she had never done it before.

She had the choice between Italian and German. My father is German, so this would have been a better option if she wanted any help with her homework and she did consider it very carefully, but went for Italian in the end.

So you can imagine her huge disappointment when her Italian teacher turned out to be virtually useless. Not only was she unbelievably badly organised, but also seemed to lack any of the required teaching skills.

Couldn’t Organisie a Drink in a Brewery

Her organisational skills were so bad that, when she arranged a school trip to Italy, she completely forgot to make any arrangements for eating. Not even breakfast was catered for. The day was saved by another teacher who spotted the omission just in time.

We complained to the Head Teacher about the standard of teaching. We heard nothing. And I doubt if the teacher herself heard anything either. We later learned that she had been there for around 20 years and had been consistently bad all that time.

I won’t even begin to tell you about a maths teacher we once had, he was too awful to even contemplate. You probably have similar stories. So how could the Italian teacher stay that bad for so long?

How is that people who are supposed to know about learning can be so poor at it themselves?


It’s mainly down to feedback, the lack of it and the misinterpretation of it.

In order to learn, it is vital to know what the impact of your actions is. If you don’t know what the impact is, then it’s very hard to work out what to do to improve.

Willingness to Improve

You also need to be willing to believe there is something that could be improved. In this case, it’s ignoring any feedback you get, or interpreting it in a way that means it’s not your fault.

Once you think something isn’t your fault, you then tend to believe there’s nothing you can (or should) do about it.

Key Mistakes

Some of the key mistakes these two teachers made were:

  • Unpredictable behaviour
  • This can be very threatening; people don’t learn well when they feel threatened
  • Poor Organisation

The Italian teacher would often test her pupils on vocabulary she hadn’t yet taught and then deny that this was the case

Aggressive Behaviour

Our maths teacher often shouted at us. This kind of behaviour reduces learning drastically.

Poor Structure

Neither of these teachers structured their learning well. This meant it took longer than necessary for pupils to grasp ideas and concepts.

Patience and Understanding

Here’s the worst mistake, in my view. These teachers blamed their pupils for any lack of understanding, instead of asking themselves what they could do to help the pupil.

That’s the biggest mistake of any teacher.

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