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In this issue of "Get Ready to Lead," Dr. Jeff Myers reveals the results of a recent survey detailing the top five things that make bad teachers bad--and the leadership lessons we can learn as a result.
November 3, 2009
Volume 10, Number 32
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Some of the most important leadership lessons come from observing the behavior of bad leaders and learning from them what not to do. With that in mind, this issue of Get Ready to Lead could hold valuable leadership lessons from which adult influencers--including parents, pastors, and especially teachers--can learn much.

Make it a great week,

Question and answer time

Dr. Jeff Myers

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Our Survey's Unexpected Results:
How Teachers Wound Kids

Learning What NOT to Do

God uses bad leaders to force us to rely on His mercy and to teach us how we should act differently.

Three weeks ago, I surveyed Get Ready to Lead subscribers about the adults who influenced them growing up. Among other things, the survey asked: "Think back on a teacher who had a significant negative influence on your life and share briefly about who this person was, what they did that influenced you, and how old you were at the time."
Of the 464 survey respondents, 345 gave replies to this particular question, and 287 usable stories emerged out of those replies. The stories shared were evenly spread throughout respondents' schooling years: there were stories of bad kindergarten teachers, college instructors, and every grade level in between.
Two quick notes: First, we recognize that student complaints often have to do more with problems the student is experiencing than the teacher's behaviors. We were sensitive to this in evaluating the stories and focused on ones that described objective wrongs supported by clear examples. Second, about 2/3 of those taking the survey were between the ages of 36 and 55 and seem to be ruminating on the long-term impact of bad experiences rather than nursing fresh grudges.
The Pain Adult Influencers Can Cause
Here in our offices, I asked Paige to take all 287 responses and organize them according to themes. After completing this task, Paige said: "This was the hardest two days of work I've had at Passing the Baton; so many of the stories were simply devastating." As I read through them myself, I can hear the deep-seated pain. Here are just four examples:
  • "A music teacher once mocked me for not being able to match a note. I was in 3rd or 4th grade. Now, I'm nearly 50. I still won't sing where anyone can hear me."
  • "Our teacher/coach embarrassed me in public at a sports awards ceremony as she talked about how slow I was as we ran laps...I received the Most Improved award for 'hanging in there, even though she always finished last.' Wow...even today at age 39 that still hurts."
  • "My fifth grade teacher was one of the many reasons I chose to home school my children; I swore I would never allow them to deal with the injustice and favoritism that went on in her class. Forty-one years later I can still remember the humiliation and anger she directed my way."
  • "In middle school I had a teacher who wrote every student's test scores on a chalk board and publically praised the high performers and belittled the low performers. As one of the low performers I was particularly hurt. I had not thought of this for several years and it still causes me to feel terrible and angry."
These teachers may have been forgiven, but they're certainly not forgotten. The lessons they taught through their negative performance have shaped both the resolve--and the insecurities--of their students for many, many years.
Top Five Harmful Things Bad Teachers Do
I would've expected to read more stories about teachers that were simply bad at their craft. However, poor teaching skills didn't show up in the top themes. Instead, five somewhat unexpected themes emerged out of the 287 responses:
  1. Humiliation (78 respondents): Made fun of students, ridiculed students when they gave wrong answers, and publicly humiliated students. These memories of awful embarrassment were the largest grouping of stories, by far.
  2. Devastation (57 respondents): Expected students to fail, talked down to students in belittling and disrespectful tones, were sarcastic, criticized, and compared some to others who were more talented (esp. older siblings). In most cases folks recalled a specific instance, rather than a general memory, that wilted their confidence.
  3. Indifference (45 respondents): Failed to express care for students, build relationships with them, or invest in them personally. Students felt the teacher did not like them.
  4. Poor Punishment (37 respondents): Exercised harsh punishment that resulted in extreme public embarrassment, punishing students for factors beyond their control (learning disability, the actions of others) or failing to control the class through effective discipline.
  5. Anger (33 respondents): Displayed significant anger problems that led them to explode unpredictably and frequently yell at their students. A common response from the students was to describe their fear of the teacher.
Other respondents talked about incompetent teachers (those who failed to prepare or made the subject boring), doctrinaire teachers (those who demanded a hearing for their own opinions and punished students who disagreed), and teachers who acted unethically (racist remarks, inappropriate sexual advances, coming to class drunk, etc.).
Learning and Growing from Bad Examples
Here are my thoughts as to these survey results:
  • I commit to remember how poisonous these five things are and to make every effort to substitute good fruits in their place:
    • Replace humiliation with humility
    • Replace devastation with hope
    • Replace poor punishment with careful discipline
    • Replace indifference with connectedness
    • Replace anger with patience
  • I wonder if there are times as a teacher and parent that I have (either through sheer stubbornness or carelessness) handed out wounds instead of passing the baton of leadership.
  • I ask God to bring to my mind the names of people I have offended and whose forgiveness I need to seek.
  • I am forced to my knees in humble dependence on God that He will impart to those I have influenced the grace He has shown to me. It's not a justification, but I must at least take some comfort in the realization that we learn and grow through such scarring experiences.
  • I remind myself to not act in a way that accomplishes my short-term goal (control) by sacrificing long-term goals (relationships).
What do you think of all of this? Please e-mail me at