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Category: Building Relationships

Teaching Behaviors to Avoid
lecture hall
creating a climate for learning
Revisiting Teacher Authenticity
Student Resistance
When a Student Disagrees with the Grade
Advice for Students at the Start of the Academic Year
It makes more sense to focus on those teaching behaviors that help students learn, and that's where the emphasis has been for many years. The characteristics, features, aspects, dimensions, and behaviors of excellent teachers have been identified and explored since research on teaching in higher education first started. They are well known and widely touted in the literature, during workshops, and at conferences. But as the research team below notes, “This approach begs an obvious but until now overlooked question: Are there qualities and behaviors that teachers should avoid?” (p. 331). That's an easy question for most teachers to answer. Yes, there are behaviors to avoid. We know because we've seen or experienced how certain behaviors get in the way of student learning. But what we haven't had up until now is a list that clearly spells out poor teaching behaviors. And the list developed by this research team is notable in that what's on the list was put there by students—143 of them. They were asked to identify three descriptors of the qualities or traits that described bad teachers. From 319 different responses and additional student input on those responses, the researchers created a list of 15 qualities of ineffective teachers. Table 1 in the article contains all 15. The top five were in order: being disrespectful, unfair assessments of learning, unrealistic expectations for student learning, lack of knowledge of course content, and poor communication skills. Even more useful than this first phase of the research was the second phase, during which students received the list of qualities and traits and were asked to identify specific behaviors that illustrate each quality. So for each of the 15 qualities in Table 1 (p. 332), a sample of behavior is also listed. For example, poor teachers don't provide feedback; sample behaviors include not going over graded exams, not returning or very slowly returning graded work, not updating information on blackboard or canvas, and not encouraging students to improve. Poor teaching needs to be considered with several important caveats in mind. First, no teacher (or very, very few) are poor across all 15 of these categories. Yes, there are some very poor teachers who fall near the end of the continuum, just as there are some outstanding teachers at the other end. But the numbers at either end are small. For all teachers, the goal is the same: moving from wherever they are toward the excellent end of that continuum. Second, the quality of teaching varies from day to day, course to course, year to year. In other words, teachers aren't consistently good or bad; some place in between. Some days are better than others, as are some courses and some years. Most (but not all) teachers improve with age. We learn from experience, but instructional growth and development is not usually a straightforward, linear process. Finally, who wants to be a poor teacher? Who wants to be thought of by students as one? Who wants to be thought of by colleagues that way? And who wants to be confronted with the fact that they may be a poor teacher? For that reason, it's easy to look at a list like this and quickly absolve oneself of any sort of guilt. “Why, of course, I don't teach irrelevant content.” “I do care about my students.” “If I'm inflexible, I have good reasons for being that way.” That's why the list of behaviors identified in this research is so valuable. The tendencies are described as concrete, specific things teachers do that students give as reasons they are less ineffective. One of the examples of inflexibility is maintaining the class schedule no matter what . . . no matter whether students are overwhelmed with content, confused about and misunderstanding key points, or anxious and upset with the pace of the class. The inflexible teacher motors on. She has to. The content must be covered. It's not the teacher's problem if the students aren't learning it. Perhaps, but that's not how students interpret what's happening. The list of behaviors associated with ineffective instruction can be a mirror held up to what any teacher does. It pays to take a look in the mirror. No teacher is going to see perfection. We all have our good and bad days. The list is a reminder that some things teachers do make learning harder. Knowing and facing what's on the list is part of what makes teachers good. Reference: Busler, J., Kirk, C., Keeley, J., & Buskist, W. (2017). What constitutes poor teaching? A preliminary inquiry into the misbehaviors of not-so-good instructors. Teaching of Psychology, 44(4), 330–334.