Are You A Bad Teacher? (You Probably Wouldn’t Know)

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. – Bertrand Russell

Have you ever watched American Idol and wondered to yourself:

 “These idiots must know that they are awful!”

 Maybe they are doing for publicity or to see themselves on TV, but they can’t actually think they are good can they?

 Here’s the problem….

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

David Dunning and Justin Kruger found in their studies that people who are the most incompetent are the least aware of their own incompetence.

This effect has been seen in:

  • Undergraduates completing a classroom exam
  • Medical students assessing their interviewing skills
  • Clerks evaluating their performance
  • Lab technicians evaluating their on the job expertise

It gets worse…

It would seem that the solution would be to tell these people that they are incompetent. But they probably have gotten this type of feedback for years. And it hasn’t helped.

 It’s very similar to what is known as. The Lake Wobegon Effectwhich is our inherent bias to think that we are better than average at most things

Check out these facts:

  • All Drivers rate themselves as above average.
  • 94% of college professors rate themselves as above average.
  • In a survey of 1 million people:
    • 100% rated themselves at least avg. at getting along with peers.
    • 60% rated themselves in the top 10% and 25% rated themselves in top 1%.

Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:[i]

  • fail to recognize their own lack of skill
  • fail to recognize the extent of their inadequacy
  • fail to recognize genuine skill in others

On the other hand, the best teachers probably don’t know they are that good either.

“It turns out that people with real talent tend to underestimate just how good they are. The root of this bias is that clever people tend to assume other people find things as easy as they do, when actually this is their talent shining through.”

So what’s the solution?

Dunning suggests that we do two things:

  1. Benchmark yourself against what other teachers do.

It is very hard to know yourself without doing this.

  1. Ask yourself this question:

“Are you vaguely embarrassed by things you did 5 to 10 years ago?”

I will add a third specifically for teachers.

(Imagine what it would be like if you were to get great stuff like this emailed to you)

In 2014, the Sutton Trust released a report that,

reviews over 200 pieces of research to identify the elements of teaching with the strongest evidence of improving attainment. It finds some common practices can be harmful to learning and have no grounding in research.”

They list their findings as The Six Components of Great Teaching:

1.Pedagogical content knowledge

 The most effective teachers not only have a vast knowledge of the subjects that they teach, but they also understand the ways students think about the content.

According to Daniel Willingham cognitive scientist and educational expert, one of the most important questions a teacher can ask themselves is:

What will my students actually think about with this lesson plan?”

This includes understanding the ways that students think about the content, evaluate the thinking of the students in terms of their own methods, and be able to identify students’ common misconceptions with respect to the subject matter.

  1. Quality of instruction

Quality of instruction is characterized by using the following elements of instruction in an effective manner

  • Questioning
  • Use of assessment
  • Adequate time for practice
  • Embedding skills securely
  • Reviewing previous learning
  • Providing model responses for students
  • Scaffolding of new skills and content knowledge
  1. Classroom Climate

Classroom climate is the overall quality of interaction between teachers and students. Teacher expectations are also very evident as a factor of an equitable classroom climate. Classrooms that constantly demand more of their students, but also recognize the self worth of students are evidence of a good climate. Additionally, when teachers attribute success to effort rather than ability and value resilience. In teacher parlance, this is known as a fostering a Growth Mindset and Grit.

  1. Classroom Management

Successful classroom management involves the teacher’s abilities to make efficient use of lesson time, resources, and space. Additionally, management of student behavior using clear rules and consistent enforcement are necessary for creating an environment that is conducive to learning.

  1. Teacher Beliefs

Teacher beliefs are the reasons that teachers adopt particular practices, their goals they aim to achieve, their theories about what learning actually means, how learning happens, and their conceptual models of both the nature and role of teaching in the learning process. Teacher beliefs may not have strong evidence behind it, but this could be due to the fact that it is difficult to measure.

  1. Professional Behaviors

The behaviors that teachers exhibit have impact on the student learning process as well. These behaviors include:

  • Reflection on professional practice
  • Participating in professional development
  • Supporting colleagues
  • Communication with parents
  • Enlisting the help of parents and other stakeholders in the learning process

Actions for You:

Use this list and rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest. If you are lower than 3 or 4 in each of these categories, seek out a coach or a mentor to help you.

PS – I Know You are very dedicated because you read all the way to the end.

Check out my free course on experts daily.

If you like the Dunning Kruger effect or don’t, you should should check the  8 Qualities of Engagement. 

Use 3 of the 8 and science shows sustained engagement 85% of the time.  Use only 2 and that number drops to 16%.  Want to motivate and engage students to make your life easier (and them learn more).

You might want to check it out here.

I bet you can’t guess what they are…



  1. I would also use it for student teachers. As the PGCEi facilitator at my international school, I’m responsible for offering students seminars, advice and support for both the theory and practice elements. I might design an observation questionnaire for them to find examples of these behaviours when observing experienced colleagues.


  2. It comes down to never believing your press and remembering you are only as good as your weakest student. This is a rough profession on its best day to be good at. So working to be consistently good keeps you grounded and focused. Great article, David.


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