dy/av : 009 : preview

Motivating Question

  • If we frame the teacher-student interaction as a sales pitch (just go with me for a sec) what qualities of a salesperson will repel the buyer?

You can take this any number of directions but I’ll ask you to consider for a moment the qualities of a relational teacher that aren’t also the qualities of a relational person. What I mean is, clearly, kind teachers are preferred but let’s try harder.

Tomorrow I’ll examine a teacher whose students simply don’t relate. And while his humorless, anal-retentive personality curries him few favors with the students of the Baltimore City Public Schools, one defect in particular poisons his relationships.

This defect is simple. It is potent. And, I’m convinced, it gets worse the longer you teach.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. For me, the salesperson-like quality that repels me the most is the know-it-all mentality. It repels me both as a buyer and as a coworker. This is the salesperson who insists they know what you need, regardless of what you want. These are the salespeople who others hate working with, because they end up sharing the bad reputation for being pushy, greedy, and impossible to work with.

    If I translate it to teaching, it’s the teacher who always insists their grade/subject/class/ is the most important. Their teaching method/classroom management style/notetaking style is the only correct way. Their projects are the only ones that hold any worth. Their opinion is the only opinion that matters on any topic. They monopolize “air time” during staff meetings and social conversations (probably because no one normally socializes with them, so they have to get out all their comments when they have a chance). And they always seem to be playing a round of “Can you top this?” If you mention your once-in-a-lifetime exotic vacation, they’ve been there…twice. If you are excited because 85% of your class earned a B or better on your last test…their class had 90% earn B or better. I just keep hearing the song, “Everything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.”

  2. OH! And when it comes to students, the know-it-all teacher is constantly battling with them. They battle over ticky-tack rules, often escalating to yelling matches. The student who doesn’t start the heading on their paper exactly 2 inches from the right edge has points taken off. Students who use 8 x 10 1/2 paper (because that’s what most stores sell anymore) have points taken off because the teacher’s supply list says 8 1/2 x 11. This teacher does not differentiate because their way is the only way and students will do it their way at their pace. As a result, students spend more time and energy trying to tick-off this teacher than they do trying to learn anything, if for no other reason than it’s easier to do.

  3. I’ll add to the list of unctuous behavior by offering that being sarcastic towards the customer is a quick way to generate animosity. How many times does a teacher have to be sarcastic towards a sincere comment/question from a student before the student checks out mentally?

  4. Along the lines of Kate F’s response above:

    Nothing disrupts the learner environment as decisively and consistently as ‘authoritarianism’–in all its ugly forms. Unfortunately, however, that’s exactly what lies ahead for most burnt-out and/or out-of-touch teachers.

    I also agree with Jason B that sarcasm, or any brand of condescending attitude, nips learning in the bud for all but the most submissive of students.

  5. Kinda surprising how nimbly you’re all circling the same theme. I don’t expect anyone will be too surprised tomorrow.

  6. Consider for a moment that Prez teaches middle school. Consider, also that he’s a first year teacher and that the quality that was most attracting to the assistant principal at Tilghman was NOT that he was highly qualified by any standard means, but that he was a Baltimore police (disgraced, but learning).
    In work that draws on empirical data from child psychology and education (Yardsticks) Wood tells us that it is developmentally appropriate for middle school kids to be sarcastic–to be very sarcastic. They can be “very” lots of things; they’re experimenting with their personalities and don’t always get it right.
    It’s the SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY of the teacher to model healthy sarcasm. Sarcasm is not always bullying (a term that is overused in middle schools, but that’s off-theme). Sarcasm can be a means of questioning something that’s NOT right.
    But back to the notion of teaching as selling: We live in a buy/sell culture. Appealing to kids through the language of business, or working with kids to cultivate a sense of educated consumership is a valuable part of school. Just look at Randy: he learns most when he’s scheming to sell candy. But we also owe it to our kids to teach them in other ways–to think of teaching as collaborative inquiry, or as participatory democracy, or as action research, or as theater, or as art criticism, and NOT explicitly/solely as a big commercial. Prez uses dice to teach probability: craps. Smart, because he knows it’s an easy sell to his audience. But it’s not socially responsible. And it’s not the only way. It’s not the only way for kids in Baltimore, or DC, or anywhere else.

  7. Kate F, you paint a colorful portrait of a truly obnoxious human being – but don’t we see those types of overcompensating, self-conscious people in every profession? I don’t think they are overrepresented in teaching – do you?

    So far, several dy/av episodes have provided a truly novel perspective on things I thought were familiar. The Office episode in particular blew me away. I liked Prez and felt sympathetic toward him – I saw a decent person of honorable intentions in an unforgiving system. Dan I’m interested to see where you’re going with this!

  8. I don’t think this is where you are going but I would say ”boredom ”. If you as a teacher are bored the students are sure to follow. If you as a teacher are super engaged most students cant help but be the same but the same goes if you are not.

    I think boredom is a risk for old teachers, especially if you aren’t very good to begin with since you don’t get that positive feedback to keep you engaged. I think some old teachers should try new things more then they normally do, this could be to use new technology, new working methods, do the topics in different orders. The new thing doesn’t even have to be an objectively improvement but just to do it in a new way keeps the boredom away.

    Some teachers seems to be able to keep interest from “just” the new students, I am not one of those so I need other things to keep me challenged and engaged.


  9. No, Kate, I don’t see that type of person overrepresented in the teaching profession. But, of all the repelling qualities I’ve seen from teachers I’ve worked with, the insistance that one’s own grade/subject/class is the most important is the worst from my perspective.