10 Ways to Spot Great Teachers (and Avoid Crummy Ones)

Do this
Do this
Not this
Not this

Truly bad teaching is pretty easy to spot, because learners don’t improve, and don’t feel connected.

Truly great teaching is pretty easy to spot, because learners improve rapidly and feel connected.

But perhaps the hardest to spot is a particularly nefarious type of teaching called pseudoteaching. It looks and feels like good teaching, but in fact it’s a mirage.

The term comes from teacher and blogger Frank Noschese, who writes about pseudoteaching here and here. What I like best is how open Noschese is; how he reveals that we are all guilty of it sometimes. As he writes:

Pseudoteaching is something you realize you’re doing after you’ve attempted a lesson which from the outset looks like it should result in student learning, but upon further reflection, you realize that the very lesson itself was flawed and involved minimal learning.

I can definitely relate. A few years ago in Chicago, I taught a class in magazine writing and also coached Little League. In both I made the exact same mistake: I thought talking well was the same as teaching. I rarely connected to individuals, preferred talking to the big group. I approached teaching as if it were an eloquence contest: the more compellingly I talked, the better I thought I was doing. I didn’t realize that teaching is about interaction, not just action. I didn’t realize that good teaching happens in the space between the teacher and the learner.

With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to offer the following field guide:

10 WAYS TO SPOT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PSEUDOTEACHING (PT) AND REAL TEACHING (RT) 

  • 1) PT delivers long, entertaining, inspiring lectures; RT designs short, intensive, learner-driven sessions
  • 2) PT is eloquent and expansive; RT is concise and focused
  • 3) PT addresses large groups; RT connects to individuals
  • 4) PT doesn’t focus on small details; RT is all about details
  • 5) PT is about talking more than watching or listening; RT is about listening and watching more than talking
  • 6) PT is loudly charismatic; RT is quietly magnetic
  • 7) PT is Robin Williams leaping atop desks in Dead Poets Society; RT is John Wooden, teaching his basketball players how to put on their socks properly (no wrinkles, because that causes blisters)
  • 8) PT dismisses questions; RT craves them
  • 9) PT treats everyone the same; RT tailors the message for each learner
  • 10) PT delivers the exact same lecture over and over; RT customizes each session for its audience

Next question: what else belongs on this list?  I’d love to see your suggestions or hear examples of pseudoteaching and pseudocoaching. Who knows, maybe John Kessel and his team can make another poster, the way they did with Traits of Good/Bad Sports Parents.

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