5 Warning Signs of a #LousyTeacher

Reading time: 5


In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

This blog is based on my teaching experience alone.

Now, I do not mean to be inflammatory here, as I am fully aware that we need to celebrate teaching and this type of blogpost does nothing to raise morale or status. So, apologies for that in the first instance. We all do what we can to intrinsically celebrate teachers and all-things-teaching. In my blog, I have previously blogged about; The visual anatomy of a Great teacher; The 7 top things that leaders do and What teaching has changed about your life?

So, I am long overdue a write-up of such content and I’ve shared my thoughts below.

Photo Credit: brian.gratwicke via Compfight cc
Lousy teachers are sloths!
Photo Credit: brian.gratwicke via Compfight cc

This represents a very small percentage of teachers. This post should also not be confused with tiredness; stress or workload. It is about capability to teach.

Do you know a teacher that is reluctant to work? I do … and I’m sure you do too! They do not meet the minimum expectations? This teacher makes little effort to contribute to the department? Someone who is always last to volunteer, no matter how busy you all are?

Sloth teaching exists in every school. We are all under pressure. I have my sloth moments, but they are irregular and not typical. I know you have your sloth moments too and they are infrequent and often justifiable. After all, we are human. But the life-chances of our students should not be sacrificed. I have previously blogged about feeling #ThePinch and the GuiltyTeacher syndrome in all of us. With greater workloads and increased accountability, we all need to stick together to protect the profession and understand that Good teaching is the expected norm. Nothing else will do.

Sloth teaching exists in some schools and the references I make, to ‘lousy‘ or ‘sloth‘ is NOT to say teachers are lazy*, or to make light of an endangered animal and call teachers a sloth. Far from it! So, apologies if you take offence to this from the outset. I want to make this very clear. Here, I am making reference to significant under-performance. Perhaps I should use the term ‘capability instead? **

There is no place for name-calling***. I could simply tweak the title and content of this blog and remove the words ‘sloth’ and ‘lousy’ and place ‘inadequate’ in its place. There is no hiding place for writing about something that is evident in some schools and a topic that will stir debate. We are all under pressure. I will repeat, I have my sloth (lousy-teacher) moments. Of course I am sometimes late to work. Who isn’t? I sometimes fail to plan lessons very well. I have taught some very poor lessons. I have even failed to mark classwork. And of course, I have chosen to walk away from contributing to the school when work and home is harder than normal. But, they are not the (rare) types of behaviour that would question my capability and damage children’s lives.

Do you know a sloth in your school?

Sloth Lazy

5 Sloth facts:
  1. Sloths sleep 10 hours a day. (Lousy teacher equivalent: Missing deadlines; punctuality to school and to lessons.)
  2. Sloth toes look more like big hooked claws in appearance. (Lousy teacher equivalent: Lesson planning is questionable.)
  3. Sloth claws are their only natural defence. (Lousy teacher equivalent: Closed classroom door and excuses for student misbehaviour.)
  4. Sloths keep to themselves, and only come together to… well, procreate. (Lousy teacher equivalent: Meetings vs. gossip; when they should help.)
  5. Sloths do not rush anywhere: they only move 13 feet a minute. (Lousy teacher equivalent: Wider contributions.)


Photo Credit: anitacanita via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: anitacanita via Compfight cc
5 warning signs of a below-par teacher:

Allow me to discuss with you 5 warning signs that exist in every school I (and perhaps you) have worked in.

1. Attendance and punctuality: They are always late to lessons/school, even after many polite reminders. Warnings, formal meetings and wasted man-hours increase. They are also non-committal and leave school early, particularly when key deadlines are due, such as reports or departmental events that celebrate the work of the department. No-one is being asked to stay at work until 5 or 6pm, but is 30 minutes after the school bell too much to ask? They have disappeared!

I dash out of school frequently at 4pm.

2. Planning: When the lousy teacher happens to be ‘in school’, it is obvious that they have not planned their lessons. Not that actual lesson plans are a requirement, but evidence of any forethought is lacking. This teacher does not place enough cognition (why) into the content of their lessons. This type of teacher appears to be ‘winging it’ throughout, allowing the students to dictate the flow of the lesson and its content. This often leads to misbehaviour and the teacher becoming irate with students or the systems in the school that are designed to support them.

The lousy teacher ignores detailed schemes of work and goes off on tangents. Although not in the maverick sense, but the disruptive kind, avoiding key components from the syllabus or in coursework/examinations.

3. Teaching: A key warning sign of all lousy teachers – just like any teacher, expected to teach consistently Good lessons – is that they cannot meet the standard consistently. We all have our bad days, but a ‘lousy sloth’ appears to be teaching poor lessons, much more frequently than others. Whether formal or informal, some staff, student and parent views consistently raise a questionable eyebrow over their expertise and suitability to teach.

If given the choice, motivated students would vote with their feet to avoid being in a lousy teacher’s classroom and misbehaved students would welcome them with open arms! Why? Because they know that learning is not paramount and that gossip is. Of course, the lousy teacher naturally ‘pulls it out of the bag’ when being observed. This leaves many questions open for the students and observers about classroom consistency, and suggests that a lousy teacher can teach ‘Good’ lessons for performance. Why can this not be typical everyday? Every lesson? Regardless of who is in the room, why is teaching below-par?

School timetablers and Heads of Department who curate timetables, do all they can to minimise risk and impact.

Photo Credit: Duplisea via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Duplisea via Compfight cc

4. Marking and Assessment: The lousy teacher does not mark student books, nor do they provide sufficient verbal or written feedback. In fact, when students give throw-away comments to other colleagues in corridors, or in cover lessons and in the canteen, it is clear and well-known, that students do not see the value in their own work in this teacher’s classroom. Students are unmotivated by absence of any feedback. The lousy teacher is always last to meet report deadlines and often needs an extension, several reminders and appraiser support to complete them on time. On deeper scrutiny, despite one-to-one CPD and regular moderation, they still cannot assess classwork accurately. The Head of Department often has no choice, but to edit their submissions for fear of reprisal.

5. Wider contributions: The lousy teacher criticises resources (or lack of them) made available to their students. They generate no resources for their own lessons and for other colleagues working in their department. They have no problem slagging off content shared by others. The lousy teacher is last to volunteer their time to complete work and begrudge additional tasks beyond their contract. I am not talking about tasks outside of union guidance here … I am talking about tweaking schemes of work and creating resources for the team.

Everyone sitting around your departmental meeting knows this type of teacher, whether you have worked with them or still are!

A solution?

Support this member of staff to get better with a dedicated member of staff, whether this is from another department or a dedicated member of the leadership team. An assigned coach or mentor would help, as well as a critical friend to offer impartial advice. I have seen it work, but the tipping point here, is sustained effort on all parts. Monitor, evaluate and review… and support at all stages throughout.

All decisions must be professional and personalised. Assumptions must not be made and above all, remember that we are dealing with people here, not statistics. Whoever is assigned to support an inadequate teacher, get to the heart of the matter quickly. Be consistent and hold them to account, and if school-systems are inadequate, do something about this too and fix it. Quickly.

Nota bene.

  • *Under-performance is about capability and not a by-product of laziness (and should never be at the expense of a student’s life).
  • **Any references to lazy/sloth are related to capability. i.e. meeting the Teacher Standards.
  • ***Apologies for the analogy. See link below.




I found this hilarious analogy from IISuperwomanII


4 thoughts on “5 Warning Signs of a #LousyTeacher

  1. I think that a lot of the issues with this blog are why teachers become ‘lousy’ or ‘sloths’. Though I am sure we have all encountered people like this within the profession you have to consider whether it is a ‘choice’ for them to be this way or whether it is a case of being ground down over time. I am a PGCE student but worked in schools for 5 or so years before training. Although I have met many teachers who’s standards are questionable I think I may only be able to name one or two who were intentionally obstructive. I love this blog and support it wbholeheartedly but can u derstand why this particular entry might get an adverse reaction. But thanks all the same for allowing us to debate important issues-this is another great example of the importance of morale within the profession.

    1. Ava. Thank you for your comment which sums up the purpose of the blog fittingly. I appreciate the references to lazy and/or sloth can stir a debate and perhaps appear impolite. This was not my reason for doing so. I talk about a VERY small minority, so I hope that all readers will understand this and accept the reason for posting. I can also sympathise, that we are all run down into the ground and every minute of the day (inc. at home) is squeezed out of us. This does impact on our work… but I want to make a clear distinction between workload (not this blog) and capability and those who do not meet the Teacher Standards (this blog).

  2. As one of the ‘feedback team’ highlighted above, I would like to place a marker on this discussion. In view of the vibrant response on Twitter I am a bit surprised to find myself the first to comment on the blog itself (at least I was when I started writing) and I would respectfully suggest that this is the best forum for debate. I don’t know Ross personally and his text reached me for comment only shortly before publication. So in that sense I am a critical reader same as anyone else. I didn’t know what to expect when the link pinged into my mail box and yes, I was a bit taken back by both content and direction. It’s clearly a subject Ross feels very strongly about and his post reflects that. Would I have tackled the subject quite so combatively had I been starting from scratch? I’m not sure. Probably not. With all the checks and balances in place in the system today I am quite surprised, I suppose, at the force of it.

    And yet …. I have been teaching since 1984. In that time I’ve worked for extended periods in five schools and advised/supported/coached in about 50 overall. If readers’ personal experience means that they sincerely don’t recognise Ross’ ‘sloth’ in any of their colleagues past or present then I salute you and the institutions you have been lucky enough to work in. I do. Thirty years ago, ‘door knob teaching’ (I walk in, I look at the door knob, I decide what to teach) for example was not uncommon and those that did it were pretty proud of it. It was always a minority of course but a running sore which as as a profession we paid dearly for not challenging at the time ‘in house’. Kids did suffer – I have several examples in my own family from a generation who were sold down the river by low expectations. I don’t meet that kind of thing very often any more but nevertheless I do still recognise Ross’ description of a small but obstructive ‘awkward squad’. Vividly, in several contexts, within the last year. And while the existence of such individuals is of course a failure of leadership, the unprofessional behaviours described challenge and undermine leaders at every turn, so, if allowed to continue, a collegiate, distributive leadership style becomes nigh on impossible. We are all screwed over by this .. apologies if anyone is offended by the vernacular here.

    Where I might temper the post is, as others have commented, in terms of using ‘lousiness’ as opposed to ‘slothiness’ as a label. I prefer the latter and I would also keep inverted commas firmly in place to identify ‘slothiness’ as a label for undesireable behaviours and characteristics rather than a description of a fixed negative identity for any one teacher. I firmly believe that most unprofessional behaviours can be unpicked and contextualised and as a result most people can change. The difficulty with many existing management structures I have observed is that they are not transparent. Individuals are more likely to prevaricate and hide underlying difficulties, including childcare, problems at home, illness etc because the ‘support’ that will be offered is in fact a thinly veiled trap to construct a case for capacity proceedings. Support needs to be genuine, optimistic and humane but I don’t think it always is. Also, the expectations of the institution need to be generally accepted as reasonable .. Saturday School every week when you have a young family at home? Or even if you don’t! That’s not a reasonable demand. But I don’t think that’s what Ross is describing.

    I work hard with my own kids to make sure they recognise when a teacher they have previously been fed up with is trying something new, developing and moving on. I don’t expect perfection from their teachers (well, I try not to!) and I make sure my kids step up to the reciprocal responsibility for their learning. It’s the best I can do for my colleagues. But I also know that I’ve occasionally worked with individuals I wouldn’t let near my own kids if I had any way of avoiding it. . It’s no good having a double standard. I suppose my biggest question for Ross remains whether the numbers of ‘sloths’ he has encountered and the range of contexts he has encountered them in warrants the tone of the post … to an extent I suspect the ongoing feedback will bring us some insight on that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.