Why good teachers make good managers (but don’t become managers) and why bad teachers make bad managers (and become managers)

What is a teacher and what is a manager?  Are the two things necessarily different?  The more I study current management theories, about motivation, performance management, the more I see direct correlations between good teaching practice and good management practice.  But  what does it mean to be a good teacher?

First and foremost, I am a humanist.  I believe in personal growth, self-actualization, autonomy and these are the things I value in education.  I am not a dogmatist, nor am I an autocrat (i hope).  I value what my students bring with them into my classroom.  Good teachers are not necessarily the ones with the most knowledge, nor are they the funniest, nor are they the most gifted orators (or bullshitters).  Good teachers listen.  Good teachers believe in autonomy and empowerment.  Good teachers set up achievable tasks for their students, they make sure that students have the necessary language in order to achieve these tasks.  Good teachers monitor their students discreetly, and only step in when they are needed.  Students achieve because their teacher trusts them.  A good teacher believes in the abilities of the students, sets high standards and expectations and gives them the know-how, the wherewithal to meet them, and most importantly of all, gives them constant feedback, both positive and constructive.  Does it sound familiar?  These are also the qualities of a good manager, but perhaps you don’t recognise these qualities in your management team, perhaps you are surrounded by bad managers.  

What is a bad teacher (bad manager)?  Well, simply put, it is the opposite of the above.  A bad teacher has low expectations, a bad teacher thinks that he students are lazy, incapable and need to be told what do while they are doing it.  As a matter of fact, a bad teacher will not even know if his students are capable but will merely assume that they aren’t.  A bad teacher will micro-manage your learning, he will not give you the tools to your success, he may even take credit for your work and say things like “I’m responsible for the success of my students”.  His students will be utterly dependent on him.  Sound familiar?  Chances are you are managed by such a person.  

But why is this?  Surely those of us who work in education, those of us who teach should be surrounded by Y-style managers – democratic, humanistic facilitators who value humanistic approaches to teaching, but more often than not we are managed by X-style managers – autocratic and didactic bullies).

The answer to this conundrum is simple and depressing.  Good teachers like teaching and want to remain in the classroom where they think they belong.  Bad teachers often know that they are bad teachers and look for the first opportunity to escape the classroom.  These people, and we all know instinctively who they are, have two options, one is to leave education and the second is to move into “educational management”.  Given that ELT teachers have often tried to survive in the real world of cutthroat business and failed, we cannot be surprised that bad teachers choose the simpler but less noble option of moving out of the classroom and into the meeting room.  Or, to put it another way, those who can’t, teach; those who can’t teach, move into educational management.

I’d like to finish this post with a call to arms.  If you are a good teacher and you look around your office and see only bad management – instead of leaving the organisation in the hope that you’ll find a good manager somewhere, become a manager.  If you are a practicing humanistic teacher, good at getting the most out of your students at making them feel 10 feet tall, then you will be an excellent manager – your organization still needs you to manage your students, but it also needs you to manage your colleagues.

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5 thoughts on “Why good teachers make good managers (but don’t become managers) and why bad teachers make bad managers (and become managers)

  1. What you are saying is very obvious, yet many people don’t realise it. Perhaps an even more depressing thing is that the worst managers (only in it for themselves, not prepared to listen to teachers, only take a top-down approach, quick to deflect blame elsewhere, threatened by people who might know better than them, etc) often turn out to be the most successful managers. And then who do they recruit? More people like them. Ways of measuring quality these days tend to devalue good teaching and good management in order for bad teachers and bad managers to look good.

    1. I got into teaching to get away from the “office” and the David Brents of this world and am disappointed to find them in the teaching profession too. Perhaps there is something dubious in the notion of management itself – as you say, it tends to invoke a top-down, self-preservation, I know best kind of attitude. It’s also the fault of any employer to not recognise current trends in management practice and still favour process-obsessed managers over people-centred managers. An organization gets the managers it deserves.

    2. Hi Steve. How’s things? Have you moved away from KL? Some managers lack the maturity to deal with mature teachers and so hire less mature teachers to cover their own inadequacies. Managers who replace “difficult” experienced staff with “compliant” unqualified staff are sending a clear signal that their management style is not mature enough to cope.

      1. Hi Mike,
        Yes, I’m back in the UK now (see my blog for an idea of what I’m up to). It’s an interesting point about managers who view some teachers as “difficult”. They feel threatened by teachers who may question or challenge them. The less competent the manager, the more easily threatened they are.
        I’m not sure if it’s about maturity though. A fresh young manager might be able to foster a positive workplace with a consensus approach, acknowledging the strengths and experience among the staff and offering staff a sense of ownership in the decision-making process. But then maybe it takes a certain amount of maturity to see the potential in this approach; maturity and experience are different things.

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