How to make things fall apart – A behaviour model for creating incompetence

This short post includes my notes from a presentation I did some years ago at a local conference where I was specifically asked to present a workshop on good classroom management.

At that time, I had been training a group of  directors of studies and had used  Gilbert’s (1978) excellent “Behavior Model for Creating Incompetence” . You will find this on page 87.

This inspired me to use Gilbert’s model, in some cases with phrases lifted right off his table (p.87) and in many cases, adding my own ideas to categories of teacher behaviours typically associated with good classroom management.

The idea generated this worksheet. The participants were, at some point during my workshop, involved in commenting on the statements below and, of course, turning them into positive, empowering teacher behaviours.

Handout given to participants:

Rapport –  classroom atmosphere

  • Scowl and frown as often as possible – this should make you look serious and busy
  • Never smile or show warmth – familiarity breeds discontempt
  • Encouraging smiles are for young classes – adult classes don’t need such nonsense
  • Avoid jokes and humour – the classroom is a place for work
  • Create an atmosphere of high anxiety
  • Threaten students with spot tests and low performance ratings as often as you can

Setting up activities: guidelines to students

  • Make your guidelines as confusing as you can
  • Never check to see whether your students have understood your instructions
  • Don’t bother to help or support students or groups who are lost
  • Avoid explaining the purposes of activities – you were not meant to give your students free teacher training!!
  • Give them as little guidance as possible and only if pushed against the wall
  • Never show them how to perform well
  • Hide what is expected of your students as much as possible
  • Never tell them what you expect them to do in case they might get smart

Student Groupings

  • Don’t mix or match groups according to levels of ability or personality
  • Make sure the loudest, most domineering students are working with the shyest ones
  • Never allocate tasks in group work – your students should already know how to work in a team

Training your learners

  • Leave training to chance – you are there only to explain grammar & vocabulary
  • Your students should already know how to participate in class activities – so they are OK
  • If you decide – against all good judgement – to do some learner training, make it unnecessarily difficult
  • In that case, also make training irrelevant to your students’ needs and objectives
  • Never give your students choice – this means you might have to do more work
  • Design activities and materials without ever consulting with your learners
  • Schedule difficult activities for times when your learners are not at their sharpest
  • Avoid using activities that your learners could find motivating or pleasant

Teacher’s Position and Movement

  • Always remain seated behind your desk – learners must know where to find you
  • When you do move, pounce! This should keep them on their toes…
  • When the students are working in groups, butt in and participate
  • In fact, that is an excellent time to tell them some choice episodes from you personal life

Eye Contact & Attention Spread

  • Avoid looking at all the students; too much eye contact breeds familiarity
  • You should only look at your favourite students – ignore everyone else
  • When a student is talking, do something useful, e.g. write on the board
  • Always ask your best students – ignore the rest
  • Ask your weaker students questions you know they could never answer
  • When a weaker student is talking, remember to glare and show disapproval

Your Language  & Using your Voice

  • Treat your learners as if they were five year olds – talk to them simply and very loudly
  • Call them ‘children’ as often as possible – establish your authority
  • Being polite is not in your job description – you need to assert yourself over them
  • Avoid using simple language everyone can understand – show off your knowledge of terminology
  • The more abstruse and vague you are, the more respect you will inspire

Giving Students Feedback

  • Give your students misleading information about their overall performance
  • Never let your students know how well they are performing
  • If anyone makes a mistake, do not neglect to comment on their low IQ
  • Name students who made serious mistakes and laugh at them to motivate them to study
  • Correct everything – preferably while a student is talking, for a lasting effect
  • Never correct any of your favourite students – praise them warmly instead
  • Make sure that poor performers get the same marks as good performers
  • See to it that good performance gets punished in some way

©Marisa Constantinides – CELT Athens – 2000


Gilbert, T. (1978) Human Competence – Engineering Worthy Performance, A Publication of the International Society for Performance Improvement.

Below you can find a useful Knol

World Class Advice on Managing and Motivating People – Wisdom from psychologist and “performance engineer” Thomas F. Gilbert Written by Joseph Boyett, author The Guru Guide


Please feel free to use this as a handout for your workshops or discuss during teachers’ meetings on the subject.

14 replies

  1. Dear Marisa,
    This was such great pleasure to read.
    A bit of sarcasm when both parties (speaker-listeners) know that it’s sarcasm can be a great learning tool.I’m sure trainees loved browsing this list and sniggering, although they knew that they had employees who did exactly those things.
    I, just like Carol above, will use this worksheet in class with my mentees.
    I loved the other list: has a lot to say about what kind of teacher you are. Great simple ideas.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. I have to admit this caused a brief moment of concern, even as I knew it was tongue in cheek. I realize the true value of it as I work on training teachers with the Nurtured Heart Approach for use in the classroom. With clear rules, framed as “No putting…” “Never…” etc. I can very cleary recongize teachers for following the rules when they are! We know teachers wouldn’t do these things in the classroom but having the ideas framed in this way will be another excellent tool to use for helping teachers learn how to help their students. Thank you.

  3. May be it was a little bit excessive, Jeanine, I don’t know. But humour, often works better than a lot of serious and very worthy stuff in the foreign language learner as well as in the training classroom.

    Thanks for commenting.

  4. I couldn’t (dis)agree with you more, Marisa. I foolow your advice very closely in my classes. After all, I am the boss, and the poor students need to be reminded of that every day. And why not be partial, unfair, brutal even, if it helps (or forces) them to learn?

  5. A great reminder of all those elements that do mar a lesson and student’s performance. This article will be my teaching checklist. Many thanks for sharing it with us!

  6. This handout will be an delightful to use in our Nurtured Heart Approach professional development next week! We have all ready had a GREAT day of training, and will be supporting and coaching our faculty and staff to see the impact we have on our students, AND each other. THANK YOU for this clever, comical look at our words and actions, and the message they are delivering. EXCELLENT!

  7. Hi Angie and thanks for your comment. I am delighted you can put this handout to some good use. You might be interested in reading a short article a colleague of mine wrote some time ago on the power of words, as this seems to be close to the heart of your Nurtured Heart Approach!

    Here is the link:

  8. Marissa, you’re a standup comedienne. Thank you for sending me grinning into this Tuesday morning 🙂

    Missed this the first time as I was offline, but found today on Sandy’s blog through Karenne’s RT of Barb’s @barbsaka: Sandy McManus channels his inner @Marisa_C on TEFL Tradesman #beltfree #efl

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