Why Micromanagers Make Bad Teachers

There is a pervasive fear in teaching that if you’re not on top of your students every moment—coaxing, guiding, advising, directing—you’ll lose control of your classroom.

If left unchecked, this fear turns otherwise easygoing men and women into micromanagers, hovering over their students like a nervous driver’s education instructor.

Skittering like water bugs from one desk to the next, they burst through bubbles of personal space, kneel down hot-breath close, and force their unwanted and unnecessary help upon their students.

They comment, advise, opine, and counsel. They warn and praise and interfere. They fret over every this and every that. They recommend and over-assist. They interrupt with yet another itsy-bit of guidance.

“One more thing . . . And one more thing. . . Oh, and one more thing . . .”

No wonder micromanagers feel so stressed, overworked, and exhausted—freefalling into bed at night, backhand across forehead, with a great sigh.

“Ahhhhhhscoobitydoobitydoobitymeemeemeemeemee.”

Yet in spite of all the busyness, the helicoptering, and the hyper-attentiveness, micromanagers struggle mightily with classroom management and stifle academic progress.

Here’s why:

They cause excitability.

Excitability is a major cause of misbehavior. And because it’s directly related to the way a teacher carries herself, it’s completely avoidable. All the movement and tension and excessive talk micromanagers bring with them to the classroom causes nervous energy that manifests itself in poor listening, poor concentration, and misbehavior.

They’re not well liked.

Micromanagement is smothering to students and causes them to view their teacher as an annoyance—as someone to be avoided. They roll their eyes and sigh and grow tired of the unending guidance and over-direction. This places the teacher at odds with her students and in the unenviable position of being disliked, which makes building rapport and influence an impossibility.

They show a lack of confidence in their students.

Somewhere deep down, perhaps just beyond conscious awareness, micromanagers don’t believe in their students. They don’t believe in their students’ ability or potential to listen, learn, and follow directions—which is why they give constant input. Sadly, this belief comes across loud and clear to students, who are quick to fulfill their teacher’s prophecy.

They suffocate academic and social growth.

No one thrives in a classroom run by a micromanager. The truth is, students need space to learn. They need room to breathe and grow and mature and stand on their own two feet. There are many moments throughout a typical school day when it’s best to back off and let students wrestle with their academic work, reflect on their mistakes, and fight their own battles.

They think for students.

Micromanagers tend to give away answers, solutions, and hints that are far better discovered by their fully capable students—even telling them how to respond in ways that leave nothing to imaginative, creative, or critical thinking. They also frequently paraphrase for students in a manner that suits their own needs and expectations rather than reflecting actual student thought.

They discourage independence.

Micromanagers help students far too much and too often. They’re quick to lean down beside individual students to offer endless guidance, interfering with a critical part of the learning process. This causes students to look outside themselves for solutions rather than first attempting to figure them out on their own.

They interrupt learning.

Micromanaging your classroom convinces students that they need more help than they actually do. The fact is, most teachers help too much, talk too much, and are seen too much. After presenting a first-class lesson, and then checking thoroughly for understanding, it’s best to fade into the background, allowing your students to noodle through the challenges you place before them without your added input.

Note: For more on creating a classroom of confident, independent students, see chapters 5, 6, and 10 of Dream Class.

Powerful Forces At Work

Knowing when to back off, observe quietly, and let students think through and apply the tools you’ve given them to succeed is a little appreciated and often-overlooked aspect of great teaching.

It’s an art form, to be sure, learned over time by those aware of the powerful forces at work when students are made to realize that, in the end, success and failure resides with them.

Micromanagers steal this wonderful gift from students. By doing too much, by thinking, speaking, and stepping in for their students, they take from them this life-changing realization.

They take away the deeply satisfying desire lying—sometimes dormant—within each of us to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and make something of our often disadvantages circumstances.

You see, as a result of being micromanaged, students begin to view their school progress and classroom behavior as chiefly someone else’s responsibility.

But by knowing when to recede into the background and allow students to do their job, exceptional teachers are able to deliver the best educational experience for their students while receiving the best from their students in return.

For they know that when you micromanage students, when you step in, take on, and interfere with what are their responsibilities . . .

You rip the heart and soul out of motivation, suppress real, inspired learning, and unleash a backlash of misbehavior.

Thanks for reading. If you like this article, I’d appreciate you sharing it with your friends, followers, and colleagues.

-Michael

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11 Responses to Why Micromanagers Make Bad Teachers

  1. Victoria Miles May 27, 2012 at 5:51 am #

    I agree! Which of us teachers like to be micromanaged by supervisors? When our administrators give us the freedom to be creative, the freedom to make choices, even the freedom to fail, we find ourselves working hard to succeed.

    The same is true with our students. Our efforts and energy as teachers are far better spent in the planning of our lessons than the student exploration phase. As you wrote in your article, “After presenting a first-class lesson, and then checking thoroughly for understanding, it’s best to fade into the background…”

    This is the key… setting up the lesson, the activity, well enough that students understand the task and are motivated to do the work.

    Circulating does play a role during the exploration or cooperative learning component. Listening to students’ conversations is critical to understand how they are learning and communicating with one another. Listening to student discussions, however, does not mean taking over their thinking. For example, when a student asks a question, why not answer their question with another question?

    A teacher’s role is more beneficial when we act as a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage.”

    • Michael Linsin May 27, 2012 at 10:34 am #

      Thanks for your insight, Victoria!

      :)Michael

  2. Sharon May 27, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    I see more of myself in this article than I care to admit. Especially as we approach the end of the year and the dreaded high stakes testing, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that micromanaging will make things better.
    I need to trust in my students abilities and back off a bit to allow them to explore the learning on their own.
    Thanks for another great article. I have already enjoyed good results by incorporating your end of the year suggestions. No count down, regular routine, stick to the program. The students complain a bit and say, “But other teachers….”. I just smile and direct them to get back on task. In the faculty lunch room I hear others complaining about how their students are out of control.
    I will share this article with them, as I have shared the others.

    • Michael Linsin May 27, 2012 at 10:33 am #

      Great, Sharon! Thanks for sharing.

      :)Michael

  3. Mitchell May 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    As a teacher who has just completed his second year, I also see myself in your description. However, between year 1 and year 2, I have learned to let go just a little bit of power so that my students can try it on their own without my constant interruptions.

    I find that when we micromanage, it’s not that I don’t believe in my students, but rather, I am insecure about whether I have provided enough for them to succeed. Like you write, though, sometimes it’s better to step into the background and see if they can figure it out with the information you gave during the lesson. And as another teacher told me earlier this year, their failure does not equal my failure, and failure at first can lead to success later.

    Thank you for another helpful article!

    • Michael Linsin May 29, 2012 at 6:57 am #

      You’re welcome, Mitchell!

  4. Melanie May 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Thank you so much for your insightful article.
    I teach lower ability students and find that I fall into the trap of spoon feeding them as soon as I feel they are failing rather than allow them the space to have a go themselves. Most of them have very low self esteem and are afraid of failure therefore very reluctant to even begin tasks independently, let alone work towards a solution. However, from tomorrow things will be different!
    I feel inspired by your article and will definitely be trying your suggestions.

  5. Andy November 2, 2014 at 1:00 am #

    I teach high school. Students move classes up to six times a day, with six different teachers; six different attitudes. With the help of this website I have little problem with student behaviour. The main problem is that at times there are students who, when independent work time comes around, will start playing games rather than doing any work. I wonder if I am not making the learning interesting enough, yet I must follow the school programme and sometimes the topic, or the thought of preparing to write an extended response, does not interest them. How can I get the students to complete required tasks, instead of just playing games, without getting in their faces. To make every single lesson different, interesting and engaging is near impossible.

    • Michael Linsin November 2, 2014 at 7:24 am #

      Hi Andy,

      You can find articles on this topic in the Attentiveness, Learning & Independence, and Rapport & Influence categories of the archive. However, we hope to cover your question more specifically in a future article.

      Michael