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

This post was originally written in 2009 on this blog which was very very new and had very few readers.

I have updated it with two videos of a Pecha Kucha which was inspired by it and you will find them at the end of the post. Both post & original talk and PK's are spoof, delivered tongue in cheek and I particularly enjoyed doing them. I hope you will find some use for them. 

This short post includes my notes from a presentation I did some years ago at a  conference for Foreign Language School Owners in Greece 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

Pecha Kuchas Inspired by this Handout

A Pecha Kucha delivered at the 2nd ISTEK International Conference in 2011. Much of what is in this PK first originated in the handout above. This one was done in front of a live audience.

The same PK delivered online during the 4th Virtual Round Tempel Conference in 2011. 


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


  1. Please feel free to use this as a handout for your workshops or discuss during teachers' meetings on the subject.
  2. Finally, someone who has recognised, applauded and wrote a follow up post to highlight my words of infinite wisdom.... A Model for Classroom Incompetence by TEFL Tradesman - what other laurels would I need? Edublog awards, eat your heart out!

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Views: 87

Comment by Helen Kraus on February 2, 2012 at 4:31pm

I just started a classroom management course and find this handout great! I am going to show this to my teacher! It is funny to see how obvious these things are. I was wondering whether there are any tactics in particular that you have used in particular in specifically hard to teach classes. The reason I ask is that I am currently doing a practicum in a classroom in which the teacehr seems to yell a lot, and it seems to work for these kids. From class I have been told that that never works, but is it sometimes the case where that's all that works? Thanks!


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