Why Ineffective Teachers Matter

One thing that every teacher strives for – regardless of the age, subject matter, or grade level they teach – is effectiveness. I don’t know any teacher who wouldn’t agree that they want to be an effective teacher. Not only does an effective teacher help their students learn more, want to learn more, and learn more efficiently, they often save their own sanity in the process  (right?!). 

Often, when we’re evaluating our own effectiveness, a quick reminder of some basics and a bit of self reflection is key. Seeing what other teachers are doing can also be helpful. We may all admit at some point or another that we aren’t always being as effective as we’d like to be, but what happens when teachers really are ineffective?

The handy infographic below takes a look at what the effects of ineffective teachers can be. Using the state of California as an example, the graphic extrapolates some numbers to show just how important effective teachers in the classroom are. Keep reading to learn more.

What Happens When Teachers Are Ineffective?

  • If just 3% of CA’s teachers are ineffective,  about 270,000 students are impacted in just one year
  • After 30 years, that number climbs to 8,100,000 students impacted
  • Students taught by ineffective teachers miss about 2.5-3.5 months of school per year, or about 39%!

ineffective teachers infographic


  1. Dan Gillmor

    February 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    While this article is alarming, I would be interested in finding out what it is that they are using to determine the effectiveness of a teacher. Is the metric that is being used standardized testing or something else?

  2. Walter Martinez

    February 10, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    This is scary I didn’t realize that having just 3% of teachers being ineffective affected so many students.

  3. Terry Waltz

    February 10, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    This is misleading, as are most statistics presented to a mass audience. Few if any students have one sole teachers, so declaring that X million students are lost forever because of a hypothetical 3% of ineffective teachers (whatever that means) is not accurate.

  4. Candice Smith

    February 11, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Exactly !! I had the same question as Dan Gillmor when i reached the end reading this.. What factors are these teachers lacking to be listed ineffective? Considering the shocking effect they have on students over the years..

  5. Steve Wilhite

    February 11, 2014 at 3:16 am

  6. Natalie

    February 11, 2014 at 3:56 am

    Hey Katie,
    Damn true.It’s extremely mandatory to find out those teachers who are not effective because it directly affect student’s learning quality.A sudden test is helpful to find this type of teachers.

  7. Elisa Waingort

    February 11, 2014 at 10:44 am

    And, I’d like to ask what is the point of this infographic?
    What are we supposed to do with this information?
    Why not have an infographic that looks at the impact of effective teachers? And, as other commenters have asked, how was effective determined? I’m disappointed that you chose to publish this as is given the current climate of teacher bashing.

    • Dan Gillmor

      February 11, 2014 at 5:32 pm

      I think that the primary goal of this particular infrgraphic is to engender fear or panic. I am not saying that there are not ineffective teachers, there are ineffective people in almost all walks of life but in the last several years it has become almost a public past time to measure, prod, poke, criticize, analyse and find fault with our profession. It is that which makes this article more frustrating; especially for those who make up, according to the math in this article, the other 97%.

  8. Eliza Bell

    February 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I too was curious about the metrics used to generate this infographic. I looked up StudentsFirst (who made the graphic, as per the bottom portion) and found the following:


    It seems that student test scores make up the bulk of the “effectiveness’ metrics, though they do mention student success in higher education and future salaries as well. I imagine a bit more digging would reveal the rest.

    Though commenter Elisa seems angry that Edudemic chose to publish this, I guess the sad truth is that there ARE ineffective teachers out there. We’ve all run across them in our careers (or as students, or in our personal lives). I imagine that it doesn’t always serve people just to point out how great effective teachers are – sometimes the negative angle of things needs some light, too.

    Whether you agree with test scores being used as effectiveness metrics or not, the concept of the impact an ineffective teacher can have is worth noting. For example:

    If I am a fourth grade teacher and there is an extremely ineffective teacher on the third grade team, I inevitably get some of those students the following year. The level of work those students are able to grasp and the work ethic is lower than that of the students that come from the effective third grade teachers. That means I spend more time catching them up, and may end up slowing down some of the other students in the process.

    While I personally don’t think that test scores are the only useful metric for measuring effectiveness (or student learning, for that matter!), quantitative metrics in education are few compared with qualitative/more subjective metrics, which would be much harder to use to come to a clear determination of effectiveness in teaching.

  9. Joe Beckmann

    February 13, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Such terrible data should – most certainly – not be on a blog like this. In the first place, “teacher effectiveness” will vary with the kid, the age, the subject, and the time of day, year, or decade. Using such a “standard” proves the futility of many more, and more useful alternatives.

    Perhaps even more important, however, the real question is how many teachers at what levels are relatively ineffective with how many kids who fail to find one or more with whom they can really work. That is a much, much more substantive question and far more “relevant” to determining the overall impact of schools, teachers, and education in general.

    Some of my best teachers were absolutely awful, and taught me what not to do in the best possible ways. Some were highly regarded, but did stupid things with smart people, and that regard seemed misplaced. Some were disregarded by their peers, but celebrated by their students, and taught us how to negotiate among the shoals of superficial pedants. And some were normally quite boring, with remarkable glims of brilliance one or two times a year, which was enough to make them – and what they were trying to teach (sometimes) – memorable in a positive and useful way.

  10. Zeke

    February 14, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    As someone who is professionally involved in remediating student educational gaps, and seeing many of the same teachers’ names repeated in the intake reports, I DAILY see the effect of ineffective teachers!! I meet with dozens of families each month & hear stories of excellent & ineffective teaching experiences. The teachers’ names & feedback remain largely the same.

    As with ANY occupation or industry, there are excellent, average, and poor teachers. It is tragically unfortunate that teachers’ unions, politicians, and other parties protect & promote individuals who have clearly been found ineffective or sometimes inept, based on metrics, anecdotal information, and peer review (formal or informal).

    Would any of you who defend poor/ineffective teachers do the same if for your child’s doctor or dentist? Do you choose to eat at poorly regarded or unsanitary restaurants? Why or why not? Do you see the lack of correlation in behaviors on this emotionally-charged & union infested debate???

    This infographic was based on objective criteria, not fear as some intellectually dishonest posts allege! Deal with it, and advocate for children & students, not teachers’ unions & ineffective/inept teachers!

  11. Paul T. Corrigan

    February 15, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    This infographic is not so much propaganda against teachers as it is propaganda against the thoughtful use of numbers. The 3% that every other number in the graphic depends upon is admittedly and entirely hypothetical. Of course, it would have to be, since the infographic declines to define effectiveness or learning.

    This infographic is fundamentally disingenuous.

    Whether or not ineffective teachers are a/the problem and whether firing teachers is a/the way to increase overall teaching effectiveness are separate questions.

  12. Sage

    February 17, 2014 at 7:09 am

    What criteria is being used to determine which teacher is being ineffective? And where is the conversation about what makes them ineffective?

    I am a high school math teacher who teaches the most disengaged students in the school. I have classes full of students who have learned that if they just hang out and don’t cause too much trouble, then teachers will leave them alone. This doesn’t mean they get to graduate.

    Over 65% of my students have less than a 2.0 GPA, and more than 50% have less than a 1.5 GPA. In other words, most of my students have little hope of graduating. Most feel shame for what they don’t know but struggle to cover this up with a “who-cares” attitude.

    I strongly believe that my job is to change their relationship to learning, help them know that they are smart and always have something to offer, to give them positive and authentic learning experiences. There is little if any chance of them catching up to their well educated peers, but if I can help lessen the shame they feel, help them build self-confidence and persistence meanwhile giving them powerful problem solving skills, then I have helped them make a substantive change in who they are as learners.

    This will not likely show up in any standardized test, especially as they are already performing way below grade level.

    Does this make me an ineffective teacher? Does the teacher who makes sure that the students who are underperforming drop their class or drop out of school then become more effective because their students perform better?

    The students know and I know that we have been placed in a no-win situation. Yet every day I struggle to inspire or find the opportunity, the spark, the glimmer of interest to learn. I refuse to let students sit idle in my class which means that every day is a fight, a fight in the hopes that students get that they are expected to learn, are worthy of our instruction and concern. If you have not been in the midst of these type of classes you cannot have anything close to an accurate idea of what my job entails. It is hard, exhausting, puzzling, and sometimes rewarding. I have developed a strong repertoire of knowledge of student learning of mathematics, of multiple approaches, and of identify and working to repair huge gaps in student understanding.

    Yet I would guess that looking at standardized test data, I would clearly be an ineffective teacher. Yet every year I am able to change many students’ attitudes towards learning mathematics. Every year students gain a greater understanding of the power of mathematics. Am I ineffectual? And if I am, why did I become this way? Was it the close to a decade of administrative instability (6 principals in 8 years)? Was it because I had no one come into my classroom and give me feedback?

    Don’t tell me that I am ineffedtual,