At some point if you’ve taught long enough you realize that you can get away with teaching badly. The kind of bad teaching where you do more harm than good, not just failing to communicate anything positive but actively turning students against learning. And not just once, on a bad day when your car wouldn’t start and you spilled your coffee on your notes and your hormones were in an uproar and your students had been replaced by evil alien replicants from Planet 13. No, you can get away with teaching badly over and over, and still get asked back to do it again.
Sometimes because of local ideologies or accreditation requirements or teacher ed fads or the politics of democratic legitimation, bad teaching is actually required. This has turned out to be the general lament about the (unintended) consequences of No Child Left Behind, for example. And sometimes bad teaching is more or less explicitly a device to sort out and eject students whose habitus does not fit the status profile of educational accomplishment. And sometimes lots of bad teaching happens because in a mass compulsory educational system with no access to infinite pools of great teachers and eager students, the odds of lots of dumbass teachers getting matched up with lots of clueless students are very high. These are instances of what we might call ‘structural’ bad teaching.
More contingently, you can get away with bad teaching because it’s a big bother to check up on you substantively (going through the motions of checking up is easy), and an even bigger bother to replace you. And because there are so many other bad teachers that the standards are actually very low, and it’s a crapshoot whether someone else would actually do better. You can get away with it because no one actually knows any better, starting with the students, and because just about any hack teaching will produce good outcomes sometimes to feed the confirmation bias. Like you try something once, it’s bad, but no one ever calls you on it and someone manages to learn something despite you, so you just stick with ‘what works’.
Because what actually needs to get taught in the 15-20 years of a standard educational career could be taught in 4-5, you can get away with bad teaching because there’s plenty of room for lots of waste. And therefore you can get away with it because most of what we teach is either useless or worse than useless, causing society at large to evolve defenses against the plague of formal education, efficient systems to train our graduates from scratch in the relevant skills and knowledge and to help them unlearn the harmful stuff. I’m just scratching the surface of why you can get away with bad teaching.
Any goober can teach well when they think they have to. I’m on a search committee right now and the teaching performances have been terrific. The hard part is guessing what each of these goobers will do once they figure out they can get away with teaching badly.