Learning from Excellent Examples

“I didn’t get a good teacher for my Observation and Participation. I was really bummed because she treated her students poorly and her methods were ineffective.”

“Well, couldn’t that be a good thing? You could learn what not to do when you’re a teacher from her bad example.”

I overheard this very conversation at my college’s tutoring center where I work. I couldn’t help but think:

Why are we, as humans, so obsessed with showcasing poor examples?

Sure, we can learn what not to do from crappy examples, but think about how much better it would be to learn from excellent examples. In order to be a great writer, I am going to read and study great writers: Hemingway, Thoreau, Hawthorne, etc. No one could argue differently. It would be absurd if I were to study the poorest quality writers if I wanted to become a great writer.

Then why do we try to talk ourselves into accepting poor examples in other aspects of life?

Watching a bad barista make coffee won’t help us make a mean cup a’ joe.


Reading poorly done business plans won’t help us write brilliant business plans.


Observing bad teachers won’t help us teach with exceptional quality.


This way of thinking has also squeezed its way into our traditional classrooms, too. Why put poorly written sentences in front of students to correct? With the little time we have with them, it would be more effective to slap an exceptional sentence on the board. Why spend the few teaching moments we have with students to put bad examples for them to study?

I understand that sometimes we have to make lemonade out of the lemons we’re handed but, over areas we have control, why settle for something less than the best?lemon