Blame the Teachers – Part 2

“If the student hasn’t learned, then the teacher hasn’t taught.”

In Part 1 of this post, I said: “Formal root cause analysis would quickly reveal numerous causes for the observed effect [“the student hasn’t learned”] – many of which will be of greater significance than how teachers teach.” Doing this would point the way towards practical countermeasures. (Note: In order to function properly, root cause analysis must be non-blaming and non-judgmental, and also non-political and non-ideological. The focus must be on the process, not on people).

Let’s begin to construct a formal root cause analysis by gathering data on the causes of why the student hasn’t learned for the category People, which is one of six primary cause categories in an Ishikawa cause-and-effect diagram. The other five are: Materials, Measurements, Methods, Machines, and Environment. Let’s sort the primary People cause category into the following secondary cause categories: teacher, administrator, student, and parent / family.

Focusing on just one of the six primary cause categories, People, illustrates the complexity of the problem related only to people, ignoring, for the moment, the other five primary cause categories. The totality of the effect, “the student hasn’t learned,” is driven by hundreds of inter-related causes, dozens of which will contribute significantly to generating the observed effect. This also illustrates how inept analysis by higher education policy-influencers and policy makers (graduates of higher education) leads to incorrect causality – blame the teachers – which does not contribute to problem-solving.

Each of the following secondary cause categories (teacher, administrator, student, and parent / family) contain tertiary causes. Causation at the 4th, 5th, 6th levels, etc., are omitted for clarity.


  • Makes some, many, or most of the 45 common teaching errors, including:
  • Does not know the material
  • Conveys material poorly
  • Material is old and dated
  • Fails to demonstrate relevancy of material
  • Does not share good teaching practices with colleagues


  • Indifferent to student’s complaints
  • Ignores feedback
  • Does not observe teachers teaching
  • Does not know what to observe
  • Does not know who teaches well (and why)
  • Does not know which teacher needs help (for what)
  • Does not provide teaching improvement resources
  • Does not reward good teaching in annual evaluation process
  • Rewards bad teaching in annual evaluation process


  • Has to work part-time (less time for study and learning)
  • Forced to take certain courses
  • No interest in the subject matter
  • Does not come to class
  • Does not pay attention in class
  • Does not study
  • Studies night before the exam
  • Does not do practice problems
  • Does assignments incorrectly
  • Does not complete assignments
  • Spends time on other things
  • Peer pressure to do other things
  • Views school work as busy-work
  • Substance abuse problem
  • Relationship problem
  • Did not do well in pre-requisite courses
  • Not prepared for college
  • Does not care
  • Do not test well (recall challenge vs. evaluating aptitude)

Parents / Family:

  • Show no interest
  • No pressure to study
  • No role models at home
  • Distracting family problems (requires student’s time and attention)

Can you identify additional secondary or tertiary causes, or stakeholders that contribute to this problem? What about the secondary, tertiary, etc., causes for Materials, Measurements, Methods, Machines, and Environment?

Instead at guessing at the cause of a problem and assigning blame, the challenge for higher education policy-influencers and policy makers is to correctly perform problem-solving and engage each stakeholder in process improvement.

Professors can do their part by learning and practicing Lean teaching.

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