Awkwardness and teaching don’t mix, except on screen. When we’re not the ones who have to sit through a cringe-worthy training seminar, when the dull professor is a work of fiction, bad teaching makes for great entertainment.

Seeing bad training in TV and movies is a great place to learn what not to do in real life training. Here are some cringe-tastic don’ts from the worst teachers in show business.

WARNING: some of these clips were taken from R-rated movies and have more than their share of profanity, which frankly, is another aspect that makes them examples of how we shouldn’t train people.


Michael Scott opens with a song to get everyone’s attention, ‘Let’s Get Ethical’ to the tune of Olivia Newton John’s ‘Let’s Get Physical.’ Unfortunately, he didn’t think to download the karaoke version and has to compete with the 80s hit playing on a boombox in the corner.

If learners are distracted by your lame audio or shoddy graphics, they’re likely not taking in the lesson.


Looking for tips on how to teach like a fascist dictator? Check out Glengarry Glen Ross.

In the opening scene, Alec Baldwin dispenses some tough love to a real estate sales team whose numbers are down. He announces a sales contest: the first prize is a Cadillac, the second prize is a set of steak knives, the third prize is ‘you’re fired.’

This scene has gone down in business history as a crash course on the hard truths of working in sales. It’s fun to watch, but as training it’s pretty bad.

Basically, it should never have come to this. If you have to get a third party to come in and shout at your team, chances are you’ve already failed in the training department. The best learning feels like exploration, or play, or even the risk of failure within the training context. That’s not to say people don’t learn from threats and name calling. Those are great ways to teach them the wrong things.


In Office Space, we see a boss who chastises his employee for not wearing enough “flair” on her jacket. His expectations are too high to be realistic, even for something as silly as lapel pins.

This same situation can happen in a training context when teachers take the wrong approach to constructive criticism. It turns off the adult learner, and makes them resent the trainee. Positive reinforcement can be much more effective than negative.


Two lessons compete with each other in this training train wreck. A corporate rep tries to deliver a simple refresher course on customer service while the branch manager, David Brent, interrupts constantly. Things get so awkward that one of Brent’s employees decides to quit halfway through the presentation.

This is anarchy. It may seem over the top, but it’s basically what happens when training lacks clear objectives, leadership, and benchmarks for progress. If you don’t know what you’re teaching, there’s no way your students will know what they’re learning.


The problem here is evaluation and feedback. The economics teacher, played by Ben Stein, has a useless system for evaluating his learners’ progress. After each dull info-dump he asks the class a fill-in-the-blank style review question. When the students are silent he follows up with ‘Anybody? Anybody?’ then moves right along with the lesson.

Evaluation is one of the key stages of the learning process, and yet teachers rarely try to make it fun. Even the most engaging lessons are often followed by multiple choice tests that would even put Ben Stein to sleep.

Could Your Training Be a Movie?

The next time you see awkward training in TV and movies, or experience it in real life, ask yourself why it’s awkward. Try to figure out what isn’t working. You can learn just as much from bad teaching as good teaching.

Keep these scenes in mind while planning your next lesson. Do you sound like Michael Scott? Are you bullying your team into listening? Would Ferris Bueller cut your class?