Prof. Annalise Keating is Terrible at her Job (How to Get Away With Murder)

So this past weekend I had a stack of papers to grade. When doing this I like to have a popcorn type show playing – it helps me keep focus. I went with the first season of How to Get Away With Murder and I really enjoyed it. Viola Davis as Prof. Annalise Keating is amazing, and watching her kick ass in the courtroom never gets dull. She’s an amazing lawyer.

But she’s a terrible teacher. This is the other half of her job and the basis for the show. The rest of the cast are her law students, the kids she’s training to be kick-ass lawyers just like her. And she sucks at being a teacher.

She Doesn’t Teach Anything in her Lectures

The show opens, and frequently goes back to, Keating in her lecture theatre quizzing her students. This is how we get introduced to the character and the approach she has to teaching. About 90% of the time we see Keating she is asking the lecture hall question to which they immediately answer without hesitation. Is this all they do in class? Because it’s terrible form.


Is that all they they write on the board?

Keating is only asking questions that the students already know the answers to, and only letting the confident students answer. Maybe spend a bit more time actually giving them information, posing questions they’re going to need to think about or asking questions of kids who don’t normally put their hand up. Or, as us professionals call it, teach.


Speaking of students who don’t put their hand up, Keating doesn’t call on or interact with more than a couple of students total. There are about a hundred people in that class but she mostly asks the students who have already proven themselves to be adept and talented at the exclusion of everyone else. The rest of the students could be playing ‘Minecraft’ on their computers for all Keating knows.

She Embarrasses Students

On the rare occasion that Keating does call upon one of the ‘lesser’ students or, heaven forbid, they don’t immediately get the right, she turns it into a public spectacle. They’ll be berated, humiliated and insulted while forced to stand up in the middle of the class so everyone knows they’re being singled out. Keating is presented as a tough, no nonsense teacher who gets results and you gotta toughen up ’cause that’s just how the world is, bucko. In reality this will breed resentment and fear. With a culture of favouritism already in the air most of the class will be muttering about Keating behind her back. They don’t respect her, they roll their eyes at her and cruelly impersonate her behind her back.

embarrassing students

Or make her into memes.

She Makes it About Herself

This happens quite often for teachers who can’t check their ego at the door. Teaching is a job about confidence and trust, and a good teacher can do this while leaving their ego at the door. You might be standing at the front of the room and everyone has their attention on you but you want the students to feel like it’s about them. It’s their class, their chance to learn. Keating, like some teachers, makes the class about themselves. She’s more interested in hearing her own voice and showing off her knowledge than teaching. This is common among people who consider themselves ‘great teachers’ but spend most of their time yelling.


“I find the job highly fulfilling.”

Encourages Unhealthy Competition

From the get go the Keating has the students going against each other, competing to become her employees and earn the ‘trophy’. Now there’s nothing wrong with encouraging students to strive to do their best and sometimes working to do better than their peers is the way to do that, but Keating pushes this way to far. Sure, it’s to replicate the cut-throat world of practising law but those who can’t compete are vilified, mocked and ignored. Most teachers prefer to give every student an equal and fair education, not rewarding the precious few with a ‘trophy’.

Speaking of the trophy…

Students Get ‘Immunity’ From Exams

If a student ‘wins’ the trophy through good lawyering they can use it to skip an exam. That’s downright ridiculous. The primary role of teaching is to make students learn, and exams are the method used to asses how well that goal has been achieved. She isn’t using any other technique to determine how well she’s doing the job. If you’re letting students skip exams you’re flat out not doing you job. The only other teacher who does that is Dumbledore, and he’s a damned maniac. Keating is one step away from sending students into the Forbidden Forest at night for detention.

fobidden forest detention

She’s Never Seen Grading Papers

Remember at the beginning of the article – I said I was grading papers this weekend. ALL weekend. This is a time consuming part of the job, and it’s tiresome. Whenever a TV show or a movie wants to glamourise teaching this is the first part of the job that goes out the window because it’s AWFUL. When they do show a teacher marking it’s in some beautiful wood panelled private study with classical music drifting out of the sound system and luscious ferns spotted around the place. The reality is being hunched over a kitchen table with a (couple of) bottle of wine or leaning on the back of a textbook while slouched on the sofa.


“Fuck marking your exams, I have the trophy.”

She Involves Students in Her Personal Life

I get that part of the process for law students is getting work experience under the employ of your teachers, and this means attending their workplace. Keating works from home. Now the students are in her home. They meet her husband, wander freely around her life – including her bedroom WHILE she’s in bed and generally get involved in her personal affairs. And this is before they all get embroiled in a murder conspiracy! What kind of weirdo teacher allows this! I’ve heard some teachers argue that having a friendly or personal relationship with students after they graduate is fine – that in itself is a bit odd! Once you’ve got that teacher-student relationship anything beyond that is uncomfortable and unprofessional.

She Doesn’t Protect Her Students

So there’s this guy in the show called Frank. He works for Keating but it isn’t clear what he does because he’s not a lawyer. It appears his role is in a muck-racking capacity, doing the dirty work when it needs to be done. Weirdly he seems to have a stake in choosing which students gets selected to work for Keating, students that Frank and his illegal activities will be close proximity to at all times. It also appears to be common knowledge that Frank makes his selection based on who he wants to bang. Is Keating honestly letting an unscrupulous character like Frank take his pick from her students? In child protection circles we call this ‘grooming’.


He spends as much time grooming impressionable youths as he does his moustache.

We do like this show and are looking forward to delving into the second season. Keating in the courtroom is awesome, but in the classroom? More like How to Do a Shitty Job of Teaching, amirite?