Types of Bad Teachers
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I just published a book called "Accessible American History," which developed through my eleven years of experience as a community college teacher. The link below will take you to a short hub describing it in more detail, including links to where it can be bought.
Classic Scene from Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Bad Teacher Categories
My last hub was an attempt to understand and explain why some community college students fail. I placed these unsuccessful people into various general categories, with each representing the typical categories of failing students. Education, of course, is a two way street, and just as there are typical patterns for failing students, there are also several categories where you can place poor teachers. So from my own experience as a pupil, and also from stories that I have heard over the years from friends, colleagues, and former students, I have compiled a list in no particular order of bad teacher categories. Anyone who has ever spent some time in school should be familiar with some (or all) of these characters. And as much as I hate to admit it, some of these hit (slightly) close to home.
1) “Ditto” – When I took American History in 11th grade, I had a teacher who did nothing but hand out worksheets. They were typically in a fill-in-the-blank format, and all of the answers could be found in the textbook. So we walked in every day and followed the routine, and every now and then, we had tests to see if we memorized the key facts.
Now in fairness to this teacher, it is important to note that he was about 152 years old. So I can understand why, after 130 years of teaching, he might give up on the whole teacher/student interaction thing. Plus, students screw around less when they are kept busy, and he could then have a more peaceful time as he cruised toward his impending retirement.
2) “Tangent” – These characters apparently see teaching as therapy, journaling, or a vehicle for personal commentary. I say this because they spend much of their class time talking about stuff that has nothing to do with the official subject matter. They may share aspects of their personal lives, jump randomly from topic to topic, or rant and rave about their opinions on political issues. Whatever the case, students are often left to fend for themselves in their attempts to actually learn anything that will show up on upcoming tests.
3) “Rambler” – This person can be similar to “tangent.” The difference, however, is that “rambler” actually talks about the subject matter. It is done, however, in a very disorganized way. And to make matters worse, this teacher provides little or nothing in the way of visual aids to help students take notes. So students must do their best to determine which bits of randomly presented information might actually matter. Like with “tangent,” textbooks and classmates will often be the only hope for students.
4) “Monotone” – This person may be knowledgeable and organized, but his or her lifeless presentation tends to induce unconsciousness. These teachers also have a tendency to sit or stand in one location – generally behind a podium – as they often read directly from notes. They are the educational equivalent of a robot.
5) “Plays Favorites” – Here is one the most common complaints that I hear from students: “If he (or she) likes you, then you will get a good grade. If not, you’re in trouble.” I often wonder if this complaint is based more on perception than reality. The simple truth is that we teachers – especially at the college level – don’t know most students well enough to have any strong personal feelings about them. Also, isn’t it possible that a student who performs well will please a teacher and therefore be “liked”? Whatever the case, I get quite a few “ass-kissing” students. Apparently, they think that “making friends” with the teacher is more productive than studying. I imagine that this strategy has probably worked somewhere, but if that is the main plan in my class, then they are truly in trouble.
6) “Slacker” – This teacher clearly does not want to do a whole lot of work. They are especially averse to spending a lot of time grading assignments and tests. So they will either give few assignments or grade them in a lax manner. As a result, the class is easy, and most students in our grade-obsessed educational system won’t complain.
7) “Over Your Head” – For whatever reason, this person teaches classes that are a bitch to pass. Lectures may be way over people’s heads, books are indecipherable, and the teacher will often blame the students for lack of intelligence and/or effort. They may also think that it is perfectly normal to have 80% of the students either drop or fail their classes. It’s not his or her fault that most people are morons.
8) “Under Your Head” – As the name indicates, this is the opposite of the “over your head” teacher. Unlike the “slacker,” however, this teacher is apparently unaware of how easy the class is. So they sincerely teach easy, boring classes, and most students are happy to pass them with as little work as possible.
9) “Class ‘Presentations’ / ‘Group Work’ Fan” – Now I am not against “cooperative learning” or class presentations per se, but in some classes, these are the only activities that take place. The teacher, therefore, does little or no actual teaching, and he or she essentially allows other students to do all of the work. Of course, in our current educational system, some may compliment these teachers for being “innovative” and not overly “teacher-centered.” Taken to an extreme, however, I view this person as either another version of a “slacker” or an individual who has gone to one too many seminars.
10) “Your Friend” – Naïve new teachers may think that if you are nice to students, then they will be nice in return. These characters hope to be the cool teacher that students actually like. But in order to stay on the students’ good side, they may be reluctant to carry out any disciplinary actions or to assign too much difficult work. And when many students get wind of these facts, they will take every opportunity to walk all over this teacher who wants to be their friend. There is a big difference between being liked and being respected, and I pity any educator who has yet to learn this hard lesson.
11) “Doormat” – Sometimes, this person fits in the “your friend” category. But in doormat’s case, factors other than their desire to be “a friend” will lead students to walk all over them: a docile personality, youth, inexperience, lack of a discipline system, etc. The inability to control a classroom is probably the main factor that leads people to bail from the teaching profession. Some bad experiences during my early years almost led me to run away as well.
12) “Power Trip” – Through our ability to assign grades, dish out assignments, and carry out disciplinary actions, we teachers can wield a certain amount of power. Unfortunately, there may be some in our profession who let this go to their heads. I’m sure that many people can describe negative experiences with teachers who seemed to enjoy making students suffer. Now I know that I, like everyone else, have plenty of weaknesses, but a lust for power is not one of them. My dream class is one in which everyone loves learning history and gets an “A.” The last thing that I want to do is punish people, coerce them into doing things, or hand out bad grades. Of course, these actions that I do not necessarily enjoy go with the territory.
13) "Academically Incompetent" - This category speaks for itself. Any reasonable student is aware that a teacher does not know everything. They can figure out, however, when a teacher crosses a line into utter incompetence. This can be a particular problem in the later years of grammar school. The subject matter starts to get a bit more sophisticated, and teachers are expected to be a "jack of all trades." This can also be a problem in High School "Social Science" classes in which coaches often do the teaching. After all, anyone can teach a History class, right?
If teaching is to be done well, then we educators must overcome some of our personality traits, step out of our comfort zones, do things that are inconvenient, and, in general, stay focused on what this whole enterprise is all about. When we settle into patterns because they meet our needs, and not because they are best for the students, then we will find ourselves in one or more of the categories listed above.