On “bad” teachers

An excerpt from the chapter “Who becomes a teacher?” in Education Exposed: What teaching taught me about America’s failing education system by Kelly Matthews, M.Ed.

…Some teachers are bad because they just don’t teach. The students enter the room, and there is a book chapter and question numbers written on the board. The students come in, read the chapter, answer the questions, and do whatever they want when they’re done. The teacher may have his standards on the board, and those standards match up with the textbook chapter—but the students aren’t learning. Most of them are just copying the answers from the first student in the room to finish. But the teacher doesn’t care. He’s just chilling at his computer watching YouTube.

Some teachers are bad because they can’t admit that they are wrong, but they are usually wrong. These teachers got their degrees from cruddy state universities who graduate anyone who pays them. They don’t know their content, and they confuse the students with misinformation. But they do the bare minimum of what is required of them, and they coach a sport—their jobs are secure.

Some teachers are not necessarily bad, they’re just not good. These are the teachers who honestly mean well and are trying their best. These are the teachers that administrators and teaching coaches are generally willing to work with. Their real problem is that they know their content but are bad at explaining it. They don’t know how to break a concept down and anticipate opportunities for misunderstanding. They get the material, and they can’t understand how anyone couldn’t. They don’t know how to help students make connections. They understand the basics of teaching but not the craft, and they have little patience for student misunderstanding.

Some teachers are bad because they can be. These teachers have leverage in the system. These teachers don’t even go so far as to list a chapter and questions on the board. They may pass out a 10-minute worksheet for a 90-minute class and sit at their desks. These teachers are protected by a combination of tenure, ethnicity, or some other protected class. One of the worst teachers I have ever seen was still teaching because she was a minority and had a physical disability. If you talked to her about the fact that she needed to improve her teaching for she was on the brink of being fired, she replied, “I am three years from retirement, and it will take them that long to get the documentation together to fire me.”

Some teachers are bad teachers because they are good teachers. These teachers hold to the fact that teaching should be about learning and thinking. They refuse to pander to the masses and teach to the test. They refuse to debase their content area by teaching useless information and instead teach big, universal, thought-provoking ideas. Then their students fail the standardized tests. Sometimes they are hailed as fine teachers and put on curriculum committees, but any system that punishes low test scores will not allow one of these teachers the status of “good teacher” when all is said and done.

There is little motivation for teachers in inner-city schools to be good teachers. They start out putting their all into developing amazing lessons, but they eventually realize it is not worth it. Slowly over time the teachers start to see that all of their time and effort starts gravitating toward the worst students who, despite the time and effort, continue to be terrible students. They become bad teachers because they know they have job security and have more respect for themselves than to kill themselves working hard for undeserving students….


One comment

  1. Greg

    Heard you on Adam and Dr. Drew. Compelling stuff. Ordered a copy of your book. Thanks for speaking up on these topics.

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