What makes a bad teacher?

Well, we’re taking a complete break from writing today to talk about teaching… since that’s what’s on my brain. I’m in the middle of my application for teacher’s college next year at Bethlehem Tertiary Institute and trying to get my ideas together for the 500 word personal essay on my reasons for seeking entry into the teaching programme.

And, since I have no idea what to write, I’m going to talk about some of the elements of a bad teacher.

Talking to your students like they’re idiots

Nobody likes being talked down to. And, especially when they get to high school, students like to be treated like the young adults they are. And they’ll often fight you if they don’t think they are getting that treatment. I know I was like that as a teenager, not so many years ago. Sure, everyone likes encouragement, but once you get to about 13, “well done” just doesn’t cut it quite so well any more.

That is when it is a teacher’s job to go one step further in giving constructive criticism of the work, as in “here is something you might want to think about making better”. Students are waiting for that “but…” that comes after the positive affirmation to help them improve their work.

But, that condescending “well done” isn’t the worst a teacher can offer. I think “You’re 100% sure this is yours, Olive?” was the worst I came up against, like I couldn’t write something that good without plagiarising. Even as a kid I used relatively big words that teachers didn’t think I should necessarily know yet, but that was because, yes, I was that student who read 300+ books every year; I was that grammar whiz, that spelling freak. I was that unholy child who teachers didn’t know what to do with. And I am proud of it.

Marking slowly

I’ve never met a student who didn’t mind when their teacher took more than two weeks to mark an assignment. There are no rules at school to say that teachers have to mark that fast but at university there are – lecturers are required to return marked assignments within three weeks of the due date.

But whether there are deadlines on marking or not, it is common courtesy as a teacher to put students out of their misery and get those marks out there so students can either breathe that massive sigh of relief and move on, or have that massive groan moment and move on.

It’s nerve-wracking as a student to think about your grades and I know many people who carefully tallied up exactly how much they could afford to pass or fail of each subject and they were the ones who were most desperate to find out their results, even while playing it cool and saying they didn’t care.

Being disorganised

This one is a pet peeve of mine. As I mentioned before, I was the high achieving student that teachers never quite knew what to do with. However, most teachers either gave me extra work, maybe started me on the next year’s course, or they let me be to do my homework quietly in the corner and help them do their job by explaining to the other students what the teacher meant in their long-winded explanations of simple concepts.

But, there were the inevitable one or two teachers who were never organised. Actually, the one I’m thinking of right now wasn’t even organised for our normal classes let alone giving me more advanced work. And, to make matters worse, he didn’t appreciate me doing homework in his class. He seemed to think I should pay attention and answer all the questions even though there were others in the class who needed far more help than I did.

Maybe a positive lesson to take away from this would be to know your students?

Nobody likes a tyrant

In saying this, there is definitely a place for being strict and decisive in your classroom. When I use the word tyrant, I mean taking it to the extreme. For example, when a teacher demands all work be completed in total silence – there is not a student I know who doesn’t like to chat in class while getting their work done.

Most teachers tend to permit chatting so long as it is on topic and this is beneficial to students because it is in the exchange of ideas and opinions on the task at hand that generates creativity in the classroom and tends to promote a better result. When a teacher demands absolute silence, it is done under protest with frowns and stares and generally promotes the passing of notes in class which really is detrimental since they’re writing notes instead of assignments.

What is your idea of a bad teacher? Did I miss something out? Share in the comments.

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