Bad teachers

We have all had good teachers and bad teachers. Most people clearly remember the horrible teachers and the fantastic teachers; there is a strange, easily identifiable, innate sense that these teachers are super or terrible. So why is it so difficult to determine where on the scale of terrible to fantastic teachers fall?

There is a current dilemma facing the world of education that is affecting teacher preparation programs, unions, and the upstart charter school programs: Bad teachers are keeping their jobs and not being forced to improve. One problem I have identified with this situation is, What exactly defines a bad teacher? It is certainly a far cry from the evaluation of students or parents, as my career experience has taught me that passing students are generally happy students (same for parents) (often, the same for administrators).

Which of these do you think defines a bad teacher?

  • When a teacher breaks local, state, or federal laws?
  • When a teacher is unprepared to educate students (no or virtually useless lesson plans, for example)?
  • When a teacher is unable to accurately assess student achievement?
  • When a teacher is not a master of the content and/or actively working to master the content that s/he is teaching?
  • When a teacher is incapable of managing the discipline in a classroom?
  • When a teacher does not love children?
Of those you choose from above, which are forgivable, in that the teacher should be offered professional development and mentorship to improve in that area and which are grounds for immediate termination? Furthermore, what amount of assistance should be offered and for how long should s/he be allowed to continue teaching?

A few additional questions worth pondering for this situation:

  • Who should determine which are the good/bad teachers? (Who should determine that those people are doing their jobs correctly?)
  • Is it better to assume teachers are good or bad until a preponderance of evidence might lead to their termination?
  • What responsibility do administrators hold in placing teachers in situations that lead to their failing to be successful, such as forcing a teacher that is good with K-2 kids to work in 4th grade because there is a greater need in that grade?
  • If there is little or no administrative support at the school or district level, how much responsibility can be placed on the teacher?

Please do not be so naive to think that just signing up to be a teacher means you can teach all kids all subjects (and all sub-subjects, such as Economics is a subset of Social Studies) at all levels under almost any circumstances at almost any time.

There are bad teachers and there are good teachers. What suggestions do you have for identifying them correctly and responding to their identification?

2 thoughts on “Bad teachers

  1. Wendy Tahill

    I wish I could respond at each paragraph or at each line. You put way too much for me to think about. You said that most people will remember the horrible and the terrific. Those teachers are at the opposite ends of the spectrum and these teachers elicited powerful emotions in people to be remembered in the first place, and even so, these feelings are in the end, opinions. In my opinion, my first grade teacher was a horrible teacher because she made me cry uncontrollably for something stupid like “talking”. I will never forget that feeling and how horrible I felt. I consider this single experience as the only criteria necessary to define this teacher as horrible. I do not care that she taught me how to read, I do not care that she taught me social skills to adapt and be successful in school. I do not care about the rest of the 187 days she taught me because those are “forgettable”. How she treated me is not forgettable. All that to say that we need a lot more than “feelings” to determine a teacher’s quality. It will require a very complex rubric or even a set of rubrics.


  2. brettrubicristian Post author

    Wendy –

    Thanks for the comment. That is an interesting perspective. I wonder how much of the identification process for administrators is emotional compared to specif rubric information. For example, some rubrics question whether a teacher is a good communicator with parents. Would the check mark for that box be based on parent contact logs, whether any parent has ever complained or raved about communications received by that teacher, comparisons with other teachers’ ability to communicate with parents, or a combination of many things including the “vibe” the administrator has on whether the teacher is a good communicator with parents. Many other elements on any teacher evaluation rubric leave themselves to being influenced by an emotional component. Many elements on a rubric may actually need to have an emotional component, as an evaluation seems to imply as least some degree of non-rational interpretation.



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