Bad Teachers


I don’t want to sound disrespectful. I know the good ones won’t take it personally because this doesn’t apply to them. But I’m tired of pretending that all teachers (or soldiers) are heroes.

Sure their jobs are important. But not as important as our false reverence suggests. The truth is: classmates are more powerful than most instructors, in terms of challenging us and making us who we become. The fact is: no teacher is better than a bad teacher, just like no dad is better than a bad one.

I had a few wonderful teachers. I’ve mentioned a couple of them by name in earlier posts (Seaman, Borup). They ran my 1st and 5th grades. I remember a good one from junior high, although the name escapes me, and I was impressed with Tino Lavezzo and Mr. Bachelor at Redwood. Probably I’m misspelling their names; they taught social sciences and senior math, respectively. At Cal I was lucky to study Greek under horny old Joe Fontenrose, I took some important advice from my Comp Lit professor, and John McWilliams (who never got tenure) was the English professor from whom I learned the most.

Have you counted? That’s eight saints. Out of guess how many instructors? My quick tally yields about 120, from kindergarten through attainment of my BA degree. I conclude that I enjoyed about 7% great teaching and over 93% mediocre or worse. I don’t think my experience was much different from that of most students. Is this acceptable? Maybe …

It wasn’t any better when I became a parent, and saw the teachers my children had. In general they were a bunch of whiners, moaning about how hard their jobs were and begging for pencils.

The most appalling condition I encountered was teacher ignorance. My kids were bright but challenging, so notes were sent home. Just about every one had misspellings or grammar gaffes. Most of the teachers threw hissy fits about minor acts of rebellion – they just couldn’t take it any more – well okay, I thought, but get yourself out of the classroom until you’re better; it’s time for the teacher to take a time-out or sign a behavior “contract.”

The best/worst came from a junior high math teacher. She was very frustrated about a proposed save-the-district 5% pay cut. “It’s really not fair in my case,” she complained. “My husband teaches in the district, too. So for our family it’s 10%.”

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