Probably the most anticipated information at the beginning of every school year is the name of your child’s teacher. This isn’t surprising since teachers hold a tremendous amount of power regarding how the year will play out, for your child…and you.
It’s unnerving to think examples of bad teachers exist and that your child will likely encounter one, if not more, in his or her school experience. It’s probable that you have, too. You need to be able to recognize these five examples of bad teachers and have a plan for what to do when it happens.
Before proceeding, it should be acknowledged that not all teachers are bad. Like any profession, there are those who do their job well and those who don’t. I’m simply focusing on the latter. And of course, this excludes anyone who is criminal in their profession. Those aren’t bad teachers; those are bad people, and there is a difference.
Table of Contents
1. The Slacker Teacher
Movie makers don’t usually create movies about teachers who slack in the profession, or are lazy. That’s not the typical view of teachers that first comes to most people’s mind. However, in my 20 plus years of teaching, I have encountered this teacher example more times than not, to be honest.
Slacker Teacher Phase
The good news is that the slacker teacher is usually just a phase that many teachers go through. Slacking, or work laziness, often surfaces from an imbalance between work and home. The teacher might go through a phase of slacking or laziness, which doesn’t span her entire teaching career, but is instead a result of big life changes.
For example, if the teacher is getting married, she might be spending a lot of time planning the wedding. Or if she recently had a baby, she may be suffering from a lack of sleep. Those are big life changes and can take its toll on an otherwise hardworking teacher.
A teacher might experience financial struggles at some part in her career, as it’s common knowledge the teacher pay scale is often challenging. If a teacher takes on a second or part-time job to subsidize her teacher’s pay, then it makes sense that the teacher is overly tired and might look for classroom short-cuts.
It might take awhile before this newly-minted slacker teacher comes to terms with the new changes and additional responsibilities in her life. Hopefully, it doesn’t take all school year-for your child’s sake!
Permanent Slacker Teacher
Yes, it’s true. Teachers can be lazy, too. In fact, some teacher’s pick the teaching profession in the first place because they think it will allow them to slack off. They are enticed by supposedly shorter hours, summers and major holidays off, and the idea of tenure.
But once they actually start the job, they realize there’s a lot more to sustaining it. So then, the slacker teacher has to figure out ways to do less while staying under the principal’s radar!
The Slacker Teacher Doesn’t Like to Communicate
If you’re unlucky and happen to get this teacher, you’ll find that he doesn’t respond to your communication attempts on the first or even second try. Often, this teacher will ignore you completely (unless you go over his head and contact the administrator).
The slacker teacher also won’t communicate much to you, either. Most proficient teachers send home a beginning of the year syllabus, along with a weekly ‘communication folder’ (to learn more about the significance of communication folders, check out this other article in my Education series). If you don’t receive these, then you might have a slacker teacher.
The Slacker Teacher Plans Haphazardly, or Not at All
The lazy, slacker teacher doesn’t plan well, if at all. He will reuse the previous year’s material with the excuse, it worked then, so why change it?
However, research like this article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) show that you must have your current students’ needs and interests in mind when lesson planning. Reusing old plans without modification doesn’t do that.
The real reason the slacker teacher uses last year’s plans is not because they were effective. It’s because it’s easy.
The lazy teacher will grab extra worksheets from the copier instead of creating material on his own, or even researching to find fresh worksheets tailored to his new students.
I can’t tell you how many times I’d go to the teacher’s lounge to pick up my morning copies only to find them missing. Or I’d finish making my copies and another teacher would pass me in the hall and ask for one to use for his own class without having even looked at them.
What to do about the Slacker Teacher
If you encounter the slacker teacher, I hope it is at least the temporary kind. Generally, you will typically know this by reputation. Ask around to get an impression about your child’s teacher.
You can start in the office; often the secretaries are quite honest, if not in words because they don’t want to be accused of ‘bad-mouthing’ staff, then in their body language. A smirk, eye roll, or shoulder shrug are all quite telling without a single word emitted.
After checking with the office staff, you can get involved with the PTA. At PTA events, you’ll have multiple opportunities to talk with other parents, as well as a few super-involved staff. Gently approach the subject. I suggest simply saying who your child’s teacher is and getting their feedback.
If your teacher is simply in the slacker phase, count your blessings and be patient. Often simply resending notes or asking your teacher their communication preference will be enough to kick your teacher in high gear.
However, if your teacher is the consummate slacker, you have bigger problems. Make an appointment to meet the teacher (use the principal if your teacher balks at setting an appointment); you should come prepared with your main concerns and questions.
Most importantly, this step will set a tone as an involved parent and it will at least let your teacher know you’re paying attention. I’ve found that parents who do this will get the most out of the slacker teacher-for their child.
2. The Mean-Spirited Teacher
I think every one of us can conjure up in our minds a mean teacher, someone we either had in our school history or someone we heard about but was fortunate enough to dodge.
I have a few, in fact. One was Mrs. M, my ninth grade English teacher. She brought me to tears one day as she picked away at my dramatic reading of a picture book. She refused to let me sit down until I did it ‘just so.’ I don’t remember anything about expression, intonation, or whatever I was supposed to learn from the activity. All I remember is feeling horrible in front of my peers and never wanting to do that again!
Mrs. M may have been a ‘good teacher’ as far as content was concerned, but she didn’t show it with her harsh treatment of me on that day (or on the many other days she picked on students besides me).
There are two types of mean teachers. There’s the moody teacher and then there’s the teacher who is just mean all the time.
Moody Mean Teacher
As a teacher, as well as a student, I think I prefer the always mean teacher over the moody mean teacher. The moody mean teacher just gets your hopes up one day, only to Hulk-smash them down the next! You never know what you’re going to get with the moody mean teacher and I find that uncertainly too much to deal with on a regular basis.
The moody mean teacher can be so great! She is often full of exciting teaching strategies and her students have such fun learning…on some days.
However, the slightest thing can set her off on a verbal tirade. It’s like getting sucker-punched. You just didn’t know to expect it!
The moody mean teacher is also able to hide her mean side much of the time, since it’s only ‘here and there.’ In fact, she doesn’t always know she’s a mean teacher- she just thinks she’s being strict or has high expectations; those are her reasons for being mean.
As a push in specialist for part of my teaching career, I worked in lots of other teachers’ classrooms. I float into one teacher’s room for an hour or so; then move on to another teacher’s for an hour more or less, and continue this pattern until my teaching day was done.
This gave me access to a lot of teachers’ style, mannerisms, and instructional competency. It also made my privy to mean teachers. One in particular, fell into this category of the moody mean teacher.
From day to day, I didn’t know what to expect. I found myself as scared of her as the students were. She’d berate students for misusing a pencil (literally, holding it wrong! I mean, really?!) one moment and then, pass out Cheez-its the next. Go figure!
She always had a way of complimenting my teaching while also questioning every thing I did. Like those students, I stuck it out for the year, but vowed I’d never push in to her room again, and I didn’t!
The Always Mean Teacher
Now it’s not to say the always mean teacher is any better than the moody mean teacher! Yes, you know what to expect, but that happens to mean expecting the worst!
These are typically those teachers who pride themselves on being able to give the look. You know…the look that would stop Freddy Krueger in his tracks!
These teachers run what they call a tight ship. Their classrooms are always quiet and the students are always sitting up straight. Missing homework is never excusable (even if the teacher doesn’t grade it!). Even though taking away recess is illegal in almost every state, somehow it still happens in her class.
The mean teacher thinks it’s okay because she never has classroom discipline problems (probably why the administrator hasn’t stopped her yet…unless he’s afraid of her too!). She can command any room with a voice barely above a whisper.
She calls it rigorous but really, her students don’t learn any better than a good teacher’s. In fact, often her students are so afraid of asking questions and being made fun of, that they don’t make adequate progress either, as supported by this study found in the International Journal of Research on Environmental Health.
The real reason the mean teacher is mean is, well,…it’s just her personality. Other teachers don’t like her, either. They know she’s mean and when it’s time to make classroom recommendations, they demonstrate this by putting all the shy, quiet students in other rooms.
What to do about the Mean Teacher
If you notice, whether from your child’s first days or by reputation, that your child is assigned the Mean Teacher, I strongly suggest you demand a classroom move. Run, don’t walk, to the principal’s office!
And when asked why, be frank. But include any evidence you can to support your impression so that it looks like you’ve done your homework.
Administrators really want to make you happy. It’s true. Happy parents don’t cause problems for them. They support the school, participate in fundraisers, join the PTA, and don’t clog up their email and office!
If you explain clearly your concerns, and end it with a cautionary sentence about how it is best emotionally for your child, your request will most likely be granted. Now, it doesn’t mean you can choose the teacher/classroom your child will be moved to, but at least you’ll be saving him or her from what’s probably the worst teacher on the grade level!
3. The I-Just-Want-You-To-Like-Me Teacher
Truth be told, this is how most teachers started when fresh out of college. And honestly, don’t we all harbor some inner desire about wanting to be liked?
But it’s a bit more than that that leads us to the ‘best friend teacher’ or the ‘I-Just-Want-You-To-Like-Me teacher!
This teacher may actually be well-liked, but her students suffer academically because her priorities are misplaced. There are two main ways to know if your child has the unlucky privilege of being assigned to the ‘just like me’ teacher.
Everyday-is-“Fun Friday” Teacher
Your child has probably rambled excitedly about fun Friday events. Many teachers like to build enthusiasm for lessons throughout the week with the dangling carrot of extra special activities on Friday.
I’ve done this, too.
As you probably remember from your own school days, learning isn’t always fun…engaging…or even just slightly above boring. Teachers also have to figure out ways to keep bored students well-behaved. So, fun Friday events help motivate.
Teachers structure their fun Fridays differently. Some include puzzle afternoons or paint lessons. Many just add an extra recess. The momentum built outweighs any administrator concerns, so it’s not usually a problem.
The problem occurs when teachers start adding fun activities beyond fun Fridays. And theses activities don’t have anything to do with their grade-level content.
The class uses popsicle sticks or clay for days…building structures. It’s disguised as science and math learning through art, but the students won’t be able to tell you any scientific principles or math concepts being used.
The class will go on nature walks but really it’s just more recess.
The class will always watch the movie after reading the book, even if they don’t finish the book. In fact, the teacher doesn’t assign books to read unless they have an accompanying movie.
And he likes to give out candy- though we all know that’s not allowed in today’s hyper-sensitive environment about obesity and allergies.
The Best Friend Teacher
The best friend teacher spends more time talking about himself than about content. The students pick up on this quite quickly, at least the middle and high school ones do.
You can easily get this teacher off track by asking about his past weekend, or upcoming weekend plans. I remember my friends and I could always get our high school government teacher off track by mentioning Jane Fonda. He’d take off on a rant about how she’s a traitor, and we’d sit back and relax the rest of the class period!
By oversharing their personal lives and perspectives, the best friend teacher has misinterpreted the research regarding relationship building as a means to get to know your students, to curb behavior problems and promote learning. For example, this study from the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Psychology makes a correlation between positive teacher-student relationships and student academic success.
However, it also includes a piece about tying student interests into the lesson plans and incorporating student input into learning activities. It does not side-line instruction!
What to do about the Best Friend Teacher
Even though your child will probably disagree, make no mistake: the best friend teacher is not a good teacher. He lets his need for his students to like him super cede his teaching responsibilities. And this is to the academic detriment of his students (your child).
If you are able, I suggest requesting a classroom change, especially if your child has learning gaps. Remaining in this teacher’s classroom will only cause your child to fall further behind.
If for some reason you aren’t able to have your child moved, then try to fill in gaps or supplement learning on your own. You can invest in a tutor or by additional supporting material. Amazon is always reliable for low-cost workbooks.
4. The Preacher Teacher
The Preacher Teacher is the teacher who uses her instruction as an opportunity to express, and elevate, her social, political, and religious ideologies.
Often this is done through the guise of current events teaching or community building. I’ve seen teachers tell children who their parents should vote for, as well as demean the president in office.
I’ve also heard teachers make statements that she and I both know are in contradiction of several students’ practicing religion.
Sometimes the teacher will infuse meditation, yoga, and mindfulness within their classroom routines, like to start the day or before test-taking (to learn more about mindfulness, you might like to read this article by my husband, Mat Booe.)
This is all with the supposed intention of helping students cope and de-stress. But these practices aren’t academic, and often are parts of religions that are separate than the religions of students. Nonetheless, school is about academics, not including religious practices as everyday routines.
The real danger of this is that it is not part of the curriculum and goes under-the-radar. Unless your child comes home and details every moment of the day, parents are often left in the dark about these hidden inclusions within the day.
As well, the preacher teacher sees this as a heightened importance of their job- that they are teaching their students about ‘what really matters’, sometimes knowingly in direct opposition to what families live and practice. And this takes the place of math, reading, science, and what teachers should actually be doing!
What to do about the Preacher Teacher-
Initially, you could ask for a change in classroom placement just like with the procedure to move from the Mean Teacher’s classroom. I strongly urge this if your child is in elementary school as he or she would be under this teacher’s guidance quite substantially (elementary teachers are with their students most of the school day and responsible for teaching all core instruction).
If your child is in middle or high school, and he or she finds themselves in a Preacher Teacher’s classroom, I think you consider a few things before requesting a change: what subject is affected (what does the teacher ‘teach’?)? and how will the request affect the remainder of the student schedule?
If you opt to keep your child in the teacher’s classroom, then I have a few suggestions. First, introduce yourself to the teacher and let him know you stay involved (attend all school meetings, join the PTA, etc.). Second, keep track of what’s going on in the classroom; talk to your child regularly about what he or she is studying, especially if it seems they aren’t making much progress or the curriculum is moving at a reasonable pace.
And if you have any concerns about the material, contact the teacher promptly with your questions.
5. The Class-Is-Out-Of-Control Teacher
Classroom management is a foundation for good teaching. Without a suitable learning environment (i.e. calm, safe, and secure), teachers aren’t able to teach effectively and students can’t learn.
When it comes to classroom management deficiencies, there are basically two types of teachers: new and inexperienced lacking classroom management and the veteran who never got a handle on effective classroom management.
New and Lacks Classroom Management
If your child gets a new teacher, more than likely that teacher will face a learning curve herself when it comes to managing the classroom effectively. There is a lot that goes into a well-managed classroom, more than anyone can learn from even the best teacher-prep program.
The new teacher will be expected to figure this out on the job!
How long this takes if often what separates the good teachers from the bad.
Veteran and Lacks Classroom Management
The other type of teacher who struggles with classroom management is the veteran teacher who never grasped it or hasn’t learned to tweak his strategies as times changed.
This teacher probably always struggled, often loses things, and is not prepared for class, even though he’s probably knowledgeable in his subject matter. He just doesn’t know how to implement successful strategies to engage students and minimize discipline.
Sometimes this teacher started out well, but over the years, lost his ability to command a room. He’s either stuck in a rut or hasn’t kept up with modern influences in order to motivate students. Basically, he’s boring.
What to do about the Class-Is-Out-Of-Control Teacher
If your child ends up in a room of a new teacher who struggles to maintain student attention, I recommend patience. Usually these teachers either leave teaching abruptly and you’ll get another chance with the change, or they eventually learn some techniques and improve before the school year is over.
Often administrators will provide traininig for their new teachers in areas of management, too, so this is another reason to expect improvement before too much time is lost.
However, if you get the other kind: the veteran still struggling…that’s a different story. I think these teachers are some of the worst, mainly because as veterans, they’re disguised as good teachers, simply for hanging in so long. To me, this just means they’ve negatively affected more students…not something to celebrate.
If your child expresses concern about his veteran teacher lacking control, you should investigate quickly. Often high school veteran teachers are in charge of important content (they ‘earned’ that level simply through time) and you don’t want to waste a minute of your high schooler’s education.
If you find evidence to support this concern, then again, schedule a meeting with the administrator to move your child. Even if it affects your child’s other classes through a change of schedule, it’s worth it. After a week or so of transition time, your child will be better off with a schedule that supports learning.
Wrapping Up 5 Examples of Bad Teachers
As a teacher in public, charter, and homeschool, I’ve had a lot of experience in different settings. I’ve also taught in multiple states and at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. This experience has provided me a look at different types of teachers.
For the most part, your child will have supportive, caring, hardworking, and bright teachers. However, it is almost certain, she will also encounter a bad one. Above I’ve shared my ideas of the five most typical examples of bad teachers. I hope it helps you when they cross your child’s educational path!