Monday, May 19, 2014

Bad Teachers and Good Teachers

Bad teachers boil my blood.

I spoke with a student teacher today who had a horrific experience with his mentor teacher. This teacher didn't plan lessons, showed up after class had started, and had a horribly creepy habit of soliciting hugs from middle school girls as he walked down the hall. Yikes.

The number of truly bad teachers one comes across is small in my experience. Yet the damage they do to children, to learning, and to my profession can be immeasurable. Learning is awesome, and if it isn't, there is something wrong in the delivery. Teachers need to have something good for their students every day.  Something that challenges, engages, and excites them.  

What challenged, engaged, and excited you in school? You probably didn't think of filling out worksheet after worksheet, or coloring in countries on a map. You definitely didn't picture reading out of the textbook every day.

A typical day in my freshman geography class.
No, you probably thought of those teachers who made learning fun. Who taught you in a variety of ways. And that you knew cared about you.

What makes a bad teacher? Mostly someone who doesn't care. Someone who has the system figured out so they can collect a check every month with little sweat. People who care, but can't  handle a classroom or don't know their subject material are rarer, since the difficulty and frustration of the job usually wash them out quickly.

So why are there bad teachers? I'm not sure if this is the whole answer, but I do know it's damn hard to fire a teacher. Especially after our three years probationary period is up. Teaching can be a pretty easy job if I'm copy worksheets to give the kids every day. I'm not saying lets dismantle union protections, but if we want to demand better pay and more benefits, there needs to be a way to get rid of those teaches that don't do what they're supposed to and aren't working to get better. That's why I'm all for performance pay, teachers who care will have nothing to worry about.

If you're a teacher and reading this, you might be thinking "Am I a bad teacher?" The answer: probably not. Teaching takes a little bit of skill, a little bit of knowledge, and a whole bunch of caring. A struggling teacher is not a bad teacher. If you love working with kids and care about them learning and growing, then you're probably a good teacher.

That doesn't mean you won't make mistakes, have really bad days, or feel like a bad teacher on occasion. My first year was so tough I had to write "I am a good teacher" on my bathroom mirror. Even now, I look back and cringe at mistakes I made. Lessons that bombed, classroom discipline that went awry. I even ripped the crotch in my pants once right in front of the class stepping up on a chair. Seven years later, I still teach a lesson and think ,"well, that sucked."

I'd go so far as to say if you think, "I'm a bad teacher" and it makes you sad because you want to be a good teacher, then you are not a bad teacher. Because you care. A defining characteristic of the bad teacher: he/she does not care.

Good teachers learn from each experience, and work hard enough to fix their mistakes so they don't happen again.  One of the coolest things I've ever seen in my profession is the growth of a math teacher I know.  Starting out, he struggled with pretty much everything.  But I've never met a more self-reflective and hard working person.  He puts in countless hours planning better lessons and now he teaches the best middle school math class I've ever seen. He made math fun for them, and in doing so got them to care about it. Now not only do kids love going to his class, his test scores are shooting through the roof.

That's the kind of teacher our communities can be proud of. Why accept anything less?

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