We Need Better Teachers - pt. A

At least 50% of the people I've taught with have been bad teachers.  

It wasn't something I noticed right away.  Your first few years teaching, you're too busy to notice.  But once I knew what I was doing, I was able to recognize those who did not.  And once I started noticing, it became very hard to stop.  Bad teachers are typically vocal, often brag about their class without being asked, and are a major reason our educational system is failing.  Bad teachers often have these things in common: they're unkempt, they're terrible listeners, they believe they are the center of the classroom, and they are not active in their field.   

Why I got into teaching was a blend of the summers off and my love of books.  I thought it would be good to be interacting with literature on a daily basis, and I could have the summers to write.  That has always been, and is still, my goal.  I like high school kids, and interacting with them, so it was a good fit in a lot of ways.  I chose the subject of English because I love the written word.  Words, grammar, sentence structure, all of it is interesting to me.  So, whenever a student or colleague would ask why I wanted to be a teacher, I gave some variation of that answer.  When I did, often something odd would happen that may go like this:

"I got in to teaching for my love of books, and so I could have the summers off to write," I'd share.

Another English teacher would say, "I love reading, too."

"Cool," I'd respond.  "Have you read anything good recently?"

Most of the time, maybe 80%, I'd be told, "Oh, I don't have time to read."

"What?" I'd reply, "really?"

They'd say this as a very natural thing, like they do not have the time to do a thing they love.  A thing they teach.  It's much worse with writing.  I've been actively working on something since 2004.  I can only remember two other teachers that have been doing the same.  When you get into other subjects, it gets much worse. The exception seems to be art, music, and (maybe) gym.  Art and music teachers are often creating things, or active in their fields, which makes their classes some of the best.  People will say they're fun because they're easy grades and electives, but I'd argue that it's because a passion naturally comes from a teacher that is active in his or her field.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a student to go to a class where their history teacher hasn't delved into history since college, their science teacher hasn't done an experiment since the lab, their math teacher hasn't been active except Sudoku, and their English teacher hasn't read a book.  

No joke.  

No wonder their classes suck.  

A bigger problem comes because these teachers think they're experts because they took 30 hours of college credits, but they haven't had any accomplishments or experience in their actual field.  

Here are a few examples:

  • I've taught with gym teachers so fat and out of shape that they couldn't run a mile, yet that person was giving grades for gym classes. 
  • I was in a planning seminar with an English teacher, working in the summer on curriculum; this teacher was doing other work instead of paying attention.  When it came time to share, she raised her hand and said, "I don't really like to plan.  Rather, I find inspiration on my way to work and it really motivates my students."  This teacher was serious and thought she was one of the best in the district.
  • One teacher was ten minutes late for every class, walked in and passed out worksheets, sat on the computer for the rest of class working on her side business, and gave her students (60-75%) failing grades.
  • One teacher gave all of her special ed students A's on their papers.  One was supposed to be a critical analysis of The Great Gatsby.  Her student wrote, "I really liked the book."  The teacher put an A on the paper, and posted it on the classroom wall.
  • One teacher handed out a worksheet of literary terms.  The teacher mispronounced the word, gave an errant example, and then proceeded to give the students E's, when they did it 'wrong'.
  • I worked with one teacher that wouldn't ever meet to plan class, but had no problem walking in late and 'teaching' the subject.
  • Another teacher would simply read aloud from a book, every single day, and when the chapter was over go over the worksheets with students.

I could go on.  

Two entries from now is one on heath and wellness, but the teaching staffs in many bad schools are some of the unhappiest people I've ever met.  Very few look alive, and even fewer are healthy.  These people should not be molding the youth.  

Teachers need to be actively pursuing their craft.  This could be listening to Podcasts, reading books/blogs, making art, working out / playing sports, writing, researching, taking classes.  If we're not getting better, we're getting passed up.  If this is you and you feel overworked, underpaid, or uninspired about it, do something else.  What? Be like Dan.