Is it Ever Okay to Have a Bad Teacher?

I attended a local committee meeting this evening where it was suggested that it might be okay for kids to have bad teachers so they learn to “live with it”, that in “real life” (whatever that means) they are going to have to deal with less than adequate coworkers, bosses, peers, etc. and that by having a bad teacher or two, they will be better equipped to “deal with it”.   There are so many things wrong with that thinking…

First, there is an assumption that the child will emerge from their year of poor teaching with the same skills and concepts that a child in an excellent or even average teacher’s class will have.  We know that is not the case, moreover, we know that economically disadvantaged and minority students are more susceptible to losing ground academically due to below average teachers than their peers.  The assumption that these students will be better off because they learn to “deal with it” is completely off base because they may not be able to get to that place due to academic deficits that they have to overcome.  How can we accurately measure their ability to “deal with it” if we didn’t ensure that we gave them all the tools they need to reach their potential?

Which leads to my second point, don’t we have an obligation to make sure our students reach their potential?  I know that it sounds rather naive and idealistic of me, but to be so blatant as to dismiss cognitive development and assume that a student will “learn to deal with it” is irresponsible and I think one could argue malpractice.

Finally, our teachers are role models as much as they are educators.  Students emulate their teachers, and if they see a lack of professionalism, an inability to perform a job adequately, and perhaps worst of all, a lack of passion for one’s profession, they will grow up doing the same.  In a world where good role models are not always found at home, we have a responsibility to ensure that our students learn from them while in school.

And, oh by the way, as a parent I’m going to fight like hell to make sure my children don’t have that teacher, as an administrator I need to make sure that I force any of my families to have to take on that fight.

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7 Responses to Is it Ever Okay to Have a Bad Teacher?

  1. Becky says:

    Hi Tony,

    I really enjoyed reading this. You make an excellent point!

  2. Hi, Tony,

    If we believe that our work is to encourage the unlimited potential of every child, then a year with a bad teacher can be a waste of so many opportunities for learning. I agree with you, Tony. My children are grown but I want the children at our school to all have the benefit of an excellent teacher.

    If we believe this to be true, then what obligation do we have to help teachers be their best? I have tried to build a staff of competent and highly skilled teachers. I support our least experienced staff and I try to engage our veteran teachers in reflective conversations about practice.

    Our students deserve every opportunity to learn.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Hi Karen.

      Hope all is well. You are absolutely right, we need to help our less skilled teachers not necessarily for their sake, but for that of each of the students that may be assigned to that classroom. I’m not sure how we as administrators can find comfort in assigning students to teachers we know are sub par. If we don’t do our best to improve the quality of teaching in that classroom, are we not guilty of malpractice, much like the teacher who makes little effort to reach all students?

  3. Mike says:

    This post made me think too, Tony, about some of the “bad” teachers that I had. One was just not a nice person; one was totally incompetent. Luckily I had some great teachers too. I agree with you that we have to do everything we can to have teachers who want to be in the classroom. Maybe that goes for everyone in an educational position. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Patrick says:

    That is crazy to look the other way on bad teachers. The studies have shown over and over as to the effect that a quality teacher has upon students. For example, “Hanushek (1992) found “that all else equal, a student with a very high-quality teacher will achieve a learning gain of 1.5 grade level equivalents, while a student with a low-quality teacher will achieve a gain of only 0.5 grade level equivalents.”

    Our kids do need to learn resilience, but I do not think that accepting a sub-par teacher should be one of the ways that they learn this. We are continually asking students to become more proficient so I think that it only makes sense that their teachers should be doing the same.

    If you need more community members for any of your work please let me know.

  5. Caroline says:

    Tony, make sure you put parameters around the definition of “bad” teacher. I can think of one instance where my teaching style – very hands on, project based, multiple activities within a class period, lots of subjective (as opposed to black and white) questioning – was a horrendous fit with one particular student. It was a disaster, in fact. Was I a ‘bad’ teacher for that student? Absolutely. In fact, he had to be removed from my class. But the rest of the class needed and thrived on that kind of instruction. Needless to say, this student’s parents had a very low opinion of me, and I don’t blame them. So how would you define what makes a ‘bad’ teacher? One who can’t reach every student?

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