Bad Teachers Everywhere, All The Time, Even You

In my last post, there was a big conversation in other areas about this idea of “bad teachers” and whether I should have paid more attention to discussing “bad teachers.” Cameron Diaz notwithstanding, the term “bad teacher” is a super-sensitive topic, one I don’t wish to treat with kid gloves, but a fine-toothed comb, because it merits serious discussion, especially through a racial and class lens.

But let’s this out of the way: there are bad teachers.

There’s not any one definition of “bad teacher,” but bad teachers persist for a plethora of reasons, many of which can be found in unionized and non-unionized districts. Having a union probably makes this a harder conversation to have due to collective bargaining agreements and the like, but that’s not a bad thing either: good teachers need this imperfect protection more so. I just think when we have this discussion, it’s always in the context of urban epicenters and not through the lens of school itself, regardless of where your school is.

Everyone has the conversation in school, too. Who are the best teachers? Who are the worst? Why? In a staff of 40 teachers, people generally agree on one or two colleagues who could and should transition to other means of employ. It’s no diss, but they’ve either never been good to start, or lost the passion to do so wholeheartedly along the way. You may catch them sleeping in the teacher’s lounge not grading anything, or squawking at another kids to sit down for the life of them. They might be cursing at the kids, telling them to shut up and not to move a muscle, or cutting down colleagues for no other reason than giggles.

Teachers who deserve to get fired right on the spot.

But then there’s another level that merits discussion. There are the teachers who consistently tell kids that they’ll work at McDonald’s if they fail their classes, as if serving someone’s albeit plastic food is some sort of dishonor in a tough economy. There are the teachers who see a kid sweeping floors and determine that it’s because they’re destined to be janitors, never worrying how their schools stay clean. There are the teachers who consistently give their student low grades on an English paper because there’s no way the child knows how to speak that well given their upbringing and skin color. There are the teachers who advise their students not to go to the same college they attended, even when they had a perfect GPA and scholarship offers from the school, because these teachers don’t want their own institution to change from the way they remember it.

This happens far more than you know.

There’s a host of unreasonable behaviors, some of which don’t get addressed on any teacher framework that’s currently used to evaluate teachers. There are perfectly rated teachers who are perfectly racist teachers. They have great test scores, great pedagogy, great classroom management, and great animus towards the students in front of them. Are they bad then? This also makes me add multiple caveats to the diversification of the teaching profession too. This piece is a double-edged sword because people of color might want more teachers of color in classrooms, but what happens to teachers of color who teach in predominantly white institutions? We don’t have to go far back in history to see that, once administrators saw diversity in schools, they started to fire teachers of color in droves in retaliation against integration mandates.

Never mind that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep teachers in classrooms where the schools don’t function well. Who’s gonna fill those spots? Oh. Right.

Which leads me back to this idea of environment because, no matter how we slice the bad teacher, the environment in which they work mostly allows for it, either through lack of support for the teacher or helping the teacher transition towards another profession, either through self-realization / identification or administrators pinpointing. Then again, each school has to define what teacher qualities make a difference for their students, which would make the idea of “good” vs. “bad” relative from school to school.

For the rest of us who range anywhere from fantastic to working towards competent, we have to ask ourselves to reflect harder on whether our students see us as good or bad. Even those of us who think we’re absolved may not be.