So frequently we have discussions about the qualities we should (and would like) to see in a “good” teacher. With Cameron Diaz’s Bad Teacher looming in the box office, however, I couldn’t help but wonder why we don’t discuss the traits that create a “bad” teacher. In the movie (which I have not seen, but have read summaries about), it seems the things she brings into the classroom are disdain for children, drug usage, heavy drinking, cheating, stealing state test exams, and blackmailing people.

Ok, that IS pretty bad.

But it’s not particularly realistic either. Teachers who are that abysmal get kicked pretty easily, or never even make it into the classroom. So what IS a bad teacher then? The simple answer is someone who doesn’t care or have a passion to teach. I find that it’s so much more than that though. So often I see Master’s students earning an MSEd who chat on Facebook in the classroom, never complete reading assignments, and cannot construct a 15-20 page paper. These students then become English teachers of our high school students. If we, ourselves, in the position of a student, cannot be bothered to put in the effort and work, why should we ever expect our students to do so? The thought of these lackadaisical peers of mine teaching my (future) children makes me want to hurl. And this, my friends, defines the beginning of a bad teacher to me.

Ok, I know what your counter-arguments are going to be.

  1. The people getting MSEds are frequently already working, which gives them little time to complete the work.
  2. The way a person functions as a student is not the way a person functions as a teacher.
  3. Your students will not be working on the same level as you (e.g. writing 20 page papers), so why worry?

And it’s these counterarguments that concern me. If you say “Oh I’m working, I don’t have time to complete the work,” you would have to allow your students to say the same, or you become a hypocrite and poor example. If you sit on FB in the classroom, you cannot honestly ask your students to not do the same. And unless you can show a far greater level of excellence than your students, why would they ever listen to you? Passion is nothing without intellect and integrity.

Before a bad teacher ever becomes a bad teacher, he or she is usually–from my experience anyway–a bad student. Of course, the buffer to prevent that is state certification exams and whatnot, but anyone who has ever taught a group of students knows that when the fire is lit under one’s butt, he or she will study and pass any exam pretty easily. But in the meantime, he or she will write papers chock-full of grammatical and syntactical errors with flaws in argumentation and progression–usually from sheer laziness moreso than a lack of understanding. He or she will get a B+ in the grad class and move on and teach.

Isn’t this horrifically sad to you? We so frequently allow mediocrity to become a leader, which only spreads more mediocrity. It’s a parasitic virus, spreading to and feeding from the ambitions and smarts of our children. If we want to stop this we, much like many things in the education system, need to reform. We need to demand more from our teachers BEFORE they are teachers. Push them to greater levels of excellence. I should never have to hear in my life that “I don’t really know why I want to be a teacher. I guess I was OK in AP English and decided to do that” from someone who is ALREADY teaching. We need to stop them before they ever get that far.

A bad teacher is, first and foremost, a bad student, and unless we–the “good” teachers of the world–demand from our students ethical, intellectual, and creative traits; we will do no more than raise crop after crop of increasingly poor teachers.