What Makes a Bad Teacher?

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.

Posted in Legacy.


  1. I don’t like to disagree with you. Mainly because I don’t disagree with you very often at all. My only concern is that, while you do make a very good point that most bad teachers as bad students, I don’t think you really got into anymore depth. There are many professors and k-12 teachers alike who were most likely ideal students, does this make them good teachers automatically? There are many other factors, I think, that are left out. Like overall care for students beyond a paycheck, very clear grading requirements, organization skills, use of technology, favoriteing (sp?), how with it the teacher is and how they can relate to students, on and on the list goes. I know you had some peers in your classes that irked you because of their laziness and carelessness, which makes this post seem to me like less of an explanation of a bad teacher and more of an outlet for a rant. Like I said I don’t disagree with you, I was just looking for more I guess :p.

    • I don’t disagree that I could have gone more in-depth, but I find this is a topic that’s sorely overlooked. In education courses, which anyone who is considering childhood education or secondary education must take, details such as lesson planning skills, implementing technological classroom hybridization, different pedagogical approaches (e.g. classical education vs. progressive education), balancing diverse classrooms, etc. Failing to understand or implement these various forms of training are all ways to become a bad teacher. Yet, those of us who have taken education courses will probably have a greater familiarity with these topics, and I suppose this was tailored a bit more to that audience. Again, this is something I find is overlooked–when a professor of an education course sees a student slacking off, why doesn’t he or she intervene? Instead, the student is permitted to plod along and is then in a position of power when he/she becomes a teacher. There needs to be a call to action–a reformation to help assure these bad teachers are stopped before they even become teachers and mess up the aforementioned topics.

      However, that said, all the things you’ve mentioned go into teaching. I haven’t had years of teaching experience, by any means, so I don’t want to pretend I have the end-all-be-all answers to teaching. I know some professors who would just walk in without a lesson plan and they were amazing. I know others who did the same thing and were horrible. I know some professors who graded, some who didn’t, some who were strict, some who were lenient. Some who were passionate about their subjects, but bored me to death (even when I loved the subject). But all of the best teachers/professors I’ve had possessed these traits:

      1) Smile/laugh/chuckle a lot. A cordial demeanor goes a long way.
      2) Doesn’t take him/herself too seriously, but seriously enough to maintain authority. Wearing jeans and kicking your feet up on the desk is fine if you have a personality that demands attention. If you don’t, you can’t do that because you need to command authority. If you make a mistake though, fess up. With students using laptops/phones/iPads in class, they’ll find out quickly if you’re lying, and you then lose their trust.
      3) Has an affirmative attitude, even while correcting. When a student flubs up, say something like “That’s a great start, but did you think about this?” It sets them on the right track without making them feel like a tool.

      Bad professors/teachers I’ve had basically fall into these categories (plus, of course, the opposite of the aforementioned traits):
      1) Inconsistent through the semester (unless something major occurs in his/her life that would justify it). You can’t start with detailed syllabi and assignments and then do nothing at the end. Likewise, you can’t forget to have students complete the required 10 pages of writing until the last class. Have a plan, stick to it. If you can’t, it’s always better to plan too much and cut back than too little and add more.
      2) Shut down discussion. Some teachers not only love the sound of their own voices, but they belittle students for their naive ideas. A freshman undergrad will never know as much as a well-researched-published-scholar. A teacher shouldn’t act like students should know things like the Great Vowel Shift in Medieval England in their first semester.
      3) Resist technology completely/embraces it too openly. There are some teachers who refuse to use technology because it is evil and non-academic. Then there are teachers who are like “OMG AMAZING” and have Twitter discussions in the classroom instead of face-to-face discussions (no joke). Hybridization is REALLY HARD to implement and you need to be clear cut not only in your goals but how adding the technology supplements the students’ learning.

      Those are just some quick things I’ve run into. There are no exact requirements for a good or a bad teacher because each student will have a different perspective. I only hope that we can start catching them and either push them harder or weed them out before they run a classroom. Hope this clears things up, Joe. 🙂

  2. I enjoyed the discussion and agree with your points. I’m a teacher and always try to realize student’s mentality. I think knowing the way of students learning ways is very crucial for any teacher and I tried to follow this way as much I can. Dude I appreciate you for sharing and will not follow such way what makes a bad teacher. Thanks 🙂

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