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What a Difference a Teacher Makes: The Bad

September 29, 2009

Unlike my last post in which I was happy to use real names (What a Difference a Teacher Makes:  The Good) I will change the names of the guilty in this post for reasons that shall quickly become apparent.  Regardless, I suspect that my fellow Thunderbirds will recognize one of the following teachers, and would not be surprised if everyone else reading this recognizes a teacher or two from their own past, in spirit if not in flesh.

“Mr. Feline,” my sixth grade music teacher, had issues.  No, really.  He was an angry, angry man with an uncontrollable spitting problem and a toupee that looked like Cruella de Ville manufactured it from roadkill and then stored it in an oil drum for several years before pawning it off.  I remember it flopped up once to expose his actual head which, unfortunately, was not an improvement (still gives me nightmares.)  He was supposed to teach me how to play the violin (my mother’s idea – not mine).  He yelled, he belittled, he berated and he made nasty jokes about students that resulted in more than one tearful exodus from the music room.  He and I took an instant dislike to each other (in all fairness to me I think he took an instant dislike to everyone he met) and my mother’s dreams for her own personal little Itzhak Perlman went downhill from there.  Rapidly.

“Madame X” was a perfectly pleasant foreign-language teacher at my high school.  Perfectly pleasant, and yet she was still a bad teacher.  She was a bad teacher because she was more interested in being our friend than she was in actually teaching.  We…I mean, certain people…cut her class all the time, after checking in for roll call.  We…er, they…would simply get up with a flimsy excuse (“I need to go to the bathroom,” “I need to brush my hair,” “I think I hear my mom outside in the hall”) and then disappear until five minutes before the period ended.  No one ever got called on it.  Those of us who stayed in class didn’t learn anything anyway, as there was no discipline, no respect for the teacher, no actual teaching or learning going on.  On the bright side we did have pizza delivered to the class on a regular basis and were once treated to “Jimmy McFee” returning from the bathroom with his underwear worn outside his pants (he’d forgotten it was inside-out day and wanted to participate despite lack of preparation).

I had a Communications prof in college who managed to make it through an entire semester without stringing three or more words together that actually made sense.  I suspect he may have used Mad Libs to prep his lectures, and the notes and diagrams he wrote on the board might as well have been written in Klingon.  I remember distinctly looking at my own notes and thinking, “What the hell does this mean?”  Honestly, to this day I can’t tell you what the gist of the class was.  To add insult to injury, he never actually graded anything.  We had one big end-of-semester project which we presented to the rest of the class in teams; we, the students, graded each team’s performance.  AND it was on a bell curve, so of course the team with the cutest girls got the top grade (there were a lot of football players in the class) while the rest of us who had worked hard and actually done a good job but couldn’t claim to have been beaten with a pretty stick ended up with B’s or worse.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.

My daughter tangled with a bad teacher a couple of years ago, in the fourth grade.  “Mrs. Ratchet” would probably make a fine high school teacher.  She was stern and exacting to a painful fault, which I have no problem with except for the fact she teaches elementary school children.  Isn’t there a law that all elementary school teachers should be at least a little bit warm and fuzzy?  Mrs. Ratchet was the opposite.  She was cold, unkind and downright mean.  It quickly became clear to me that she absolutely detested kids, and there was a chip on her shoulder the size of  Donald Trump’s can of hairspray.  I often wondered why on earth she had chosen to be a teacher, because she clearly hated every minute of it.  And my daughter’s grades suffered.  That year they were an aberration (several C’s and very low marks for effort) and trying to get her to do her homework was a daily nightmare of tears, whining and frustration.

Bad teachers suck, for lack of a better word (sorry, mom).  Thank goodness they are outnumbered by those who love their chosen profession and excel at educating children.  Otherwise I don’t think I would have made it past sixth grade.

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