Confession of a Bad Teacher

Today Time Magazine put out a cover with an apple on it. Hovering above the apple is a hammer, and on the side there is a lament that it is nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. The good news, (according to the graphic on the cover of said magazine) is that tech millionaires may have figured out a way to fire these “rotten apples.”

And I suppose that sounds nice, but less nice, when you know were one of those rotten apples, maybe still are.

I spent the first three years of my career being a bad teacher. I was doing the best I could, but I can tell you unequivocally that I was a massive failure. I was expected to be. I was told the first week that the year would be considered a success if I cam back the next year. Not quit. That was the bar that was put in front of me, and it took about everything I had to jump over it.

I was a rotten apple. There were days when my students didn’t learn anything. Days I put the assignment on the board and walked silently to my desk in utter defeat. This was after I asked for help, literally crying for help in my principal’s office. I was promised help that week and no one came.

I was a bad teacher. There were days I could not control my students. This was after I wrote a student up for mooning me and I was called in for a conference instead. Surely a child would not have shown me his bare butt if my lesson plans were better. I needed to have more innovative plans, I needed to stop blaming the kids. Let me re-iterate a kid mooned me and I was punished.

I was a bad teacher. I kicked a kid out of my room for an entire month. It was the last month of school and I had been pinned up against a wall by this kid who weighed more than I did. But the principals didn’t want to do anything about it, so my write up was thrown away and the child was told he didn’t have to go to my class. When he decided he wanted to, I wouldn’t let him in.

I was a rotten apple. I sometimes put a video on when I was just too overwhelmed to do anything else. I did this maybe five times. Most of the time we had read the book, or the videos were about poetry. But when I went to a funeral for my grandmother, the time I would have spent lesson planning was instead spent working on the paper work for the girl who swung on me. I couldn’t lesson plan and make my flight, so I gave them a movie. It wasn’t standards based.

I was a bad teacher. I yelled. I threatened, I used practices that weren’t the greatest because it was all I knew how to do. I did what I could with no copy paper and not enough books, tenth grade students who were reading at a third grade level. I gave the best I had, it was just pretty bad and there was no safety net to catch me.

I was a bad teacher. I didn’t always have a plan that worked. I wasted minutes. I often had no control of my classroom. And that was simply the best I could do.

All to many bad teachers are trying desperately to get better. But they are underfunded, under supported, overwhelmed. Maybe the teachers are bad, but that is mostly because they are a product of a broken system. Bad situations lead to bad teachers.

And last semester? At the better school with the better resources and the kids who are generally better behaved? I was still a rotten apple.At least by Time Magazine’s standards. Because one kid got mad at the way we were legally obligated to give the test. So he put his head down and refused to take it. He slept through almost all of it, and then marked random letters for the last five minutes. I begged and pleaded. I told him it was worth 20 percent of his grade. Nothing. He didn’t want to. So my numbers were lower than anyone else. One failure was all it took. That’s my fault, apparently.

This is the point when people always stop me to say that the tests shouldn’t be employed like that. Well should is a fairly tale because currently they are. I am right now, this school year, preparing kids for a test that has not been created yet, that was just named a month ago. I don’t know how to prepare them for the test, because I don’t yet know the kinds of questions that are going to be on it. And really tests like this should be phased in slowly, phased out the same. But they aren’t. The laws demand now and the tests need to be made NOW and I’m expected to prepare kids for a test even though my best guess as to what is on it is a wild shot in the dark.

But the teacher, she is the rotten apple. I’m the bad teacher failing the kids. Not the principals, the systems, the laws, the tests that aren’t invented yet. It’s me. I’m the one to get rid of. That’s what the cover of Time magazine says, so it simply must be true.

17 thoughts on “Confession of a Bad Teacher

  1. Wow. This is powerful, girl. I hope people hear this. America is incredibly unsupportive of its teachers. I know this, because i am in the UK, and we are giving our teachers a very hard time, but at least failing schools are given more resources from the government when they’re failing – in America, you just get chaos plus teacher-blaming.

    You are a GREAT teacher. I am more right than Time Magazine. (Feels good to know that).

  2. This is so true and so sad that I am holding back the tears… knowing this is where I am right now.

    My Chemistry students learn enough in my classes to get A’s in the HARDEST FRESHMEN LEVEL COURSE (Chemistry) at the two TOUGHEST Universities in the state. They ALSO get A’s in the equivalent courses at all of the other universities with high standards for admission. Why do they do well? apparently, it has nothing to do with my instruction… however, my inability to get my AP students to make 5s on the AP Chemistry test (I have only been teaching AP Chemistry 2 years – the 2nd with a new curriculum) is because I am not a good teacher.

    I have already been threatened… if your scores are not better this year… we’ll give the course to someone else. And seriously, no one can make me feel worse than I already do for not being able to provide my students with the ability to make that 3, 4, or 5. I am not teaching them AP Chemistry so I can make a grade… I am teaching them AP Chemistry so they can learn and apply chemistry at a deeper level than they thought possible. YET… am I given the opportunity to dedicate myself to improving the one course that really needs improvement?

    NOPE. The SLO is for regular chemistry, so the tedious detailed lesson plans are for the course that I have already proven I am doing well. Apparently, success at the next level – where it really matters isn’t good enough. I have to prove that I am not a failing teacher by using a test that I don’t get to see.

    The feeling of being a pathetic excuse for a teacher has permeated my high school and the administrators don’t understand why we aren’t enthusiastically embracing everything they are shoveling our way.

  3. Wow, Abby! I thought things were bad for teachers but I had no idea how bad. I second what Tanya said. You are definitely a great teacher! I hope lots of people read this esp. those that might be able to do something about those kinds of conditions.

  4. Good God, Abby, you really were a bad teacher and I was a horrible one. I had no idea we were such thoroughly rotten apples. But we were. Bad, bad, bad.

    I had a student who never came to my class at all. I mean I had never seen him. The principal–possibly the SAME principal–told me that if my lesson plans were more engaging the student would come to class. Since the student had never attended the class, I don’t know how he could tell whether he liked it or not. Clearly this kid’s non-attendance was my fault. When he finally appeared, he told the principal that he was embarrassed to be seen going to my class because it was remedial. The principal told him he didn’t have to come to class on time (so that nobody would see him) even though all the other students had to. He just showed up whenever he felt like it and I couldn’t mark him late. Because of course if my lesson plans had been more engaging he would have WANTED to come to class on time!

    I’m so glad you are still there and still fighting, rotten or not, and so sorry that teachers are still getting the blame for everything. I am happily retired and teaching adult literacy. I love being treated like a real person and am constantly surprised by it.

      • And not only that, this class was fourth period. An hour of class, lunch, another half hour of class, to squeeze in four lunches. So a child had the golden opportunity to be late to the same class twice a day! And the kid with the principal’s permission to be late? He was late twice a day, every day. I had other students in the same class who chose to stay in the room during lunch because I let them sit and read or study. They just weren’t allowed to talk, and they didn’t. Apparently my lesson plans were engaging enough for that group, but the principal never noticed.

  5. I felt like you were telling my story…yet I am in my 24th year of teaching. Knowing there is an end of course test coming BUT I have no clue what it will cover and there’s one for EVERY SUBJECT for my 1st graders. It’s tough to keep taking another step when you feel like there is no support from anyone. Thank you for sharing this. Know you are not alone is this boat!!

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