Bad Teacher

I’ve been cleaning out files on my computer (nothing to write at the moment) I found this little essay I wrote in 2012 or so. Cracked me up and also reminded me how I got to Monte Vista. It took a couple of years but…


Sitting in an empty classroom waiting for my class to start, writing in a blog no one reads but me (that’s OK) Driving into school today I thought about how hard it is to teach anyone anything and how much has to be caught up before the students of today are ready to take the ball forward. It’s really too much. It’s all I can do with some of my English class students not to write, simply, “Stupid.”

The problem remains the selling of higher education and the absolute abyss that is secondary education plus the influx of international students whose English ability is poor. Students go to university so they can get jobs afterwards doing things like managing fast food restaurants and rental car agencies. These are skills no one should need university — or even college — to learn.

It’s not my fault they haven’t been taught or that they chose not to learn. This is a fact and yet I’ve taken it upon myself to rectify that. My bosses expect that of me, too. I’m relied upon to hold up my end of the bargain even though it is getting more and more difficult all the time. Students can’t even tell when they are reading something that should be taken literally and something that should be — obviously — a joke. Part of it is that for many (more all the time) English is not their first language, but as all languages have jokes, irony, hyperbole, metaphor they should be able to imagine that English would, too.

And, there’s the Internet. On the Internet — even and/or especially the news — people “choose” the reality they want to inform themselves about. They “choose” the point of view and they “read” with their mouths open, waiting to say their thing. They do not read to find out what other people think. They do not read to learn what the opposing view has as evidence or to learn anything about the argument. They read to “react” to “rant” to “like.” That I will attempt to teach them to read a short essay by someone and find out what the WRITER has to say, discuss WHAT CHOICES the writer made in organizing the essay or the language in which it’s written, none of that has as much currency compared to the students’ “like” “agree” “disagree.” These fuckers will like, agree and disagree without even knowing what the person says. That’s what I contended with today. Some stupid fucking housewife very openly “disagreed” with something she had read with 100% bias and 0% curiosity. When I asked her what she disagreed with, she said, “Everything.”

I followed this with, “What does the essay SAY?” she responded with, “I didn’t read it. I know what writers like that think and I disagree.”

As I attempted to show the class how to write an essay to a writing prompt, by showing how I would write the essay, the woman didn’t like MY perspective either (though the prompt is all about the individual writer’s perspective). She interrupted me and challenged me not from a position of enlightened awareness, but from the same abyss of ignorance that leads people to vote for Sarah Palin because she’s a hockey mom and knocks people like me because we’re educated.

Then I have to argue with a student about an essay (as I’m offering her one-on-one help because she failed a writing assessment necessary for graduation). Finally I say, “Here’s the thing. I’m not your teacher. I’m ‘Random Reader’ and this does not make any sense to me at all. As Random Reader, I’ll stop reading right here.” She was shocked. Imagine! A TEACHER (the martyr of the world) saying, “If I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t read it.”

Late homework. “Here’s my homework.”

“I don’t accept late homework. The syllabus is very clear on this point.”

“But I typed it.” (And how, I wonder, in this day and age, is THAT anything exceptional? You want to be taken seriously by a teacher, fucking TYPE your work and, guess what? It’s saved on your computer so it won’t be LOST, stupid.)

“Well, here’s the deal. That was supposed to be posted on Blackboard four days ago. I don’t read late work. I have 200 students and I must organize my life so I can teach all of them.”

“That isn’t fair.”

I think, “No, cunt, what’s NOT fair is you thinking your late work is important to ME. Your work should be so important to YOU that you turn it in EARLY, get help from me, revise it and get an A.”

Not having Internet for an online class. “Professor, I haven’t done any homework because I don’t have Internet at my house.”

“Well, you know this is an online class. You need to get to the library or a school computer lab.”

“I can’t do that. I have a job. How am I supposed to do that?”

“I guess you’re going to fail,” I say, “unless you figure that out.”

Signing up for a class does not equal taking a class.

The other day, as I drove to school I thought of just teaching to the quizzes and not trying to teach in any more profound sense than that. “Here are the answers. Go take the quiz.” It would be much less tiring OR I can do like some colleagues do and say, “Here is the exam. Ooops! Fooled you! You all fail but OK I’ll curve your grades up to C.”

So I don’t know. I’m not in love with this any more. I was in love with it for a long time, but now I need to stop. I don’t know how I can. One more semester after this one if I don’t self-destruct. I remember Dr. Richardson back in 1984 at my and Jim’s house for dinner. A student called me. I talked with the student for a few minutes. Afterwards I said, “Students are great.” Dr. Richardson said, “Students are awful.” I said, “Seriously?” He said, “You’ll find out. Teach long enough and you’ll get there.” Sad to say, I have found out. I taught long enough.

27 thoughts on “Bad Teacher

    • It wasn’t like that most of my 35 years. Only the last few. Most of the time it was glorious, meaningful and exciting. I don’t know how teachers do it today, either. 😦

    • I did stop. I just took a deep breath, taught two more semesters and one summer and I was OUT of there. I’m glad. Mostly I loved teaching. At the end? The world had changed and I was an alien. I knew it. 🙂

  1. “At the end, the world had changed and I was alien.” Right after I turned 60, my colleagues began asking me when I was going to retire — my answer was that I didn’t know, but it would be when I was ready. My friends insisted that I would know when I was ready. One evening on my way home from a customer’s office, I wondered to myself if it was time to retire — in the 3-hours it took to get home, I decided that I was ready — I retired 2 months later! I think there comes a time for many of us that the job has changed sufficiently that we no longer enjoy it. This is a wonderful essay that describes that realization perfectly!

    • You’re right! The profession had changed. Courses were scripted — literally — by textbook companies. We taught to “learning objectives” that were completely arbitrary and often had nothing to do with what students needed or their preparation. This was especially true in the community college where students came into classes at all ages, from different cultures and widely different motives.

      My younger students, university students, who’d grown up in this system (No Child Left Behind) disliked and mistrusted their teachers — with good reason (IMO). They were unwilling to take chances and experiment to learn something. In their eyes teachers were bad guys, and they didn’t realize I was holding a very safe net for them. It was sad in addition to being frustrating and impossible.

      • I think that happens in many professions. We work for about 30 years, or more, and things change throughout our lives during that time. There must be a point that causes us to have had enough! It is sad that it happens in education — that is the key to the success of those who want to learn and to lead, and it doesn’t make their lives any easier if they cannot trust, take chances and experiment to learn.

        • You’re right. We focus on our work and things around us change our work without our knowing it a lot of the time. I remember in the 80s trying to persuade some of my colleagues that a computer writing lab was a good thing. The older ones saw that as their exit cue just as I saw scripted textbooks and learning objectives as the dehumanization of teaching. I was obsolete. I totally understood that, too, when a student referred to me (overheard conversation) as an “elderly woman who refused to help” her and who didn’t understand the real world. Bitch. I wanted to slap her. Teachers are not real people to most students and I was tired of that, too, I think.

  2. Back in my day there were only a few uninterested in learning. Today, with the advent of inst-gratification through social media, few are willing to put in the time and make the effort required, they expect everything to be handed to them. They can’t think or work out solutions or problems (see today’s blog video) and it’s tragic on every level. My take is you were luckier than the teachers and what they have to cope with today. It was bad enough then!

  3. That was so funny. The funniest thing about it was that you got to retire. The student then had to go to work. Hilarious.

    My son has to do a lot of group work for uni assignments. Talk about torture. He nearly dropped out when he was in a team with a woman who didn’t know how to access the online course notes. This woman was doing a third year uni subject!

    • I have always hated group work. Group grades are even worse. Just an opportunity for the lazy to acquire the high score of the talented and/or hard working without acquiring the knowledge.

      “Oh but you must learn how to work in groups for the real world works that way!”

      I worked in plenty of groups when I was at Lockheed. Every member contributed or else, when they came up for review, they might miss out on the next promotion or even terminated.

      That is how a group works if you want to get something done.

      • Whether group work is a valid exercise or not depends on the purpose of the exercise and the nature of the class.
        Group projects depend on what the class is about and why the project is assigned. A good teacher will include it but not make it the whole class.

        My business majors had to do group work because they would be doing it all the time after they graduated. NOT compelling them to learn how to work in a group would have been cheating them of the chance to practice a skill with way fewer consequences than they would face later in the working world.

        And yeah, there are lazy people out there, just like there are controlling, punctilious arrogant shits who think other people are idiots. It’s part of life. Luckily most people are neither.

        And so what if the lazy guy gets the same grade as the controlling hyper-achieving guy? It doesn’t change the hyper-achieving guy’s grade.

        Group work is a very good way for students to learn that they don’t know everything, that they can learn from each other and can benefit from the talents other people share. Some of those talents include knowing how to make a group work. I used it a lot in business communication classes because the class was a communication class and group work demands that the members communicate with each other professionally, clearly, productively, all that. Lots of times my students didn’t get that at all, that that kind of communication is an important life skill and vital for success in their major field.

  4. yup. I have a friend toiling away in the local community college system. Some of her students are still wonderful and interested, and others are much as you describe. And stupid excuses/lies. “I missed class Monday because I live in Louisville and the snow was too deep”. Ought to check our where your teacher lives before you use that one. Gosh, it was fine on her street in Louisville. Double fail.

    • In my final class, Intro to Lit, sophomore class, at the community college I had 28 students, two of whom were in their 30s. The rest were right out of high school or in their early 20s. Most of the young ones had no idea how to read a work of literature. Most had never read ” a whole book.” The two older ones had definitely gone through a very different educational system than the younger ones. It was enlightening.

      • AH, also my “final” class, in 2012, community college, ENC1102 Writing about Literature. How I struggled with “How to read a poem” and other basics. It was time, after all the teaching years, 1963-1973 and 1980-2012 (time out for seven years of school administration) to really retire, as I did formally in 2003.
        The years of being an adjunct, then, at two different colleges, opened my eyes to faculty indifference, administrative mismanagement, and classroom ennui and malaise. No one really seem to care. The concern was accreditation and bodies-in-desks, and passing them all.
        Thank you for your comments. I am catching up on your posting here. It was a beauty, a “home” run: hitting right at home.

  5. Refreshingly blunt. The fact that I taught barely a year and a half before I was fired, suggests I must have been a good awful teacher—though I didn’t think so at the time. Maybe I should reframe it to say they didn’t deserve me!? Any way you look at it, teaching can be a miserable time with little thanks or glory. That’s why I try to send my kid’s teacher gift cards when I can for what she does!

      • I found my ranting became worse and worse. Then the evaluations became worse and worse. Funny though: the Monday night class gave me accolades, all A’s/6’s; the Wednesday class, adults, too, gave me some of the lowest “scores” I had ever received. That was a downer. “It must be me.” It was harder to stand: my back hurt, my feet hurt, my comments on papers were getting sarcastic (says my wife). And “How come you gave me an F?” “Because that was the lowest grade I could give you.” was getting more frequent.
        “Dear Dean, I am not going to return next term because of poor health.” I closed the door. Then I wrote the governor, applying for a position on the Board of Directors. “No.”

        • I understand. I would have stuck it out another 3 years if the college of business hadn’t divested itself of Business Communication classes. There was a moment when I realize that this was simultaneously my walking papers and my freedom. But I loved it for a long, long time. ❤

  6. I will not do long term subbing nor subbing in poor areas nor subbing for “remedial” classes in high school. If I sub, I’ll do it right. I am currently blessed to live in a middle class community where education is still valued.

    Even though I don’t have the crowd control techniques that were available when I was a kid, they don’t go crazy on me. Subbing for a good elementary class is often fun.

    • Most of my career was a lot of fun and a lot of it was with young adults who were at the community college because they’d blown high school. I did well with that group — and I did well with the opposite group at San Diego State.

      But the educational system in our country changed. Students’ expectations of school changed. And I changed. I’d say 34 of my nearly 37 years in the classroom were awesome. I think I was really lucky. ❤

  7. Luck plays such a major part in all of this: “You’ll have three Comp I and one Tech Writing and you’ll have to take the Brit Lit because Dr ___ is taking a sabbatical. OK?” (“OMG! I cannot wait to teach Milton. ‘When I consider how my light is spent….'”)

    • “When I consider how my light is spent…” 🙂 I have to confess, none of my light was spent reading Milton. For some reason I just hated the guy except for certain salient quotations such as, “The mind is its own place…” ❤

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