Bad teachers he has known

In what Chalkboard calls the most depressing post ever, NYC Educator recalls bad teachers he’s known.

Let’s say I go out to lunch with a Spanish teacher. I converse in Spanish with the restaurant employees, but he cannot. That may not be much, but it qualifies.

Let’s say another day I find him gleefully telling anti-Semitic jokes to a bunch of young Latinas, and encouraging them to respond with Hispanic jokes. Let’s say the next day he’s sitting in front of his classroom eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and reading the cereal box while the kids in his class are doing God knows what.

Or what about the one who calls a female student the most vulgar word I’ve ever heard in my life, a Spanish word I’d never heard before that manages to be both sexist and racist at the same time? The one who takes his shirt off in front of his classes to show them his muscles. The one who calls a kid out to fight him behind the school in front of the class, and then says his wife will beat the kid up too.

Or one who wears sunglasses in the building, talks to herself half the time, whistles the other half, spends her free periods in the bookroom in the dark and refuses to teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays?

It goes on.

NYC Educator doesn’t say these are typical New York City teachers. He does say they’re collecting a salary. I wonder if the one who seduced a student was fired.

About Joanne


  1. Mark Roulo says:

    And yet … with 2+ million teachers in the U.S. we *will* have some bad ones. I’m not sure we can conclude anything other than that these teachers shouldn’t be teaching. I don’t think that there is a general lesson here …

    -Mark Roulo

  2. Bad teachers will get hired but it is a little confounding how the really crazy ones are inflicted on children.

    I would love to see the interviews — with distric intake and with whoever at these schools hired them.

    I suppose some of them might have been sane before they entered the classroom.

  3. You mean we shouldn’t take our shirts off in class?

    (Yes, that *was* supposed to be humor.)

  4. Mark Roulo wrote:

    I’m not sure we can conclude anything other than that these teachers shouldn’t be teaching.

    Not from the vignettes NYC Educator relates but the important question’s never been whether or not there are bad teachers, there being no conclusive evidence like halos and wings or horns and pitchforks, but whether bad teachers are expelled from the profession with an expedition in keeping with the gravity of their job. The implication of the story is “no” and there’s enough in the way of objective evidence to bolster that implication.

    The undercurrent in the post is of discouragement and outrage. What other reactions could there be if you have a lick of professional pride?

  5. I think there are two issues here:

    bad teachers (in the sense that they are either neglectful towards the class and take their pay for little or no work on their part, or teachers who are totally inept and cannot, for example, maintain ANY semblance of discipline in the classroom), and flat-out crazy people.

    I think the “Deutscheland Uber Alles” guy is a good example of flat-out crazy.

    I would THINK that schools would have some kind of psychological profile they could do on people. I know, some people are crafty enough or psychopathic enough to be able to game the system, but still.

    I also think it’s a suggestion that perhaps the tenure system needs some checks and balances. (I teach at a university. I have tenure. I think, in general, it is a good thing – it allows me to undertake research that might not “pay off” for a few years, and it’s also a way of giving the thumbs-up to people, letting them know they are good enough. But we also have some things in place that allow even tenured people to be fired if they really, really mess up. Perhaps – given some of the complaints I’ve heard from students about some of their courses in other departments – there should also be checks and balances to prevent tenured people from “giving up” and no longer really teaching the students anything of substance)

    I don’t know how you’d draw the line where free speech “ends” in a school, but I kind of think a teacher who encourages his students to tell ethnic jokes has kind of crossed a line of appropriate behavior…

  6. How about simply not teaching? There was an 8th grade English and History teacher that simply never attempted to teach anything, and kept his job for over 20 years until retirement. This was not in a gigantic bureaucratically-bound system like NYC’s, but in a town of only 20,000. Apparently union contracts protected his job – and so, every year the 9th grade teachers were made aware that for certain students, they’d have to cram two years worth of teaching into one year – without shortchanging the other students…

  7. Teachers:

    How many of you have ever tried to do anything about an incompetent or even dangerous or crazy teacher?

    Do any of you agree with me that we ought to?

    And that we ought to be given more authority to do so (that, perhaps, removing these people from classrooms should be easier but that their colleagues ought to be a part of the process?)

    In my own experience, I have found such action fretted with ambivalence — wanting to do what is best for students but feeling like a snitch, a rat-fink (a silly feeling for an educated adult but there it was) and being viewed by colleagues as such (also pretty ridiculous considering the harm that bad teachers inflict on our students) and feeling sorry for the teacher (thinking there but for the grace of God….), even fearing reprisals (in one case, we had a teacher who, was unstable enough to commit a workplace shooting).

  8. I haven’t worked with anyone as singularly outrageous as the folks described here, but I’ve worked with people whose instructional competence I question, and I’ve worked with people who were so egotistical and selfish that they were a detriment to the the overall morale and function of the department. And the administration of the school had as much awareness of the situation as I did.

    I don’t know how much I want to be part of the process. A system with teachers being involved in developing the standard for certification, evaluation, and renewal would be great. But I’ve seen too much self-promotion and politicking for the petty perks that aren’t handed out systematically that it’s hard to imagine teachers being part of the system of removal.

    A system that allowed for teachers to report the type of people listed in the thread to someone outside the system to review would be great (which we actually seem to have with our professional standards board in Georgia.) A system in which teachers at the school remain involved in the process of deciding who is just competent enough to stay employed doesn’t seem like such a good thing.

  9. markm,

    What’s the story there? Why did they let him do that? When parents complained, what were they told?

  10. Indigo Warrior says:

    Larry Strauss:

    In my own experience, I have found such action fretted with ambivalence — wanting to do what is best for students but feeling like a snitch, a rat-fink (a silly feeling for an educated adult but there it was) and being viewed by colleagues as such (also pretty ridiculous considering the harm that bad teachers inflict on our students) and feeling sorry for the teacher (thinking there but for the grace of God….), even fearing reprisals (in one case, we had a teacher who, was unstable enough to commit a workplace shooting).

    All that it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I think that’s how the quote goes. There is entirely too much of the union-fostered “teachers of a feather stick together” attitude, and “teachers who put their students first are scabs.”
    Yes, I realize that a good young teacher has much to lose by “snitching” on his colleagues, but a system that puts such teachers in that place has itself to blame.

    Bad teachers don’t only inflict harm upon students; they also make all teachers look bad.

  11. I agree, Indigo Warrior.

    Have you or anyone you’ve known ever done the right thing and made an effort to have an egregiously bad teacher removed from the classroom?

    I actually have — despite the ambivalence I mentioned — done so twice.

    In one case, the teacher was unstable and violent. He would abandon his students in the middle of a class. He had an altercation one day with a student, had a clock thrown at his head, and then walked out and drove off. He returned a year later and because the principal had granted him stress leave rather than writing him up for dereliction of duty — she foolishly never imagined he would come back! — she had no choice but to take him back, displacing a really good teacher in the middle of a semester.

    It was a mess. It was absolutely infuriating. No one — including the union — seemed to give a crap what this did to all the students who lost their dedicated teacher and ended up with this crazy and dangerous guy. Ultimately he attacked students in his classroom and was taken away in handcuffs.

    A number of my colleagues felt sorry for him. They also felt sorry for the kids but still had sympathy for the teacher. One colleague — and he was actually very anti-union — tried to take up a collection to help the guy with his legal fees.

  12. I read my “rate my professor” reviews and see that some students find my course to be a tremendous learning experience and others find it a complete waste to time. Perhaps the same is true of the students in the classes of some of the teachers mentioned. Rather than having some teachers “report” others on the basis of only cursory familiarity, how about just giving students even a “one shot” opportunity to change classes? The “worst” (and hardest) teachers would get smaller classes and might even improve (or at least be highlighted as potential candidates for remediation). And students would have a better shot at the best (or easiest).

  13. Larry, clearly you did the right thing.

    Do you have a state level professional standards organization that you can report people to or is it just a school by school thing?

  14. Walter E. Wallis says:

    My last union, the IBEW, maintains standards of competence. But then, that’s just construction workers.

  15. It seemed like a lot of the examples had to with immigrants and language issues.

  16. Indigo Warrior says:

    Congratulations, Larry. You did well.

    Unfortunately, I was never in a position to “remove” teachers, most notably my own. I am not a parent either, so I don’t have kids to look out for. Some of my relatives are/were teachers, and can relate to stories such as these.

  17. Indigo Warrior says:

    I should have said this earlier. There needs to be a means to teachers to (confidentially) report others in need of discipline, reassignment, or retirement. I think we all agree. But there is also the possibility of abuse; the good-but-unpopular teachers being at highest risk. And there is also the case of “bad craziness” vs. “good craziness”. The character played by Howard Hesseman in “Head of the Class” is an example of the latter. It’s a dilemma that I have little confidence in the filled with prejudice and envy.

  18. “When parents complained, what were they told?” NDC, I don’t know what, if any, response the school system gave my parents when they complained. However, I know this guy had been doing the same thing for 20 years, because they found people their age that told the same stories about him from when they were in school, and I know he continued the same way for at least 10 more years because my little sisters had to go to the same school.

    So as far as I can tell, the school administration just waited for him to retire – for thirty years! Meanwhile, the three best teachers I had in three years at that Jr High were all gone 5 years later – one retired, one become the headmaster of an expensive private school, and one burned out and quit teaching entirely after just two or three years.

  19. That’s a sad story, Markm.

    Indigo Warrior, that’s a good assessment of the problem. I trust myself to do right and only take action against the really bad teachers and I, of course, think I’m fair and objective in making such judgments. I don’t have the same faith in everyone else.

    Over the years I’ve had a few complaints made against me — by colleagues and school office staff and once by a guest from the Sierra Club. My critics were not always accurate (in my opinion) and were, I think, prone to exaggerations.

    Perhaps a more profound problem with weeding out the bad teachers is that wherever there is a teacher shortage — as there is in South LA where I teach — administrators aren’t going to be anxious to terminate anyone for any reason.

    Anyone have any ideas?

  20. Indigo Warrior says:

    My best idea is that bad teachers and related problems come from the nature of the government (public) educational system. Massive reforms are needed, and whether public schools are even redeemable is an open question. I am usually quite a libertarian on these issues.

    There needs to be more market freedoms in education, both within and without the public system. Constructive competition – where parents and students can pick and choose according to their own criteria, and find something that suits them, and reject what they see as bad.

    Schooling as it exists right now is a creaking anachronism of barbaric traditions glued together by “progressive” reforms. Its origin was in the early 19th century and its basis is intentional but unconscious sadism from the child-rearing practices of that time. Stamp the teachers into obedience, and let them stamp the kids into obedience.

  21. How would you like to have worked for a school system for 5 years as a paraprofessional as you earned you way in as teacher completing a Master of Art Degree in Education – and get asked for your resignation. Tomorrow.

    I had never been brought on the carpet, or anything. I realize that when this decision making process was taking place I was called out by my Assistant Principal becuase our Principal said the substitute in our class (and she was another asst principal niece and the schools bookkeeper daughter) said I was observing her.

    Well I feel totaly guilty and react by working even more perfectly and letting my admin know I had my ID on and introduced who I was. I even went so far as to act a student if my behavior had been out of line that day – he said no = she just didn’t know who you were. I am a special ed collaborative teacher so with the lead teacher out and me knowing the lesson plan..instead of having them do worksheets as the other classes did – we worked on a real assignment. This was of course fine with the teacher. She had just had a son get sick and didn’t have a back up plan so they were doing worksheets with the sub.

    What makes my story worse (or better depending on how you wish to look at it) is my assistant superintendent and dept head signed off on all my work which was required and is a great TEacher work sample per title II schools. My supervisor refused to come to my evaluation by the asst super and basically ignored my entire design.

    Now I have to decide to use it or not.
    #1 I am a great teacher and my students are all passing all content and elective courses (they do it all – but I am beat :o)
    #2 I have resigned afther our little meeting and would really like to get out of the school.
    #3 My work ethics are great. I will listen to my evaluation with respect – but I really don’t want to sign it if it is inaccurate. If they say “she came in 4 minutes late everyday) I would fight it down to 1 day – because that is accurate. But also whenever I was late, my classes were never affected.