Confessions of a bad teacher

In Confessions of a bad teacher in Salon, publishing executive John Owens recounts his foray into teaching English at a small New York City school.

Assign spelling words or read a short story in class, and it would take all of my wits to keep the texting, talking, sleeping and wrestling in check. But make it 80 words on “Would you give up your cellphone for one year for $500?” and every student — even those who never did any schoolwork — handed in a paper. When I read these essays to the class in dramatic, radio-announcer fashion, there was silence punctuated by hoots of laughter or roars of agreement or disagreement.

It was almost magic. It was really fun. And I often could squeeze in some spelling, even punctuation. But we weren’t always quiet.

And, according to my personnel file at the New York City Department of Education, I was “unprofessional,” “insubordinate” and “culturally insensitive.”

In other words, I was a bad teacher.

Told to control the class “with the force of your personality,” he told his eighth graders to quiet down or stay after school.  After less than 10 minutes standing in the doorway, the principal intervened. She “reported the incident to the police and the Department of Education as ‘corporal punishment’.”  He survived a disciplinary hearing, thanks to a union representative, but the principal put a letter in his file saying he’d “barricaded” the students in the room, endangering their safety.

Offered a job in publishing, Owens quit in mid-February.

He sees himself as a victim of “Crazy Boss Syndrome” in a system that gives principals the power to crush new teachers.


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  1. It’s important to remember that there are two sides to every story, but…

    It shouldn’t be a shock to learn there are bad principals out there. AND bad teachers.

  2. That principal is insane! I don’t have words to describe the knot I got in my stomach reading about that principal’s statement “use the force of your personality” and overreaction to an attempt to do so. People wonder why no one volunteers to teach K-12 schools in the U.S. anymore; it’s because teaching there is almost guaranteed to ruin your life (or at least your health, if you can get out quick enough before encountering one of these principals… and there are MANY of them).

  3. There are both, sure, but more bad principals. Maybe 50%.

    Bad teachers? Maybe 5%.

  4. Weren’t most principals teachers at one time?

    Where did they receive their seminal training from? Could it be the same schools of education attended by current teachers?

    And we wonder why K12 is floundering in this country… promoting teachers without any semblance of preparation/training to act as administrators is a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Keep in mind that there’s never any reason to leave public schools for private schools or homeschooling.
    There’s never any reason, there’s never any reason, there’s never any reason….
    You are getting very sleepy….

  6. I once thought I might move into teaching as a sort of preretirement job. Luckily, I was cured of that thought years and years ago. Working with a principal like that would surely lead to felony charges for at least one of us.

  7. Too bad that his union rep was lacking some knowledge of Special Education. Every student that he didn’t know was Sped, was a violation of FAPE. They could have used that to ensure that a U did not happen.

    The principal violated every SPED document of every student in that class. No accommodations, no inclusion teacher, no modifications. Each of these could/would require compensatory time, and perhaps monetary compensation.

    Mrs. P really underscores her incompetence by her actions or lack of them. Who to believe in this tale? It’s obvious, she’s hugely incompetent.

  8. I once knew an African-American high school principal that got a white Math teacher fired because he happened to walk into his classroom during his lunch break one day and ‘caught’ him listening to Rush Limbaugh. (It was talk radio, you listen to the station long enough, you’ll hear conservative, liberal, and everything in between eventually.) He also rejected Everyday Math for direct instruction. The irony is, he was the only Math teacher in the school that year that got his students 90+% passing on the mandatory State exams in Math. But I guess that wasn’t enough.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Aggie. What, you think that’s even remotely relevant?

  10. I think he was trying to show another example of principals gone wild, even if his example was a little obtuse. I’m sure a very, very large book could be written just telling stories like his, and the OP’s referenced story…

  11. Bill Leonard says:

    No, Vegeta, we were treated to one more example of why any parent with an IQ anywhere beyond room temperature gets his or her kids the hell out of public schools if at all economically feasible..

  12. 100% agreed, Bill! All the parents I know who can home school, does, at least for grades K-8…