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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