Am I a Bad Teacher?

This week was one of those weeks of teaching that reminds you to keep your priorities straight. Too keep pumping out writing. It reminded me why I need to revise my novel, and why I need more publications. There were a few incidents this week. I’m relieved that I was able to take Wednesday through Friday off because I don’t think I would have been able to handle another one this week without losing my cool and my job.

Incident Number One

I had arrived early and was setting up. One of my students came in and sat down.

“Miss, I’m so lost. Have we turned anything in? Have we done anything in this class?”

I looked up. I absolutely suck at containing my emotions; it is why I will never be a poker champion or spy.

“Uhhh, yeah.”

The students are working on a research paper and have turned in two annotated bibliographies, and a proposal. They also have had two class discussions on-line.

“I’m just so lost.”

“Well, see me after class.”

Once class got going, I had to explain, for the one millionth time, how to upload documents and assignments via Blackboard.

“Miss, I’m just so confused.” This same student said. I think he was trying to get the other students to say the same thing, but they were all quiet. “I’ve been confused since we started.”

We’re ten weeks into the semester.

“Well, oftentimes when students are confused they come to office hours, or email me.”

“Miss, I’m too busy to hunt you down.”

“Well then you’ve clearly indicated where your priorities lie. So…”

“Miss, you need to stop. We need to stop having this conversation because you’re being sassy.”

That’s right folks, he said I was being sassy.

I simply plowed through the lesson and was relieved that FH had Oreos at his house when I got there.

As I type out this minor incident, I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal, I guess, I was just irritated that a student could be so disrespectful. That was of course until the next day.

Incident Number Two

So, currently, in one of my classes, we are reading 1984. The class is a remedial type course where students are retaught or taught how to develop their ideas into papers. They are also required to read a novel to work on their reading skills.

Well, after passing out their reading quiz my students informed me they hadn’t read far enough into the novel to answer the questions on the quiz. Mind you, the reading schedule for the book is on the syllabus that I handed to them day one of classes.

Since, I strive to be a hard-ass I made the students take the quiz anyway. They should have read. I will also be counting the grades–or should I say zeros–for the quiz. I was so disappointed in them. Anyway, while we were grading them (I let the students switch papers and grade them) one of my students proceeded to tell me that I was being unfair in accepting a certain and answer for question 1 and then not accepting her wrong answer for question 5. She was irate and shouting.

“That’s just ridiculous. I mean come on.” She shouted.

When I gave the students a break, she and her friend who had told me to shut up earlier in the class period, did not return.

Good riddance.

Incident Number Three

When teaching 1984, I think it’s important to give the students some political and historical background on what is happening in Orwell’s world and what he’s responding to. On a side note: my best friend is a history teacher and she always says that English teachers are frustrated history teachers. I feel like this is so true, but I digress.

So after telling the students when Orwell published his novel, I asked them about world events. They said World War II. I was thrilled.

“Can anyone tell me when WWII occurred?”

Crickets.

“Okay, can anyone tell me what happened during World War II?”

“Soldiers died,” a student whispered.

“Of course, it was a war.”

“Okay, can anyone tell me about Hitler?”

“He was bad?”

“Does the word Holocaust ring a bell?”

“Sort of.”

I stood there trying not look stunned.

“Guys, this is considered common knowledge.”

“Well, no one ever taught me that,” a student said with force.

I stared at them and after giving them a brief history lesson that would have probably been appalling to any good history teacher, I let the information sink in.

After visiting DC and spending a good three hours at the Holocaust Museum, I was shocked that my students were so clueless. That they were unable to discuss one of the more horrific moments of human history. I couldn’t understand how they had gotten this far through life, into COLLEGE and not known about World War II. Then, they had the balls to tell me they’d never been taught about the Holocaust. Could it be true? Also, was I expected, required to teach it to them?

They were living proof of the world Orwell created in his novel. I neglected to tell them this.

Apparently after class, some of my students emailed my boss and told her that that I had been insensitive and harsh in expecting them to know about World War II. Was I? They claimed it was insensitive of me to make comments like that since some of them hadn’t been in school in a very long time. Should I not have made the “common knowledge”comment?

So why teach?

This week, I have been asking myself this question repeatedly. I even applied for an unpaid internship at a magazine because lately I’ve been so tired of teaching. Both of my parents are teachers. They both love teaching the students who dislike school and learning. They like the troubled students who talk back, and they are great with them. I, on the other hand, don’t like these students. In fact, the past three semesters I haven’t gotten much pleasure from teaching and I’m starting to question if I’m even cut out for it.

Maybe I’m just not teacher material. Maybe, I do, in fact, suck at teaching?

This week I’ve done some soul searching and well I still don’t have the answer. This week I was told I was sassy, was told to shut-up, and was told I was insensitive and expected too much from my students. Well fuck.

When I expressed this concern with my parents, my mother said, well what else can you do, if you’re not teaching? I don’t know, but there has be something better for me out there.

Right?

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19 comments

  1. I didn’t feel like signing into wordpress and looking up you blog post again so I just clicked the “post a comment button” in my email. I get your blog posts through email since I’m subscribed to your blog.

    I have to say that firstly for your own sake, try not to be so blunt on wordpress. I read your posts all the time and they’re inspiring, but when talking about your students be careful. I don’t want you to lose your job or blog. Just today I read an article of an english teacher who was suspended with pay due to disrespectful rants on her personal blog concerning her students.

    I don’t want that to happen to you! When speaking of your students,literally WRITE it down in a journal so the world can’t get into it.

    Anyway! I don’t know if you remember, but last year I commented on your blog. You gave me advice on teaching and what not. I read your posts all the time, they teach me a lot about respocibilites as a teacher. I keep a journal and memopad filled with teaching ideas. Strictly teaching ideas.

    Your students are obviously difficult to deal with and somehow someway they made it to college not knowing the history of our country. In the end you can’t change your students. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much passion you put forth, the students always have the responsibility to apply themselves. If they don’t do that, they won’t learn a thing. Don’t run into any extreme conclusions. I’m no suck up. I say you must be a great teacher because what you post is helping me very much. Your posts teach me so many things and is a critical beam in the foundation of my teaching philosophy and educatIon.

    Stick with it. You have the passion. You don’t have the right students. This isn’t a movie, not all students are changeable. Move into a better environment. Teach a different grade level. Experiment!

  2. Sorry one more thing. 1984 is the most (dis)-engaging book I’ve ever read. I hated it the first time. The second time around I gave it another chance. It may be ambitious to teach a good lesson but I prefer George Orwells “Animal Farm” over 1984 any day. William Goldings “Lord of the Flies” maybe? In my honest, End year in college, 21 years of age experience, I believe there should be a refresh set-list of novels in both high school and college for a better sense of modern society, not the old. That would certainly keep me interested in the novel.

    1. Phill, Thanks so much for the kind words. I’ll have to keep in the whole “ranting about students” in mind. It’s nice to hear that some of my words have helped you in your teaching life.

      When I wrote up my syllabus, I thought about Lord of the Flies. It’s one of my favorite books, but I thought it was too easy of a read for college students. I loved 1984 the first time I read it, but I can see why students might have hard time with it.

      What do you teach? and what level?

      Anyway, thanks so much for commenting.

  3. Wow. As I was reading, I imagined you must have been teaching remedial high school students, with THEIR sassiness and ignorance. I’m stunned that college students wouldn’t even be able to guess at the years for World War II, that no one knew anything about Hitler and that the Holocaust is unknown to them.

    I am curious how often you quiz them if none of them had gotten to the point they were directed to in the syllabus. Perhaps you need to quiz more often to see where they are. It might just be that they have been slacking off because they felt no pressure to keep up with the syllabus. Weekly quizzes would both provide them some focus on what they ought to be doing as well as give you information on their progress. I think it’s their lack of effort rather than an overly ambitious schedule by you.

    Had the student in incident number one turned in any of the work? Had he been present in class? Obviously, he’s not aware of what’s going on and I think that you’re right in telling him to see you outside of class, so that you don’t waste everyone else’s time. You could also suggest that he ask some of his classmates what’s going on….

    Of course, that second sentence is both a fragment and uses the wrong homophone made me chuckle. πŸ™‚

    1. Dave thanks for the comment. I quiz them regularly. I think the students don’t like the novel, and instead of faking it they just didn’t bother to make an effort. It’s not like we are reading a book that doesn’t have study guides available. We’re reading a classic. As far as the other student you are referring to, this student has not turned anything in yet. I’m not sure what the problem is. i’ve done all the things you’ve suggested. Hopefully as we get into the grove of the novel in the one class, and the paper writing in the other, things will work themselves out.

  4. Hi! Just came across your blog randomly and I. FEEL. YOUR. PAIN. It’s not you, it’s them. I’m in an MFA program and a TA as well and teaching comp…is a doozy, to say the least. I just had a “Miss, I’m so confused” incident earlier today. They wouldn’t have been so confused if they READ THE SYLLABUS.

    what can you do? until our servitude is over, all we can do is suck it up. and drink it away on weekends. and then beat ourselves over it come saturday/sunday for not being more “productive.”

    Keep up the good fight!

    1. Vanni, thanks for the good words. I will never understand why they don’t read the syllabus. I literally give them a schedule for the ENTIRE semester. Every class is mapped out and I still get the I’m lost comments. So. Lame.

  5. I just googled “what else can I do if I am terrible at teaching” and came up with your blog. This made me feel a bit better. I have almost the opposite problem as you, I love teaching but cannot get a permanent job 😦 I’ve been with my board for 4 years and have been on several temp contracts (mat leaves etc) and have watched new college grad after new college grad skip over the whole “paying your dues” crap and get permanent status instantly! But here I am, in my 7th year of teaching, still subbing… suck.

    1. That does suck. You must live an area where there is a saturation of teachers. I live in an area where teachers are desperately needed. I’m sure eventually the Baby Boomers will retire and you’ll find something. My dad is a teacher (Baby Boomer), and he has been teaching for forever. I always tells him he needs to retire and give the young people a change.

      1. Most places in Canada are like this, way more teachers than jobs. Unless you want to live way up north, which I don’t. πŸ™‚

  6. I also got here by way of a “am I a bad teacher?” google search (because google is basically a magic 8 ball, amirite?) I’m having so many of the same problems–I have an MFA but have bumbled my way into teaching ESL to college bound people (not refugees or migrants or anything social-justice-y like that). On top of the actual teaching, there’s language barriers and cultural expectations about what teachers should do (which is like, exactly opposite to current American pedagogy ). I feel out at sea like 80 percent of the time. I do love teaching–but god i feel like i’m terrible at it sometimes.

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  8. I don’t think you were insensitive. I am a teacher too and today’s youth are lazy and rude many times. You are probably just burnt out. Maybe take a break for awhile and then you will probably feel after some time if it’s right to come back. It was nice to hear that someone else feels this way versus just me. Sometimes I feel like a bad teacher and bitter teacher because I have very high expectations and standards…but isn’t that part of our job…or else, why would we teach? To teach people to be mediocre, stupid and unprepared? I will leave that one for the politicians.

  9. I have also stumbled across this blog with the same “Am I a Bad Teacher” search. I think you are doing what you are supposed to be doing and they are definitely just being lazy and not putting in the effort. I teach a Gr.7/8 class, ALL subjects with only 1 aide. On the bright side, I only have 18 students in the entire class. This includes several ADHD coded students and 2 on the autism spectrum. I am having a tough time getting two severe ADHDers to do anything that they are supposed to be doing, while staying organized. It is quite difficult to be a “nice” teacher with them because I give them everything they need to complete their assignments and then they either don’t complete it on time or lose it. They constantly lie about where they are going or what they are doing so I have even had to resort to personally escorting them to the bathrooms so they don’t get “lost”. So here is an example of why one of the students thinks I’m mean: I was getting everyone to make sure they had no food in their lockers and one of the ADHDers told me he had already checked and there was nothing in there. Since he always lies, I told him, “I don’t believe you”. I went and checked his locker myself and low and behold there was a container full of moldy food in it! I cannot give them my trust without them earning it first, right? I constantly give them praise when they are doing something the right way and give them compliments on things that they do really well, as one likes to yoyo and the other makes bracelets. But they still hate me! I want them to do well so I remind them about everything, which they consider to be nagging, but if I didn’t do this, they would fail. Anyways, it just feels better knowing that others are struggling with this same type of thing, so thank you for sharing πŸ™‚

  10. Yup, students are all that. The fact is there is a growing movement of holocaust deniers and it is fuelled by our failure to demand our children know about history and the world around them.

    My first year English instructor could take any novel and link it to Heart of Darkness/Fight club. It might be something you consider, it sure kept us involved as we bet on how many days into each of the novels he would link us to Fight Club. I am pretty sure he did this just to keep us thinking he was cool. Try connecting it to something they actually do know about first like The Hunger Games, then hit them with a big WW2 follow up.

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