Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Triumverate of Terrible Teachers


Lurking in classrooms for two years, I have seen some truly outstanding teachers at work. They are a significant minority. Most are merely average. Some are appalling. A few are worse than that. Here are the least effective educators I’ve seen in action...

The Dictator
An English practitioner who literally dictates everything to the kids she ‘teaches’. Whether it’s mnemonics, annotations on their poetry texts or scribbles in the margins of their Dickens, her shrill cry of ‘write this down’ punctuated the air at least 472 times per lesson. The pupils were, understandably, bored shitless.

Clearly a woman who knew the subject inside out, she was exhausted with teaching: out of ideas and in desperate need of reinvigoration. I often taught her class and wrote her lesson plans for her – as much for my sake as that of the students. These lessons were designed to be fun and interactive, with specific objectives, written outcomes and genuine learning. She marvelled at my ‘originality’ and promised to use such approaches in the future. I recently had my last lesson with her and she took me aside to tell me, “It’s okay having all these activities and exercises, but make sure they write everything down. If they have notes of everything you can’t be accused of not teaching them it”. I despaired.

The Bi-Polar Bastard
Somehow this individual inveigled himself into a senior position despite being an utter charlatan. I rarely saw him actually teach anything thanks to his ‘hands-off’ approach to independent learning. His classroom was an utter shithole, filled with festering coffee mugs and cluttered workspaces around which he pranced like a preening peacock performing for his captive audience. Worse than this, however, was the fact that the children never knew where they stood with him. One minute he’d be their best friend: smiling, laughing, joking and joshing like an admirable older brother. Within seconds a perceived slight would see him transform into a snarling, aggressive bully bawling out his young charges like they’d just tweaked his grandmother's nipples. An odious, self-obsessed man blissfully unaware of the contempt his classes hold him in.

The Dotty Old Bird
One of the loveliest women in the world, this fifty-something English teacher was not cut out for a today's schoolroom. Unable to turn on a PC, badly out of touch with the ‘yoof’ and the worst disciplinarian ever to set foot in an English comprehensive, every lesson was a battle. Kids entered and exited her class as they pleased, nobody ever completed any work and nobody ever listened. Pens were used exclusively as missiles, black market chocolate bars were traded and profanities peppered the air. And she stoically battled on, unaware that not a soul in the room was listening to a word she said. School prefects turned into animals in her lessons, aware that there were no sanctions for their disgusting behaviour: The Lord of the Flies for the 21st century. A former grammar school teacher, she simply was not made for an inner-city comp and was chewed up and spat out into the pile marked ‘long-term sick’.

As useless as they were, however, these three terrible teachers did at least contribute positively to someone’s education: mine. Hopefully I’ll never make the mistakes they made, never stop caring and never forget that I am not the most important person in my classroom.

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