I’ve criticized lazy, ineffective parents on this blog with embarrassing little stories about them plenty of times (here and here are the best examples), but it’s been much more rare for me to call out the unqualified and dangerous among my teaching colleagues. Here are four favorites that come to mind.
1. Back at the first high school where I worked, there was a guy who was legendary across the campus for being a disaster. One day, a few girls in a class asked if they could use my computer to finish typing up and printing a paper due that day. I knew and trusted them, so I agreed. Later, they told me that after doing their work they had checked my browsing history online, and congratulated me for not having any porn on my computer. I was a little shocked (and resolved not to let kids near my computer anymore), but asked what they had expected.
“Oh, we’ve checked a lot of teachers around here. Usually they’re clean, but Mr. ________ must be a real pervert; his computer’s full of porn!”
I didn’t comment further, but I definitely believed them. A friend of mine who worked in this guy’s department told me once that he’d come into their office on a Monday morning to find that the copier had recorded making 10,000 copies over the weekend, using this questionable employee’s sign in number. We both scratched out heads. We knew that he hadn’t been copying worksheets, because he never used any–he didn’t do anything with his classes, not that anyone would ever need 10,000 copies, anyway. We never found out what he’d been copying.
He was one of the few teachers I’ve ever heard of who was placed on probation two years in a row, quitting shortly thereafter.
2. Another teacher at the same school also quit early in his career, apparently because he didn’t think of it as a career. He never taught, but only watched movies. Literally. All day every day. When Christmas approached, and a club on campus sponsored a door decorating contest, he made every class work on it every day for a week. They won the contest. After that, when an administrator came in to observe him, she looked at his lesson plan book and found that he actually did keep records of his plans: he had calendared in the names of the movies that he showed every day, from the beginning of the year.
Even then, he wasn’t fired, just put on probation, but nobody was surprised when he quit.
3. After that, I was a counselor for a year at another school. This was, without a doubt, the most depressing year of my career so far, which was the major reason why I only did it for one year. During that time, a fascinating array of the hopelessly inept came through my office. And it usually wasn’t students!
Mainly, I remember the woman with a grudge against our leaders. She taught an elective, and had a tendency to do activities and show movies that were either inappropriate, completely unrelated to the subject of her class, or both. When her supervisor admonished her to get back on track, the teacher came by my office (naturally, right? Your boss justifiably slaps you on the wrist, so go whine to the students’ counselor).
The teacher asked for my advice on handling this crushing oppression of her rights. Before I could think of anything to say, she asked, “Should I call the ACLU?” I hesitated a bit (understandably), and asked, “The ACLU? The civil rights and free speech people? Why?”
“I think I can sue the school for depriving me of free speech and micromanaging my class.”
I did the only thing I could think of. I told her to go ahead and call the ACLU, and see what happens. I did this for two reasons: 1) so she’d go away, and 2) because I don’t like the ACLU. Why should I be the only one to listen to her craziness?
I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that her students didn’t learn much that year.
4. This last example still comes from several years ago. One woman, on her first year on the job, quickly gained a reputation for not having any idea what she was doing but charging full steam ahead anyway. The apotheosis of this came halfway through the year, when the second semester started. She sent a new course outline home with students for parents to read and sign.
It was hilarious. This teacher, by definition a college graduate, wrote a syllabus so filled with basic errors in spelling and grammar, so riddled with slang and Ebonics, that not only did the parents react with obvious outrage, even the students realized how poorly written it was! If your writing is so bad that a bunch of random teenagers think it’s bad…then it’s really bad. Needless to say, the office fielded more than a few calls from distressed parents (kudos to them for reading it and not letting it go). That teacher was unceremoniously shuttled off to another school at the end of the year, and the rest of us had to endure some lectures and memos about writing professionally when communicating with parents.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: our schools would be better if, at the end of each school year, the staff could vote the three worst teachers on campus “off the island.” No way it would become petty or personal: the vast majority know who the losers are, and we want them gone just as much as the parents do.