What to Do When You Think Your Teacher Sucks

Lately, I’ve been hearing a common refrain amongst some of my clients to explain why they are performing poorly in a class:

“My teacher sucks!”

Today in my session with Claudia, this was her excuse about her lower-then-expected performance in geometry.

“My teacher doesn’t teach! He just jabbers away at us for the full period, and my brain is too full. I can’t think! He doesn’t give us time to practice what he’s sharing with us!!”

Sigh. Human beings can be so brilliant about what they need — and so blind!

I love that Claudia’s complaint shows a deep and intimate understanding of her own learning process. She wants to get a small chunk of information, and then be allowed to practice that before she moves on to getting larger chunks of information! It turns out that Claudia’s desire (what I might call her “inner authority”) is confirmed by research (which I’ll call “external authority), which suggests that brains take in information in 20 minute chunks.

How wonderful that Claudia knows what she needs in order to learn geometry more effectively! And how disappointing that in THIS teacher’s classroom, she is feeling overwhelmed with too much information.

Does this mean, as Claudia has interpreted, that her teacher “sucks”?

Consider this: I’m less interested in judging the teacher’s methods, and MORE interested in helping Claudia figure out how she can be a better teacher to herself!

Take a look about this conversation that took place during our coaching session:

Gretchen: “So tell me about the test review on which you scored 0/5 points. What happened there?”

Claudia: This was a review for a test. We’re allowed to use our textbooks, but I like to take my reviews the way I’ll have to take the test: cold, without looking things up. I feel like that’s a better way to see how I’m getting the information. But it’s stupid that my teacher grades reviews for the tests. I think they should be assessed without actually being graded!

Gretchen: Great! Yet again, you’re proving how naturally insightful you are about your learning process. Research also shows that the best way to prepare for a test is to simulate testing conditions, so I applaud you for figuring that out on your own.  And yes, it does seem counterproductive to grade what is meant to be a helpful review for a test. However, the reality is that your teacher DOES grade the review. So let’s not fight with reality.  Instead, I’m noticing a potential blind spot in your otherwise excellent process; may I point it out?

Claudia: (looking dubious but giving her assent)

Gretchen: I’m noticing that you waited for your teacher to grade the review; as you tell it, this makes you somewhat of a victim to his decision to grade your review. But there was something else you could have done prior to turning it in, to take the teaching (and the power) into your own hands. Got any ideas?

Claudia (thinking): Can’t say I do.

Gretchen: It occurs to me that you could have taken a few extra minutes to get out your textbook and double-check your answers before you turned in the review.

Claudia: Oh. Yeah. I guess I could have. It didn’t occur to me.

Gretchen: How might this have helped you?

Claudia: Well, I would have been able to catch some of my mistakes, and correct them before turning them in. I would have gotten a better grade…

Gretchen: AND you would have learned the concepts more deeply. When you take the time to teach yourself, you are also strengthening the neural pathways in your brain for this information. So, I’m curious: can you see a reason NOT to try double checking your own work next time?

Claudia: No, I guess not. I do think it’d help. I just never thought about doing it before. I’ll try it next time.

In this conversation, Claudia was willing to admit that she’d had a blind spot, that there was something she could do to support her own learning. This took courage and humility!

So now back to you, dear reader. Next time you think your teacher sucks, try the following simple steps:

First, notice whether your judgment is helping the situation.

Next, look at your own behavior. Is there any way you can shift your process so that you are being more responsible for how you are learning?

Finally, check this out these step-by-step instructions for how to become a better teacher to yourself. It might take a bit more effort on your part, but it also will make you a much more effective life-long learner. You won’t be dependent on teachers to make you learn.  It might even shift your relationship to that teacher; whether or not the teacher “sucks”, you get to learn a lot and make awesome grades in the process.

Photo Credit: From the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

4 thoughts to “What to Do When You Think Your Teacher Sucks”

  1. well what if my teacher really sucks? As in he told the class -12+3=8 and constantly makes mistakes.. we were taking notes then in the middle of it he realizes that he did something wrong and erased EVERYTHING, redid his work up to the point we were at then asked us if he was doing it right… um excuse me, i though you were the teacher? None of his keys are right because there full of mistakes. Honestly I feel like he’s teaching himself while he’s teaching us? Seriously, where did you get your degree? Another thing he tried “teaching us” is this FANTASTIC trick called the “flippy trick/switch-a-roo” where we had some big equation added together to equal a value and he told us that you can just flip everything over because… his logic. Say what? The entire class was like no, you can’t do that. That defies all math logic. Ex: 1/2+1/2=1 using “flippy trick” 2+2=1. Wrong. You can’t do that. Yet he took 30 min of class time to prove he’s right and we’re wrong? The previous calc teacher was AMAZING and got an offer to work at a university, so he was the replacement. He is the ONLY calc teacher in my school so you can’t go anywhere else. Honestly, after an ENTIRE year I can tell you everything I learned will fit on a half sheet of paper. Now I’m going to take the AP calc test… yay. I took the practice AP exam and got a 17 points meaning I’M SO SCREWED. On the bright side, I don’t have to take the final 🙂
    BTW: I’m a straight A student. Ranked in the top 10 out of 600 students and NEVER got an average lower than a 99 in math… then calc happened. 23 students already complained. Sorry for the rant… I’ve been holding this in for an entire year. Wish me luck on this test, if my guessing game is on point maybe I’ll get a 2?

  2. Oh, Lola! It is sooooooo disappointing when we lose great teachers, and then have to deal with their replacements. Sigh. It sounds like this was a year when you had the opportunity to learn how to teach yourself the content, using the resources at hand, given the teacher wasn’t a good resource for you. I know it feels like class time is such a waste in that situation. It’s the problem with the structure of the education system we have — students are often stuck with teachers who don’t work for them, but there are no other options. Sometimes we just need to accept the limitations of our current situation, and then figure out how we’re going to make the most of it! Things will definitely improve in college, because you have more choice about the classes you take, and the quality of professor you want to work with. But for now, I’m glad you gave yourself the rant — it can really help just to communicate! And I FOR SURE wish you luck on the test (and yay! for not having to take a final). If you think about it, pop back in here and tell us how it goes. 🙂

  3. Okay, so what about this?
    My English teacher legit spends the majority of class talking about things that aren’t relevant. (I.E. She’ll talk about her son in the Navy instead of whatever book we’re reading at the time). The few times she DOES talk about something relevant, she just repeats the same exact crap that I’ve heard so much that just thinking about typing it makes me want to puke.
    The other day we were given the assignment to write a thematic essay based on the movie “I am David,” and she decided to give us some free time to work on it on our own. Well, a few kids got done early and began talking amongst themselves, and my teacher completely flipped out! She made the whole class start over! Those of us who hadn’t finished, but had gotten a good chunk done had to turn it in and re-write it with a different thesis and everything.
    This teacher has been teaching at my school for more years than I care to count, and has received a couple “teacher of the year” awards – though I can’t imagine why. Lucky for future students, she’s retiring this year, but as for me, I get all A’s and B’s, but I have a solid D in her class – as does everyone else I’ve asked – simply because she’s actually a bad teacher. I’ve tried talking to my school counselor about it – as have a few others – but no one in the school staff even tries to do anything, as whenever they come in to monitor the class the teacher will give us an assignment to work on while she talks to them about their families and such. She’s such good friends with everyone I got a letter home the other day from the principal getting angry at me for “disrupting the class” when I refused to listen to her about her son’s week aboard the SS I-couldn’t-care-if-I-tried for the umpteenth time and tried to work on my essay instead.
    What am I supposed to do?

  4. Hey Jared. Yeah, that sounds like a frustrating situation!! Most of my clients have at least one teacher who’s really hard to work with for one reason or another. This sounds like the case for you! Of course, given the limited information I have, I can’t know exactly what is going on with this teacher, but I can say this — in my life, I sometimes have to work with people who are really hard to work with. It especially sucks when they are people who have control over me in some way (like a boss, or in this case a teacher). It’s easy to let resentment build up about those people, AND (in my experience) resentment never helped a situation. I’m guessing that your own resentment overflowed the other day in class, and you communicated in a way that felt like a “disruption” to your teacher. Given you can’t control this teacher (and how good he/she is, and which stories she chooses to tell in class) and you can’t control how the administration perceives this teacher, the only thing it looks like you CAN control in this situation is your response to it. How can you process the growing resentment of this teacher without taking it out on her? Do you have tools and strategies for that? I know this advice may feel less than ideal — it takes a lot of emotional work to process our resentments in healthy ways, especially if those resentments feel justified (as it sure sounds like yours feel!).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *