Bad Teachers


***They lit his tie on fire as he napped in class; they threw his desk and bookshelves out the window. The students did things such as this for 30 years. This teacher had tenure. His very first year of teaching saw the kids throw his overcoat out the window; put glue on his desk drawers, and cause him befuddlement when they asked questions he couldn’t answer. He kept sending kids to the administrators. Nothing helped. He never got any better. He stunk on his first day of teaching before tenure and he stunk on his last day of teaching with tenure. He stunk every day in between.

***She would take attendance and as she called the kid’s name, the kid would say “present” or “yo” or “here” and then get up and leave the class. She never noticed that but when she looked up there might have been 10 kids remaining out of 30. She had tenure. She’d been teaching for 20 years.

***Everyday, he would cry when he came into the teacher’s room. He’d complain that the kids were torturing him. Indeed, they were. He’d been teaching for two years. He did not have tenure yet. He had graduated from Columbia’s school of education.

***She screamed and yelled at her students every day; every damn day. You could hear her on the second floor although she taught on the third floor. She’d been teaching five years. She had tenure. She yelled from the second day of her first year on the job and never stopped.

***She’d been at the job for 32 years. She only taught honors classes. She couldn’t teach non-academic classes because the kids ate her alive. She couldn’t teach academic classes because those kids ate her alive. So to save her sanity, she was only given honors classes. They ate her alive because many of these kids were disdainful of her intellect. But they ate her alive without throwing stuff at her or throwing stuff (or her) out the window. She won Teacher of Excellence in some New York State competition.

The above are just some examples of bad teachers. Without exception they all had tenure. That one exception – the crier – received tenure after his third year. My understanding is that he became a principal. He was on his way to the top! For all I know he could be a superintendent of schools now.

The unknowledgeable in educational matters, meaning non-teachers, would think that those “old” pros had merely lost the ability to teach or just got bored and allowed the kids to run rampant.

Not so.

Teachers who were bad before tenure were bad after tenure. So I ask you this? How the hell did these bad teachers get tenure? You had good teachers before tenure who became great teachers after tenure, yes, that is true, because they gradually learned the secrets of success – but they were good to start with. The bad stayed bad. No bad teacher in my wealth of experience ever became a good teacher.

There was only one exception to my tenure rule (Scobe’s rule: bad stays bad) and that was one teacher at my high school who was a brilliant man, loved by students, who went stock-raving mad after 25 years of teaching. The teaching didn’t drive him mad; his divorce from his wife did; it sent him over the edge. He started taking everything out on his students. His classes became rants. He was fired after he poured ketchup and mustard on a student’s head after the student said something he didn’t like in the cafeteria. The student got drenched then beat up the teacher. The student was not thrown out of school; in fact he was a hero to some students for pounding the living shit out of this poor guy. The teacher was a nerdy type; not much of a fighter. Still the teacher was fired.

A second tenured teacher halfway through his 37th year – he was still a good teacher now mind you – reached out and grabbed a girl’s breasts while teaching his lesson. “These are nice,” he said squeezing them. He disappeared 10 minutes later and was never seen again. But he left when he was still a good teacher – although obviously something snapped inside his head (whichever head you think that was).

I have no idea why teachers who didn’t have it, got it – tenure I mean. I just don’t really recall teachers going from good to bad after tenure. The great teachers – and I did know some great teachers at Lawrence High School – never just became “okay.” They were great before tenure and great after tenure.

I am not a cheerleader for public education but I can say tenure is necessary – otherwise I would never have had a teaching career. You see, when I was a new teacher I was fired from my first job. I didn’t even finish my second year after having (dare I say this) a somewhat physical altercation with my principal. He thought I was a good teacher but he couldn’t stand me because I was – and this is the truth – an arrogant bastard. I also taught stuff he didn’t think I should teach. Even when he told me not to teach it; I taught it. As I said, I was arrogant and, yes, I know this now – I was stupid.

On my second job at Lawrence High School, once again I alienated some administrators who had the ear of some Board of Education members. My science fiction club did a comic book “Lawrenceman” that teachers and kids liked but that the administration hated. I made everyone who joined my club a “president” (they had to pay for the position) so it would look good on their college transcripts. We didn’t hide this fact. I had giant signs all over the school telling students to join and become the president. In fact, some of the major colleges wrote me little notes telling me how much fun it was to see a teacher enjoying his career and to keep sending them my presidents. I even allowed teachers, custodians, and secretaries to become members but they could only pay to be vice-presidents.

I barely squeaked by to get tenure – and if I didn’t get tenure at Lawrence, I would never get another teaching job. I’d be blackballed.

You see, before I was hired at Lawrence I went on six interviews and as soon as I told the principal the fact that I had been fired – I never hid that – I didn’t get the job. At Lawrence, four people became my strong supporters after I taught a sample lesson: Greg Monahan, chairman; Edwin Krawitz, principal; Lenore Israel, great teacher; Gabe Uhlar, great teacher and also the kids of the class I taught. The school – and the students – took a chance on me, and thanks to them I actually had a career.

Still, I only got tenure by one vote. Over my career tenure protected me.

Tenure protected other controversial teachers too. We had teachers who were socialists; ultra-conservatives, libertarians, religious nut cases, but all damn good in a classroom. Our school thrived because of these people; it certainly didn’t thrive because of the bad teachers. These were great teachers – before and after tenure – but some of them were outspoken; they were fighters. Certainly, those bad teachers never had to worry about being fired; but the firebrands did. Tenure protected them. It protected me. And it gave students great teachers from which to learn.

Bottom line, I whole-heartedly believe in tenure but, come on, teachers have three years to show their stuff – their teaching stuff – and if they just don’t have it then they shouldn’t get tenure.

Tenure is great because it is a method of protecting those who should be protected; but it is a disgrace to give someone tenure who is not now and will never be a competent teacher.

[Read my new book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!]

2 thoughts on “Bad Teachers”

  1. Oh geez, Scobe, I just can’t figure out who those bad teachers that you described in the beginning of your article could be! I was always on the second floor, and never heard about these disastrous people. I always thought all the teachers at Lawrence were top notch.

    1. Oh, you had one in your department. Chairs flying all over the room, screams, administrators in her room almost every day. You had another one on your floor who gave more referrals than the whole school combined. I’ll send you the names in an email.

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