Skip to main content

Types of Bad Teachers


Check out my new book:

I just published a book called "Accessible American History," which developed through my eleven years of experience as a community college teacher. The link below will take you to a short hub describing it in more detail, including links to where it can be bought.

Classic Scene from Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Bad Teacher Categories

My last hub was an attempt to understand and explain why some community college students fail. I placed these unsuccessful people into various general categories, with each representing the typical categories of failing students. Education, of course, is a two way street, and just as there are typical patterns for failing students, there are also several categories where you can place poor teachers. So from my own experience as a pupil, and also from stories that I have heard over the years from friends, colleagues, and former students, I have compiled a list in no particular order of bad teacher categories. Anyone who has ever spent some time in school should be familiar with some (or all) of these characters. And as much as I hate to admit it, some of these hit (slightly) close to home.

1) “Ditto” – When I took American History in 11th grade, I had a teacher who did nothing but hand out worksheets. They were typically in a fill-in-the-blank format, and all of the answers could be found in the textbook. So we walked in every day and followed the routine, and every now and then, we had tests to see if we memorized the key facts.

Now in fairness to this teacher, it is important to note that he was about 152 years old. So I can understand why, after 130 years of teaching, he might give up on the whole teacher/student interaction thing. Plus, students screw around less when they are kept busy, and he could then have a more peaceful time as he cruised toward his impending retirement.

2) “Tangent” – These characters apparently see teaching as therapy, journaling, or a vehicle for personal commentary. I say this because they spend much of their class time talking about stuff that has nothing to do with the official subject matter. They may share aspects of their personal lives, jump randomly from topic to topic, or rant and rave about their opinions on political issues. Whatever the case, students are often left to fend for themselves in their attempts to actually learn anything that will show up on upcoming tests.

3) “Rambler” – This person can be similar to “tangent.” The difference, however, is that “rambler” actually talks about the subject matter. It is done, however, in a very disorganized way. And to make matters worse, this teacher provides little or nothing in the way of visual aids to help students take notes. So students must do their best to determine which bits of randomly presented information might actually matter. Like with “tangent,” textbooks and classmates will often be the only hope for students.

4) “Monotone” – This person may be knowledgeable and organized, but his or her lifeless presentation tends to induce unconsciousness. These teachers also have a tendency to sit or stand in one location – generally behind a podium – as they often read directly from notes. They are the educational equivalent of a robot.

5) “Plays Favorites” – Here is one the most common complaints that I hear from students: “If he (or she) likes you, then you will get a good grade. If not, you’re in trouble.” I often wonder if this complaint is based more on perception than reality. The simple truth is that we teachers – especially at the college level – don’t know most students well enough to have any strong personal feelings about them. Also, isn’t it possible that a student who performs well will please a teacher and therefore be “liked”? Whatever the case, I get quite a few “ass-kissing” students. Apparently, they think that “making friends” with the teacher is more productive than studying. I imagine that this strategy has probably worked somewhere, but if that is the main plan in my class, then they are truly in trouble.

6) “Slacker” – This teacher clearly does not want to do a whole lot of work. They are especially averse to spending a lot of time grading assignments and tests. So they will either give few assignments or grade them in a lax manner. As a result, the class is easy, and most students in our grade-obsessed educational system won’t complain.

7) “Over Your Head” – For whatever reason, this person teaches classes that are a bitch to pass. Lectures may be way over people’s heads, books are indecipherable, and the teacher will often blame the students for lack of intelligence and/or effort. They may also think that it is perfectly normal to have 80% of the students either drop or fail their classes. It’s not his or her fault that most people are morons.

8) “Under Your Head” – As the name indicates, this is the opposite of the “over your head” teacher. Unlike the “slacker,” however, this teacher is apparently unaware of how easy the class is. So they sincerely teach easy, boring classes, and most students are happy to pass them with as little work as possible.

9) “Class ‘Presentations’ / ‘Group Work’ Fan” – Now I am not against “cooperative learning” or class presentations per se, but in some classes, these are the only activities that take place. The teacher, therefore, does little or no actual teaching, and he or she essentially allows other students to do all of the work. Of course, in our current educational system, some may compliment these teachers for being “innovative” and not overly “teacher-centered.” Taken to an extreme, however, I view this person as either another version of a “slacker” or an individual who has gone to one too many seminars.

10) “Your Friend” – Naïve new teachers may think that if you are nice to students, then they will be nice in return. These characters hope to be the cool teacher that students actually like. But in order to stay on the students’ good side, they may be reluctant to carry out any disciplinary actions or to assign too much difficult work. And when many students get wind of these facts, they will take every opportunity to walk all over this teacher who wants to be their friend. There is a big difference between being liked and being respected, and I pity any educator who has yet to learn this hard lesson.

11) “Doormat” – Sometimes, this person fits in the “your friend” category. But in doormat’s case, factors other than their desire to be “a friend” will lead students to walk all over them: a docile personality, youth, inexperience, lack of a discipline system, etc. The inability to control a classroom is probably the main factor that leads people to bail from the teaching profession. Some bad experiences during my early years almost led me to run away as well.

12) “Power Trip” – Through our ability to assign grades, dish out assignments, and carry out disciplinary actions, we teachers can wield a certain amount of power. Unfortunately, there may be some in our profession who let this go to their heads. I’m sure that many people can describe negative experiences with teachers who seemed to enjoy making students suffer. Now I know that I, like everyone else, have plenty of weaknesses, but a lust for power is not one of them. My dream class is one in which everyone loves learning history and gets an “A.” The last thing that I want to do is punish people, coerce them into doing things, or hand out bad grades. Of course, these actions that I do not necessarily enjoy go with the territory.

13) "Academically Incompetent" - This category speaks for itself. Any reasonable student is aware that a teacher does not know everything. They can figure out, however, when a teacher crosses a line into utter incompetence. This can be a particular problem in the later years of grammar school. The subject matter starts to get a bit more sophisticated, and teachers are expected to be a "jack of all trades." This can also be a problem in High School "Social Science" classes in which coaches often do the teaching. After all, anyone can teach a History class, right?

If teaching is to be done well, then we educators must overcome some of our personality traits, step out of our comfort zones, do things that are inconvenient, and, in general, stay focused on what this whole enterprise is all about. When we settle into patterns because they meet our needs, and not because they are best for the students, then we will find ourselves in one or more of the categories listed above.

Scroll to Continue

Books about Teaching and Education Reform


Marie on August 27, 2014:

I have a teacher that's basically exactly as #10 and she gets a lot of respect, we pay attention, almost all of us do great in her subject. And it's not an easy class. But because so many teachers are assholes we all find her refreshing so we all kinda just want to please her. Sooo, yeah. Not all teachers who are "friends" with their students are naïve or need to be pitied.

Diana Gómez on May 06, 2012:

It is interesting

Paul Swendson (author) on April 09, 2011:

You might need to go above her. (Although that could be a problem is she is associate director.) It would also be helpful if several students complain about the same problems at the same time. If it's just one student, administrators will assume that the student is the problem.

Booya on April 09, 2011:

O wow, I'm experiencing the over your head and power trip instructor right now. This woman who is a new associate director is pestering me and keep showing up to my other classes and lecture me in front of other students. Dropping me assignments, then change them at night, made her secretary called me the next morning because she wants to see me the same day. When I skipped a sentence, she right away blame i don't read, or understand English (I'm ESL) She thinks the work of every students in her class sucked, and one dropped already. How to deal with teacher like this?

Paul Swendson (author) on January 22, 2011:

It's amazing how often teachers let their personal biases affect how they do their jobs. Hopefully, I am not doing the same thing on some unconscious level. I'm glad to hear that you were able to overcome your lousy high school experience.

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on January 22, 2011:


What a great hub! Really interesting. It brought back many memories of my High School days. Depending upon which part of the county you came from, you were either 'in' our 'out' and were treated accordingly by some of the teachers. Since my family came from the 'out' side, meaning we were from a mining community, we were treated like second-class citizens. Because they expected bad behaviour we obliged them. It wasn't until I left High School, moved into college and then onto Nursing Training that, to my great joy, I discovered I actually had some form of intelligence and that tutors were not only human but friends and great fun. But my High School days - apart from 2 of my teachers - were a nightmare.

Paul Swendson (author) on December 26, 2010:

Andy, you joined Hubpages! Arbitrary is a very good category that I sort of indirectly mentioned. I talked about the person who bases grades on whether or not he or she likes someone. In your case, it sounds like you had some people who were either bad at math or didn't know their own system.

And yes, many of these categories apply very well to bosses. Fortunately, I haven't had too many bad ones.

Andy Born on December 25, 2010:

Maybe you can add a new category: Arbitrary.

I've had teachers who published a syllabus on Day 1 consisting of a formula of points, based on homework, quizzes, tests, exams, participation, etc. Yet the final grade didn't follow the formula for the grade received. When I talked to the teacher, he/she heard me describe my grades that he/she gave me on homeworks and test, thought a bit, then usually changed the grade (or sometimes didn't). I wasn’t whining about a grade I got on a test – rather, that the teacher didn’t follow their own criteria for a final grade. I mean, if I got all As on tests and homeworks, why did I get a C in the class?

I don't know if the teacher was a Slacker (couldn't be bothered to follow his own formula) or a Rambler (disorganized). I suspect that this type of teacher just didn't know how to grade some things (e.g. class participation or project contribution), and just handed out a grade without much thought. Just subjective and arbitrary.

Your categories for teacher extend to the working world. I've noticed that at my engineering job, my managers will hand out performance evaluations ("grades" for working adults) which also don't follow the "rules" that were stated at the beginning of the year (our goals & objectives). Again, your categories for teachers also apply to bosses and managers (e.g. in project meetings, staff meetings, seminars, , etc). Just last week, I got As on 6 or 7 of the published goals (attend X number of seminars, teach Y number of classes, mentor Z number of younger workers), got a B on the 7th, yet got a B for the year. When I asked my manager, I was told the grade for the year is not mathemetically calculated. I finally had to point out that I should have gotten an A on the 7th goal (I did indeed have 12 new business points, defined as managing projects totaling $100K per point). She admitted that I should have gotten an A on the 7th goal, because she didn’t really understand the grading criteria.

So your categories for teachers also apply to bosses.

Paul Swendson (author) on November 12, 2010:

It's amazing how often the stories are the same. It's also unfortunate when teachers are put into situations where they are almost set up to fail. So much of what happens in schools has so little to do with effective education. It saves money to have one teacher teach too many classes are to have a coach double up as a teacher.

mysterylady 89 from Florida on November 12, 2010:

You are so right that teaching is a two-way street! Your description of poor teachers is also accurate. I remember the coach who taught (?) World History at my high school. He read, in a monotone, the text I had in front of me. When I was interning, my directing teacher could grade (?) all five classes of essays during her planning period. I could go on and on.

Dennis AuBuchon from Ohio on November 12, 2010:

Good hub

You made some great points in categorizing teachers. Like you indicated teaching is a two way street. Teachers must create an environment where students want to learn based on their methods of teaching and communicating the subject.

I have been an instructor and I have been a student. As an instructor I created an environment that created opportunities for me and the students to interact on the subject being taught. Having a conversation with students and this means all students or at least the opportunity for all students to communicate is important.

It is also important that teachers who are assigned subjects to teach actually have the training and knowledge to create a learning environment. Sometimes teachers are assigned subject for which their degrees do not match. This creates a situation where there may be poor outcome from the students but it is not necessarily the fault of the teacher.

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on November 11, 2010:

Since I have never been a teacher I can only speak from the pupil's point of view. The most disliked teacher in my school was a young man, who when he came into the class for the first time said "Just call me Luke". It had always been the practice to call the teachers Sir or Mr Whatever. Of course class became informal to the point of uncontrolled with "Luke" in charge. When he realised that the "Call me Luke" approach was not working he became the most sneaky, ratty, and disliked teacher in the school. I will always remember him because he was so rubbish as a teacher. I never heard a pupil say a good word about him.

Paul Swendson (author) on November 11, 2010:

Yes, the skills to be a scholar are not the same as those for a teacher. I wrote a blog post a while back called, "Would a PHD make me a better teacher?" I'll have to post that on Hubpages sometime.

Discipline is not a big issue at my level, but I had some experience with it when I used to teach Jr High and High School. I even had some subbing experience, and you are right about the students trying to work the sub. I would have never survived at the grammar school level. I have enough trouble handling my two kids.

William Thomas from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things! on November 11, 2010:

Good Day Freeway Flyer

This is another great excursion on your path of teaching. Voted up for useful.

Monotone. This is an interesting category. Here, I would think we're probably looking at someone who should just be doing research, writing, adding to the store of knowledge; but he or she doesn't need to be teaching; after all, not everyone who is knowledgeable about a subject can teach it! I hear that the United States is rather unique in that regard.

I hear that in European universities they hire: one person to do research (reading, writing, adding to the store of human knowledge; and another SEPARATE person to actually teach the material to students; there is the recognition there, that we're dealing with separate, not necessarily similar skill sets.

"Your friend" and "Doormat." These are people who are in the wrong profession because they cannot control the classroom. I don't imagine that would be much of a problem at your level, FF, would it? But it is quite necessary at the level I deal with. I do substitute teaching and I specialize in pre-K through fourth grade (elementary school).

A classic tactic the class will do to try to derail a sub, is to flood him or her with all kinds of contradictory information (Ms. So and So always has us do this, or Mrs. So and So always has us do it this way.... etc). The goal is to induce decisional paralysis in the sub so that they don't have to do any work -- nothing personal, they just test you. You can't fall for it, that's all. You can't have the "inmates running the asylum."

I agree with everything you wrote in your concluding paragraph, to which I would just add: all teachers must make sure (being honest with themselves) that they are in the right profession for them.

Related Articles