Ousting Bad Teacher Helps Students

By Lindsey Novak

May 16, 2019 4 min read

Q: I'm an English literature teacher who also independently tutors students from the other small, local colleges in the area. A student from one of those colleges hired me to meet with him weekly because he was confused by the assignments he had been given. I decided the student was sharp, intelligent and serious but that his teacher was terrible.

The students were required to answer questions and write an analysis each week for various reading assignments. When I reviewed the assignments and the teacher's feedback on each paper, the problem became obvious to me. The student was not the one with the problem: the teacher was. The instructions and requirements for each assignment were so poorly explained even I could not understand what the teacher wanted. I discussed with the student the teacher's flaws, only to find out this teacher is the head of the English department at that school.

I looked up the teacher's background and degrees and saw his only accomplishment was self-publishing one poetry book; he was not qualified nor impressive enough for a school to make him a department head. I thought that hiring such a person to head an English department, no matter how inconsequential the school may be, was an injustice for all students who have to suffer under this teacher.

The student said no one in the class feels knowledgeable enough to complain. I think the dean of the school should review this department head's work so it would become obvious he is unqualified to teach, much less head an English department. When I told a friend I was considering complaining, she thought I was terrible for wanting to report the teacher. To the contrary, I feel it's my obligation to report him since the whole class (according to this student) is having problems understanding him.

Our country's educational system is at an all-time low, and maybe part of the problem is caused by substandard hiring qualifications. It seems some community colleges are so far below university standards, it's a shame for students to waste money to attend them. If I expose this department head's lack of credentials and inability to teach, do you think the dean will consider or ignore the complaint?

A: You apparently have a passion for education and a strong desire to help students. But your greatest problem, so far, is that you shared your thoughts of your plan with a friend. When you feel inspired to help one person or a group, stay on track with your idea and keep it to yourself. Friends have their own values, interests and agendas by which they make decisions. As an experienced teacher, you know your values, morals and passions and how deeply they are ingrained in you. Some friends share similar values, and some may not, which is why self-confidence is necessary for good decision-making.

It sounds like you're committed to representing students who lack the ability to defend themselves against unqualified teachers. Be aware, though, that exposing the teacher could backfire on you if he and the dean have a solid working relationship. If you go forward with submitting a detailed complaint, you can avoid backlash by mailing it anonymously so it can't be traced to your email. The complaint should include every assignment for the class, with a list of questions and suggestions to show how each instruction or requirement is unclear. The dean will likely read each week's assignments, thinking the complaint may have been submitted by the class or someone outside of that school's staff. Nothing will lead back to you, and you will have helped the class in a way they could not have helped themselves.

Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com, and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/at-work-lindsey-novak.

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