Teacher X

He was not the worst teacher I ever had. Or maybe he was. More than 40 years later I can’t decide.

He knew his subject, which I guess is a plus. But his treatment of his students was, at the very least, disrespectful. I think his classroom management methods built up resentment and stifled the learning environment. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he just didn’t understand the role of a teacher.

I’ll call him Teacher X, no need to name names. He’s deceased now and can’t defend his questionable tactics. I hadn’t thought of him in years, until last year when I read a piece on another blog that was so obviously about the same man.

Teacher X taught high school biology. No doubt it was a tough course, especially for me as I had transferred from another jurisdiction and didn’t have the prerequisites. He told me at the outset I would fail the course. So much for being encouraging. No “if you work hard I am sure you will be able to catch up.” Just negativity.

There were frequent in-class tests. After each one the class seating plan was changed. Do well and you sat at the back. Do poorly and you were in the front row. There was no option and no privacy, everyone knew how you had scored on the quiz. Public shaming was the norm.

Since I had never taken the subject before (unlike my classmates who had had a lower-level version) I struggled to keep up. I was always in the front row.

I could have used some one-on-one help, but I don’t remember it being offered. Or maybe it was, but the teacher’s attitude may have caused me to decline. I have had teachers I didn’t see eye to eye with, but this was the first (and last) time I actually disliked one. He may have been a nice man, but there was nothing on display in the classroom to indicate that.

The theory behind the constant seat shifting was, I think, two-fold. Teacher X wanted to keep an eye on students who were getting low marks because they were inattentive (which was not my problem) and I think he wanted to use the front row shaming as a motivational tool, to encourage students to work and study harder.

Having been married to a teacher for more than 30 years I have learned a few things about pedagogy. Not once have I heard it suggested that shaming students is an effective way to teach. Maybe it’s a deep dark secret of the teaching profession, but I suspect not.

From time to time I see articles discussing the needs of at-risk children in the school system, students who for various reasons are struggling due to family, cultural or educational situations. The goal of the educational system is student success, of helping those with needs overcome adversity. It is not about a cookie-cutter approach and shaming those who don’t do well. I wonder if Teacher X would understand that method?

I can be extremely critical of many aspects of our public education system, but I’m glad times have changed. At least I hope they have.

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4 comments

  1. Uh, were you able to pass the course anyway?

    1. 51% if I remember correctly.

  2. […] about a reverse order high school teacher. Lorne Anderson has also recently written about him. Neil Remington Abramson conveyed similar reflections, as […]

  3. […] to have been in the same class, at a different time. He was one of the ones at the front, and has written about the experience. The shaming resentment remains, across […]

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