Confessions of a Bad Teacher

The Book of the Week is “Confessions of a Bad Teacher” by John Owens, published in 2013. This ebook is the personal account of a first-year teacher in a New York City “small school” during former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration.

After a successful career in publishing, Owens was trying his hand at teaching. Poor naive soul that he was, he didn’t realize what he was getting into. He encountered “school reform gone terribly wrong.” For, in this day and age, teachers are the scapegoat for all of America’s education problems, especially in low-income districts, like the one where he got a job. From 5am to 10pm daily, the author was working. He was assigned middle school and high school English classes– a total of 125 students, going between two classrooms every day.

The principal of his school made impossible demands on the teachers by putting them in countless “Catch-22” situations. One involved disciplining the students. She left this to the teachers, but when they needed a higher authority to enforce the rules on punishment for serious offenses, the teachers were strongly discouraged from “wasting” administrators’ time.

The unreasonable principal herself punished teachers severely with an “Unsatisfactory” rating if he or she had poor “classroom management.” Getting the students to sit quietly was well-nigh impossible most of the time, for so many reasons. For one, Owens estimated that of the 28 kids in his eighth grade class, about 8 of them had “…learning or behavior or emotional problems.” The parents of some of them did not want them to be labeled in a way that would stigmatize them but allow them to get help. The frequently absent special-education teacher popped into the classroom when she was not doing other tasks deemed of higher priority by the school principal, anyway.

The author was buried in an avalanche of bureaucratic work in addition to his teaching duties. He had to create, duplicate or obey: “…handouts, PowerPoints, and relentless, notebook-filling rules, rubrics, standards, demands and musts…” not to mention an overwhelming amount of required computer-data-entry of numerical scores in various topic-areas, grades, documentation, etc. Furthermore, the principal demanded that the teachers give exams to the students at least every other week. Owens was ordered by the assistant principal to give students a test in a style like the Regents (New York State standardized tests given once or twice a year, in specific subjects) weekly.

To sum it up, like so many other teachers in the United States, Owens found himself playing the “…role of an accomplice in a crazy and corrupt system bent on achieving statistical results, rather than helping students.”  Read the book to learn what happened. Hint: It wasn’t pretty.