Thursday, May 15, 2014

How To Tell If Someone Is A Bad Teacher

For the last six blogposts  I’ve been letting Mr. Tram have his say as to what kind of a student teacher I was when he supervised me in his Grade 9 Science class. I think everyone will agree that he paints a horrifying picture of me. I don’t think he was all that fair. I thought I was a good teacher. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

It’s evident that Mr. Tram thought I was a terrible teacher; but if you read his diary, it’s not really all that clear just what I did wrong. Yes, he talks about how I didn’t submit lesson plans and how I talked about things that weren’t on the curriculum. But isn’t it just possible that someone – not necessarily me, but someone - could be guilty of those two sins and still be a pretty good teacher? So it’s hard to say just what I’m guilty of. Mostly he talks about things that happened out of class…snatches of conversation, mostly taken out of context, that make me look…well, crazy. He mentions three or four occasions on which he felt afraid of me, like the time I “paced past (his) classroom without saying anything”. But what was it actually like sitting in class while I was teaching? If you read Mr. Tram’s diary over again, you’ll find that when you’re done you won’t know much more than you know right now.

Well, it’s my blog, so I suppose I should defend myself and tell you my version of what kind of teacher I was. But every time I do something like that, the haters chime in and complain that I’m just spouting self-serving propaganda, that of course I’m going to see myself through rose-colored glasses. So maybe I won’t do that now.

Instead, what I think I’m going to do is to show you what it really looks like when you write up a bad teacher. If I was really as bad a teacher as Mr. Tram makes me out to be, I wold think he would have a lot more specific classroom incidents that he could describe in detail.  But in fact, he doesn’t provide a single example. Not even one.

I know the haters among my former classmates are already preparing to leap to Mr. Tram’s defence, just as they did when I challenged them to name one single incident that happened at the U of W which justified getting me kicked out of classes. Like Mr. Confused, who self-righteously proclaims "I am NOT a hater" and then gets all indignant that I have the audacity to ask for details of what I did that was so wrong:

You are like a broken record. I saw a guy who questioned the strategies of most instructors to the point where it sucked up valuable class time. ALL OF THE TIME. Can I remember specifics? Nope. You need to stop asking this, we have all moved on and filed this in the 'irrelevant' file.
It’s funny because I don’t have that much trouble remembering details. Professor Bell was a very bad teacher, and I remember details that I can describe to back that up. Professor Metz was a bad teacher, and I can justify that judgment with specific details. Professor Bush was an awful teacher, and I can tell specific stories to explain why. Professor Cantor…well, yes, she was bad too but in her case I might have trouble with details because everything was just so mushy. She was so earnest and sincere, and she’d keep on saying how such-and-such a point was really really important, and I kept waiting to find out just what her point was, and it never really came. But in general, I can come up with lots of specifics to justify why someone is a bad teacher. And if you’re going to kick someone out of his practicum after just six days, I’d think you should have something more substantial than “he paced by my classroom without saying anything.”
So just what am I expecting of Mr. Tram? In a word…specifics. The very thing Mr. Confused insists I'm not entitled too. And although I haven’t mentioned it yet, I happen to think Mr. Tram was quite a bad teacher. So I asked myself: let’s say we turned the tables. Could I back up that claim with specific incidents? And when I think about it…yes, I think I can. So maybe that will be my next order of business when we return.

I ought to mention that this might not be the smartest move on my part. Yes, Mr. Tram criticized me in writing, so why shouldn’t I criticize him right back? Well, theres’ a difference. It was his job to be critical of me; so it’s hard for me to sue him, because under the doctrine of qualified privilege, I have to prove that he was malicious. That’s not so easy.

But if I come out in this blog and just criticize him out of the blue, it’s not clear that I have any such defence: this blog is not what they call a “privileged occasion”. He can sue me, and my only defence would be that what I’m saying is the truth. And that’s not always so easy to prove, considering I don’t have ready access to the witnesses who saw it all…that is, the students.

Still, I think I can make out a pretty good case that Mr. Tram was a bad teacher. Not because I want to get even with him, but just to clarify the theoretical point: what does it look like when you compile a list of actual examples of poor teaching? Because I don’t think Mr. Tram has really done that in his diary. Like I say, it could get nasty for me, but hey…what the heck. Let’s see what happens.

* * * *

EDIT: Mr. Confused has written in with a list of my character flaws that supposedly proves I was a bad teacher. One of those flaws is that I'm "so self-absorbed I can't see the big picture". Hmmm...

He insists “I am not a hater”, but later he admits that he was the anonymous poster who called me an idiot.

He admits that it’s obvious that someone must have told Tram to “get the dirt” on me (and who would that be if not Principal Skull?); but in spite of all this, he proclaims that if it was him in my situation, he would have won Tram over with his personal charm. (Who’s “self-absorbed” now?) 

When I first started posting Tram’s diary, he complained that I must be leaving something out because there was nothing in Tram’s account to explain why he was so opposed to me; but later, when it became clear to him that I had left nothing out, he backtracks and argues that according to the Diary, Tram started off on my side, trying to “help me become a better teacher”. 

And after admitting that none of his four CT’s never even asked for as much as a lesson plan (and how much he enjoyed the freedom they gave him), it still doesn't cross his mind that maybe he was lucky that he didn’t have Mr. Tram as a CT.

He criticizes my lesson plans for not listing the SLO’s but admits he didn’t read the introduction where I list all the SLO’s.

When it comes to what happened at the U of W, he admits he can’t remember anything I specifically did wrong at the University, but still says they were justified in “giving me the boot”.

He ridicules me for being so obsessed (“like a broken record”) with getting people to come forward with specific incidents, saying (more or less) “get over it already. Everyone else has moved on. Why can’t you?” Big picture: Yes, Mr. Confused, you’ve “moved on” because you’re not the one who got kicked out of school.  Talk about “self-absorbed”.

He ridicules me for speaking out in class when it was obvious that no one was interested in what I had to say. Self-absorption: just because you weren’t interested, doesn’t mean no one was. 
And Big Picture: not everyone is brought up to believe it is a sign of character to back down in the face of public opposition. My father gave me Ibsen’s Enemy of the People to read when I was a kid. I’m guessing yours didn’t.

He characterizes my public disagreements with the profs as “trivial”, and then proudly says he can’t recall any specific examples because he would always “tune right out” as soon as I started speaking. Let me try to explain to him the Big Picture here: you can say that the things I said were a waste of time, or you can say you don’t remember what I said because you weren’t paying attention; but you can’t say both.

EDIT: A former classmate, Mr. I'm-not-Shari, wrote in below to ask me about a presentation I was scheduled to do in Prof. Bell's class just before I was kicked out. I actually wrote the University VP to ask if they could modify the expulsion order just to allow me back for the just presentation, but after consulting with the University lawyers, he informed me that they had advised against it. 

I think it would have been a pretty good presentation, but there's no point saying that now. Yes, I had planned to use it to "advance my agenda", as the haters have been complaining all along, but what the heck is wrong with having an "agenda" and wanting to advance it? Anyhow, the theme of the presentation would have been how to tell the difference between going through the motions of teaching and learning, versus actually teaching and learning. I was going to start with a story taken from my engineering education background, which I wrote up last year on my other blog over here. It's from the field of structural theory, which turns out to be a feature of the Grade 7 (!?) curriculum. (They deep thinkers in the curriculum branch throw in a bunch of pretty hard concepts involving things like shear and torsion in order to justify turning the kids loose on the spaghetti-and-marshmallow bridge contest. But that's not my point.)

Anyhow, I was going to start my presentation by explaining the Diving Board Problem to the class and asking them to sketch their best guess as to the correct answer. The problem looks like this:

You have to guess how the curvature varies along the length of the board...where is it greatest, where is it least? It's a funny problem and I tell the story about it in two installments, starting with the link to my other blog. The article includes a bunch of stuff about the political fallout that got mixed up in the story, but I wasn't planning on including that part in my class presentation.


  1. Diary Number 4 (I believe?)
    "I tried very to remind him to have lesson plans and well-structured way to teach but he says “This is how I teach” and refuses to take any advise from me."

    It sounds to me like you were refusing help. I could be wrong, but how else should I interpret this statement?????

    From our classes I can recall that I had some good profs and bad profs. Those in my cohort know exactly who I am talking about. I wouldn't classify Dave as a "bad teacher." Not your style of teaching (as you so tactfully declared in the middle of class.) That was classy.

    Nope, still don't recall any of the trivial objections you made in class because there were so many. Every class you felt it was necessary to question the assignment or the theory. Most people tuned out. You know that already. This is why people don't recall specifics.

    So... what does a bad teacher look like?
    I have some idea.....
    He doesn't take advice from colleagues.
    He appears unprepared and scattered.
    He is unable to read the nonverbal cues of his audience.
    He is so self-absorbed it is impossible for him to see the bigger picture.
    He is unable to connect with his students, academically or socially.
    Through all of this... he still see's nothing wrong and is only concerned with pushing forward with his own agenda.

    Any of this sound familiar?

    I am asking you again, set the record straight. Tram has painted a very ugly picture of you. You have yet to tell us otherwise.

  2. Add to the list...

    -rambles on
    -doesnt vary type of lesson
    -no assessment
    -no discussion
    -simply not doing their job...deliver the curriculum

  3. Yes, one of the items on my "agenda" was that I hate when teachers use PowerPoint. So one day I took the opportunity to ask the class if anyone else felt this was a bad thing in general. As you recall, I was howled down with indignation.

    So after you guys kicked me out of university, was there ever an occasion where you had an in-class discussion about the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the PowerPoint presentation as a method of teaching? Because I thought that was maybe a more worthwhile topic to discuss than that day we listened to one of Dave's CD's and had to spend a class analyzing how the lyrics referred to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (which they didn't!).

    If Mr. Tram had said that I was a bad teacher because overused PowerPoint, that would be an example of a specific complaint. But it wouldn't be very informative unless he added some more details, like: "Marty would put up a power point slide and just read off the bullet points one after another, without pausing to explain or elaborate on them." THAT would be something specific. The peculiar thing about his diary is it is completely absent in those kinds of details. All he comes up with is stuff like "I try very hard to remind Mr. Green to have a more structured way of teaching." What does that even mean?

  4. Okay! So now we are getting somewhere! You are saying that Mr. Tram did NOT offer you any suggestions, correct? You are saying that I am just not able to see your invisible SLO's on your lesson plan. I would assume they are clearly marked on your napkin... somewhere?

    The part where he criticizes you for being off topic, going on about something not in the curriculum AND losing most of the class were not specific incidents? You were there... surely you recall what you were supposed to be teaching that class. I'll wait while you look through your napkins for a quick reference.....

    1. No, I don't think those count as "specifics". Perhaps I have not made myself clear on the difference between "specifics" and "generalities"; I've promised to do so when we return, and then maybe you will understand. But the real proof that those are not "specifics" are found in your own words: "you were there...surely YOU recall...". If Mr. Tram had been specific in describing what happened, you wouldn't be asking me now to fill in the details.

      The problem with "generalities" is that they encourage flights of imagination; and when people (like you, Mr. Confused, and the Dean of Education) were already predisposed to think the worst of me, they will seize on the vaguest of generalities to conjure up horrifying incidents which I cannot defend myself against because...I am not provided with the "specifics"!

      The real point is that if you are putting together a case to kick someone out of school, it is only fair to be sufficiently detailed and specific so that we are not left guessing as to what actually happened. And furthermore, this is not hard to do. Mr. Tram had plenty of time to devote to this task...since I was teaching his class, he had no other job responsibilities than to advise me and evaluate my performance. If he concluded (as he seems to have done after the third class) that there was an urgency in getting me removed from the classroom as soon as possible, I think he owed me (and his employer...remember, he was getting paid for this) a little more effort than the two or three minutes he obviously spent writing up each of his daily log entries.

      It would be an interesting exercise to try and fill in the blanks: imagine YOU are Mr. Tram, and you we had just finished a class where, in his words....

      "(Mr. Green) started with Pythagoras then linguistic analysis of the vowels in English (about 15 minues). I and many students have no idea what Mr. Green is talking about."

      ....and then try to imagine the incident as it really happened, and write it up with details. It might start something like this:

      "After yesterday's class, which ended in the middle of (.....), I asked Mr. Green what he intended to do the next period, and he said: "Don't worry, I'm on it." He began today's class, as he has done now three times, by talking about the Law of Pythagoras, although I have reminded him that this is not on the curriculum. Today, however...."

      It might be an interesting challenge for you to try and complete this little essay, describing my foray into linguistic analysis as you imagine it happened. I doubt you will take me up on this challenge, but THAT, in my opinion, would be what should have been expected of Mr. Tram in terms of providing "specifics" as to why I needed to be removed from the classroom.

  5. I suppose I should correct you on a few items listed above:

    "he would have won Tram over with his personal charm"
    I did not say I would 'charm' anyone. I suggested that, based on my ability to have an open, respectful communication with a peer, I would have been able to work with him.

    You are mistaken. I did not say my CT's didn't ask for lesson plans. I have already told you twice that I went to them before each class to go over my plan. EVEN the CT's that didn't step foot in my room. That was what I agreed to do as a teacher candidate when I signed on for this.

    You stated that I didn't read your UNIT PLAN. Yep. I did. Every boring word of it... how do you think I knew you rambled on? You did NOT list ANY SLO's in your lesson plan napkin.

    I don't recall saying no one wanted to hear your useless banter and objection in class... I said you did it so often, people tuned you out. Self absorbed? Not really.... I just didn't agree with most of your objections because I often felt like you were looking for an excuse to hear yourself talk.

    No... my dad didn't give me a book about contaminated bath water to read when I was little. Is this why I turned out to be such a self-absorbed ass? Hallelujah, you nailed it.

    Noooo... my father was a salesman and taught me how to talk to people. How to read non-verbal cues and how to get them to buy whatever I'm selling. Whether its a lesson plan, or a computer.

    Not really clear on the essay challenge. You want me to write up how a lesson went? I wasn't there. Given Mr. Trams language issues, I think he did list some specifics... He mentioned that you needed more diagrams... that the kids needed some type of assessment.... that you went off topic. Were you expecting him to quote you word for word?

    Thanks for spending so much time trying to make me look like the bad guy here Marty. Hater? I still say no. You won't tell us what is fact and what is fiction in Mr. Trams diary entries. What do you want from us Marty??? I just don't get you.

    1. So who are you anyways? There was that guy Sean who I think was the guy who sneered me down when I tried to correct him on the definition of "metacognition"...or there was the guy who sat in the row right behind me beside the girl who looks like Ellen DeGeneris. I think those were the only two male classmates who really didn't like me. (Ellen Degeneris despised me too for most of the first term, but I think she came around a bit near the end.) Unless you being coy about your gender...I offered you the choice of Mr. or Miss, and I'm feeling the male energy right now. So I'm thinking Ellen's I right?

    2. It IS you! Oh, you are so busted.

  6. Different anonymous, here, but still a former classmate.

    This is going to be an extreme tangent, Marty, so I apologize if it cannot or should not be addressed here or elsewhere in the blob, but all the talk of Dave Bell's class in this and other blog posts sparked something in my memory. Perhaps you can indulge my curiosity or perhaps you can't.

    Do you, by any chance, recall the "inquiry project" we were supposed to have done and presented beginning in mid-January in Dave's class? I was wondering what topic you chose and what the gist of your presentation would have been. I recall Dave saying that you were primed to present first, and I got the sense that you were easily ready to roll. Was it a topic of personal interest to you? I thought it would have been a unique opportunity to hear what you had to say about a topic you had personally gravitated toward.

    But, again, it's just my curiosity. I remember a bit of eagerness to present, on your part, but don't recall getting to see the presentation before you were no longer allowed to attend class.

  7. Well, it's nice of you to remember that. I think I'm going to answer your question in a separate post; but first, as you understand, I have a problem with anonymous posters...and while you're not the same jackass who called me a prick, you are posting under the same signature; so it would be nice if you could pick a nickname to distinguish yourself. Also, as you might have noticed, I like guessing who my new correspondents are, and while you haven't yet given me much to go on, my first guess would be Shauna (?), the blond girl who sat in the back left hand corner of the class....

    Finally, although Mr. Confused and others have frequently expressed their outrage when I ask this of my former classmates, here goes: what if anything do you remember actually seeing me do in class that would justify getting me kicked out of the U of W? I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

    1. I think you might be recalling Shari... though I may have misspelled her name. I'm not her, so I suppose, for convenience, we can go with the name "Mr. Not Shari".

      As well, to your last question, I could not list off specifics of that sort, nor do I consider myself informed enough to make a call on the issue. You were a classmate... a vocal one, but a classmate all the same. I was never rubbed the wrong way or whatever, and so I couldn't give thought to why you would have been kicked out either way. Class with you was just... class, all the same. I know that some people were definitely put off by your behavior, but I just wrote that off as being a matter of personal druthers on their part. Didn't see things their way. So I guess I didn't really see anything that I, personally, thought was extreme enough to cause the retaliation you got.

      I'm just interested to hear what you may have added to the discussion at that point in Dave's class... and, kinda in the same light, what you may have added to our second-year courses. Unlike first year, most of our second-year classes were taken with the same people who were in Dave's class, rather than dividing the group up according to teachable subjects.

    2. Yes, it turns out this is getting me off on a bit of a tangent and there was some other stuff I really wanted to get around to. But I've updated my post with a quick answer to your question about my presentation. If you're teaching Grade 7 science, I'd be glad to come in and explain this to your class when they get to the Structures unit.

  8. I wasn't in your classes, but I was in other education classes. This whole mess happened years ago. For you, this mess you're entangled in right now gave you strong cause to go back and remember incidents (correctly or incorrectly, we have no way to tell), and you started doing this long before today.

    For other people, there was no good reason to focus on these events an archive them in the long term memory. Do you remember the flow chart? Senses --> awareness --> short-term memory --> working memory --> long-term memory?

    You put these incidents into working memory, and so you could archive them in long-term memory. It was important to you, and you were directly involved. For other people, they just filed the incidents under short-term memory, and later deleted it. All that hit long-term was the general trend, "here he goes again."

    From my classes, which I reiterate, I did not share with you, I can not recall in detail a single conversation from that time. I remember important concepts, general trends, and a few people. The nature of human memory is the reason people can't give you specifics.

    1. Nice try... You have explained it well but Marty simply can't believe that we have all forgotten these interactions. He thinks we are conspiring against him. Don't be discouraged. Try again. Use smaller words maybe, sometimes that works.