It’s bound to happen eventually. If not then I’d love to have gone to school where you are.
No matter how much you plot and scheme in your class and teacher selection (which you should do,) you will eventually get stuck with a bad teacher.
Lets face it. Not all teachers are good teachers.
Sure, there is an aura that the teaching community builds around themselves that claims some kind of nobility. Despite that, getting a job as a teacher, certainly doesn’t qualify anyone to teach.
I’d be willing to bet high quality teachers are in the minority in most parts of the world.
(Teaching doesn’t pay poorly but it certainly doesn’t pay to attract the most talented of people.)
Someday, if you aren’t already, you’re going to get stuck dealing with a bad teacher. When that happens, there are a few things you should keep in mind. These tips will make sure you make the best of that bad situation.
So… what do you do when you have a bad teacher?
1. Don’t Make Notorious Enemies
Having a bad teacher sucks.
Many students get in the habit of making the situation worse by upsetting the teacher.
You are not entitled to good teachers. In fact, most people won’t even believe you if you say you have a bad teacher. (It takes class loads of students complaining to get a teacher to lose their job. Usually they’ll only lose their job at the end of the semester. That means the complaining students will never reap the benefits.
It’s pointless to complain about your teacher (particularly to your teacher.)
If a teacher is a super boring lecturer, don’t tell them.
If a teacher gives pointless homework, don’t tell them.
If you do dare to tell them, sugar coat it under so many layers of “kind of” that it makes virtually no impact.
Trust me, a student has complained to them in the past. Your complaint will not help. They will just assume you’re an a-hole.
Don’t let these bad teachers become your enemy. This will save you a ton of stress in the long run and the short run.
2. Apply Yourself Carefully
Many students get in the habit of using a bad teacher as an excuse to slack off.
They tell themselves, “I’m never going to learn anything from this teacher anyway.” This lets them slack in the important stuff. It’s making their failure the teachers fault.
You may not believe this immediately but once you connect the dots it will blow your mind:
Most bad teachers are easy to score high with because they focus on the wrong stuff. Good teachers often get committed to improving you personally. Self-improvement becomes a requirement. Bad teachers rarely notice.
One of the most common areas that students end up slacking in is prioritization.
Students should be applying effort to the areas of their coursework that make the greatest impact on their final grades. If tests are 90% of the score then don’t (necessarily) waste 90% of your time doing homework. Heck, you might give up on the homework altogether. These are fundamental aspects to scoring high that tend to get put on the back burner when a student doesn’t like their teacher.
The truth is, most students can still score great with a terrible teacher when they’re willing to apply their efforts in the right direction.
It’s not about having all the factors working in your favor (sure it helps.)
It’s about taking advantage of as many factors as you can possibly take advantage of.
Don’t let a bad cog shut the whole machine down.
3. Alternative Resources
Bad teachers are a handicap when you’re trying to learn information for your class.
They put you in a more challenging position. That position is something that you’re going to have to make up for somewhere else.
One of the best ways to make up for that bad position is finding something or someone to fill the gap. Using alternative resources you can learn the information your teacher is supposed to teach you.
The most accessible alternative resource most students have is their textbook. When a student doesn’t pay attention in class they often get caught up trying to learn their class information from a textbook.
Don’t focus on your textbook!
This is one option but it should be considered one of your last choices for a number of reasons.
First of all, textbooks aren’t written for individual teachers. That means they’re usually only tangentially related to the material you’re learning. Second, textbooks are designed to be accurate (not memorable.)
If you’re going to be getting tangentially related information, you should at least enjoy it.
On that note, many awesome alternative resources can be found online.
While the information is only somewhat related to the questions that will be asked on the test, at least you can find resources that you genuinely find interesting. If you need to learn a part of history then you might listen to some podcasts on the subject. Maybe you want to read a book on it (yea… that is quite nerdy but it’s better than most teachers. Try it.)
The reason this works better than the textbook is because most of these resources are competing for entertainment value (because they’re optional. People don’t read history books that sound like textbooks. They read entertaining history books.)
Tutors work well…
Another alternative resource worth considering is a tutor. While standard school tutors are mediocre, if you can find your own tutor and they have the know how to teach you the information, you may be better off. If the tutor doesn’t help then you can always find a new one. (Try that with your teachers.)
Of course, alternative resources are not ideal (even when you have a bad teacher.)
For the most part, alternative resources should only be used and selected when a teacher has offered a specific reason to look up that particular information. If your teacher discusses a certain topic in class, ideally, you’d be able to learn everything from that discussion.
Worst case scenario: you want to keep track of the topics the teacher discusses with as much detail as possible. For example, if your teacher spends 20 minutes talking about the Roman military, you want to either learn from it, or spend a few minutes looking it up from alternative resources that you find interesting.
Priorities go well beyond this. To learn more you should check out Priority One: Pleasing Yourself
4. Milk The Miraculous Memorization
Most students can survive without spending much time on memorization.
By just paying a little attention in class you can probably remember a good percentage of the information you need. When you’re in a terrible class with a terrible teacher, this becomes a much less attractive option. This is the kind of situation where memorization can really help.
Learning is not memorization. Learning is not linear. You can’t predict how long you’ll need to understand something. That means you don’t always get the prize at the end of the day. Memorization is much better for predicting your results. At the end of a day of memorization, you can easily track the progress you made. That can make it significantly more motivational.
Milk memorization for everything it’s worth when you’re stuck with a bad teacher.
A bad teacher dramatically reduces your chances of understanding the information you’re supposed to learn. That being said, you don’t need to understand much to score high in most classes. Instead of getting your points of a depth of understanding, you can just as easily get your points from brute force memorization strategies.
For more ideas to improve your brute force memorization you need to read 9 Reasons Your Memory Sucks.
Edit: We’ve actually added some awesome new articles to help on this front:
5. Hold Fast That Higher Ground
Bad teachers are usually particularly skilled at one thing in particular.
They’re good at keeping their job.
There is a somewhat unfair attack against many teachers that I’d like to dispel. It’s regularly claimed that it’s almost impossible for a teacher to lose their job. While that, somewhat applies to a certain subset of teachers, most teachers have a notable risk of losing their job. They just don’t have the risk of losing their job in the same way as the average person.
Bad teachers often end up keeping their jobs for years or even decades because they’re good at playing workplace politics. While they may get complaints flung in their direction, they can bob and weave around them with the right words and the right supporters. They’re often well liked by the people in charge.
You’re not a customer to a public school. They don’t care about your opinion. In fact, you’re the last person who’s opinion matters to an administrator.
Now, imagine how far your complaint will go when you’re telling it to a person that likes the person you’re complaining about. (Is nowhere far enough for you?)
Unfortunately, you don’t have decades to befriend the people in charge of the school. It’s a game that you cannot even come close to playing at. It’s a game you shouldn’t even try to play without one thing: higher ground.
The Hard Reality
When you’re dealing with bad teachers, you should treat them with more respect than the average teacher.
No… not because they deserve it but because if something goes wrong, you don’t want them to have ammo to use against you. (If you end up complaining about the teacher out of desperation the teacher will use every disrespectful thing you said against them, against you.)
When your teacher is giving you a raw deal, you need to be the one to have evidence for your claim. If you claim one thing and the teacher claims another thing, you need to have evidence to prove the teacher is incorrect or lying. Otherwise, don’t waste your time claiming it in the first place.
Remember this most importantly: The higher ground isn’t preparing for battle. Ideally, you will never have to use this factor. If you get in a tough spot, you’ll be glad you were prepared. If you are forced to use the higher ground then you’ll almost always fail at number one. This is your back up plan.
6. Switch Classes
I know… often… by the time you figure out that you’ve got a dud of a teacher, it’s already too late to change courses but those things are often less set in stone than you might think.
First of all, if you’re in the first few weeks of a course, you can almost always switch to a different course with almost no questions asked.
If you’re forced to give a good reason then make sure not to blame the teacher because that’s about as dangerous as poking a bee’s hive.
Sometimes you’ll get away fine but other times you’ll get stung. If you’re in college then you can almost always claim scheduling conflicts. High school is much harder to switch courses in but it is still very doable.
There are no one size fits all solution for switching classes but get creative and you’ll be able to come up with something.
Even if you’re part way through the year, you may be able to get yourself into a different class with a little creativity.
7. Learn Your Lesson
The later in your schooling you are, the more having a bad teacher becomes more your fault than anyone else’s fault.
Yes. It’s not your fault some teachers suck. Eventually though, you can get away from them.
Sure, when you’re in middle school, you don’t have too much freedom to get out of a bad teacher’s classroom. No one respects your opinion enough to have much say in the matter. It takes major problems for anything to change.
In high school, it becomes a bit easier to get away from a bad teacher (and prevent getting them in the first place.) You have some control over your class selection. Of course, this varies from high school to high school but you may even have the power to research teachers in advance and pick the best ones for your priorities.
It changes in college…
In college, you really shouldn’t blame anyone but yourself if you’re stuck in a class with a bad teacher.
You’re the one that picked your teacher. You had the ability to prevent this problem but for some reason or another, you failed to prevent it. You can research teachers in advance. Heck, you can often contact them before signing up to verify they’re a good fit. You can even change your teacher if they’re not working after a few classes.
When you have any say over your teacher choice, you’re partially responsible for getting stuck with a bad teacher. The more you go on blaming things beyond your control, the less capable you’re going to feel to change your situation for the future.
You’ve got this!
Take whatever responsibility you have in the situation and learn some kind of a lesson from it.
If you didn’t switch classes soon enough after finding out you got a bad teacher, then make sure to never do that again. If you didn’t even try to research your teacher then make sure you research your teacher next time around.
Surviving a bad teacher isn’t easy but it’s possible. By keeping your head down and not stirring up too much trouble, you can usually get a similar grade to most of your classes with only little more stress.
By following these 7 bad teacher survival strategies you can make the most of a bad situation, and, ideally, learn to prevent this kind of a bad situation from developing in the future.
Take This Advice From A Harvard Grad
“Find your tribe. Quickly.”
That is the first piece of advice he gave to other students going to Harvard.
It’s deeper advice than it sounds.
The people you surround yourself with can make or break your academic experience.
Smart Student Secrets is a tribe and a great place for you to start.