High School Was A Time: Unpleasant Teachers

I’ve had some truly amazing teachers. Mentors, guides, thoughtful and committed individuals whose wisdom I carry with me to this day. This is not about them. This is about teachers who abuse their potential as channels of influence, because it happens more often than we would like to think. And frankly, everyone out there deserves to stand up to them and to stand up for themselves. High school is just practice for life; if you let a teacher walk all over you, it will happen in college, at your job, and who knows where else. And really, it’s just not right (I’m shaking my head very sternly right now).

Let’s get one thing clear: I don’t want to sit here and hate on anyone. Teachers do amazing things and have so much potential to influence entire lives in incredible ways. Which is why I find it infuriating when they abuse this potential, because they also have the ability to severely impair lives before they have a chance to blossom. Let me tell you a few choice stories. Granted, I seemed to have been a magnet for this kind of thing, probably because I got more than my fair share of sass at birth (though I see it more as verbalized honesty with potential filter-issues that I’ve never bothered looking into).

Fifth grade. Crazy teacher replaces the one who quit halfway through the year. She gave us more homework than is humanly possible – literally, my dad, friend, and his mom spent a three day weekend working nonstop and still didn’t finish it. I was ten. TEN. Three day weekends are for crazy adventures or Pete and Pete marathons when you’re ten. Well, when I was ten. So my dad possibly yelled at her a little bit. Which was not acceptable, it’s never acceptable to yell. It’s also unacceptable to take your frustration out on the angry parent’s child and call ahead to the middle school they’re matriculating into and tell them the child can’t speak a word of English and should be in ESL instead of the Honors track. No joke.

People do this. Why? Because it’s surprisingly easy to, and while I may have issues with my sass filter, others apparently have faulty ethics filters. I have a half dozen more stories of teachers abusing their positions due to personal issues, prejudices (as in, racism, anti-semitism, NO JOKE), you name it, but this isn’t a laundry list of grievances.

I almost thought I was paranoid, and after I switched from public to private school, I thought that the smaller classes and more personal relationships between students and teachers would prevent such abuses. When I got my final grade in 11th grade math, I did a double take. Listen, I’m bad at math. But not that bad. So I went to an administrator, and for the first time my voice was heard. What’s worse than my paranoia is the fact that when the teacher re-tallied my grade with someone looking over her shoulder, it turned out I had earned a grade and a half higher than what she had given me.

This happens. We all know colleges look at 11th grade more closely than others, and isn’t it bad enough that I had to struggle through Algebra let alone the indignity of struggling with algebra. If I didn’t have fingers on my hands I wouldn’t know what 10 was, let alone how to get there from 1.

If any of this sounds familiar, don’t feel paranoid, don’t feel bad, feel empowered and worthy of what you’ve worked for. School administrators should be on your side, listening and acknowledging your issue. If they don’t, go over their heads. Do what you need to do. College acceptances could be at stake because a teacher decided to drag down your GPA in response to a button you pushed, probably unwittingly. In my experience there have been two types of teachers who have manipulated my or my classmates’ grades: ones with racial prejudices (it happens, and I can’t even… the rage) and ones who don’t like to be challenged in class.

Challenge the heck out of them, I say. That’s what learning is. This kind of thing seems to happen more frequently in public schools, probably because the volume of students and overworked administration make it easier for teachers to get away with it. The terrible thing is, many students feel vulnerable, and rightfully so, therefore they often accept the situation. If they stand up for themselves, they aren’t taken seriously because in my experience, most administrators view high-schoolers as overgrown five-year-olds. Which, to be fair, has some basis.

But when it comes to a person’s rights as a student, including the right to receive the grades they earned, there is no reason not to be taken seriously. In the meantime, don’t let yourself become jaded. Just down the hall is another teacher who not only inspires you in class, but probably also sees your potential. Ten years from now you’ll be having coffee with them as your mentor-friend and it will be wonderful. I promise.


featured image is a screencap from Mean Girls (as if I needed to even tell you)

  • Mädi Kircher

    On the first day of my 11th grade ADVANCED math class, the teacher divided us into two groups: those who he thought would excel were placed at the front of the room, and those who he thought would struggle and hold the others back were placed at the back of the room. What he based this on remains unclear to this day.

    I was placed in the group at the back. We were told that the class would be like climbing a mountain: if we fall behind, stand back and let the others progress unhindered, don’t drag them down with us.

    Even though I was an honours student, from that day forward I lost any belief that I was mathematically or scientifically inclined, and I essentially gave up on a future in either of those veins.

    It was 10 years before I picked up a calculus book again and realized the teacher was the problem, not me. I have since taken a 180 degree turn and am following a science-based education and career path.

    Thank you for this post! I am living proof of the negative, long term effect one bad high school teacher can have on a student’s self-image.

    • Julia Gazdag

      It’s really mind-blowing. The same power that makes teachers a force in our lives in the best way can also make them horribly destructive. We inherently trust and respect them and some of them take advantage in the worst way. I think some of them don’t even realize how much of an impact they have because they’re already miserable in their own lives. And they wondered why I stopped respecting authority in high school… 😉

    • Tali’Zorah Haberkamp

      We had a teacher who did the same, but in 8th grade math, and he was not shy about “well, I know only 5 of your will get this so the rest of you can zone out for a while” it was terrible. He was surprised I tested out of freshman math and into sophomore honors

  • Joanna Boese

    I’ve had to deal with some teachers who weren’t so great, but worse was the guidance counselor who told me to give up on my dreams because she coudn’t reach hers. And you know what? It did take me a while to realize she was wrong. Even though there are still some barriers I have with trying to reach my dream job. I’d never discourage anyone if they had enough heart and motivation for what they wanted to do instead of just saying I couldn’t do it no matter how hard I tried.

  • Katherine Costantini

    I grew up in a military family, so we moved roughly every two years, which was great if I got stuck with terrible teachers because I could wait it out until we moved again.

    At one high school that I attended, my family was discriminated against because of my dad’s career. My brother, a senior at the time, was told that there was no way he’d be able to graduate (he had enough credits), my sister was told that she was not “allowed” to try out for the soccer team or sign up for the band (she was even asked if she needed special education {she’s an honor student}), and I can recall more than a few instances where I was treated unfairly for being absent one day (with a note and advance notification) when my dad was leaving for or returning from Iraq. It was pretty miserable and we were basically helpless because no one listened and no one cared.

    I think that school administrations can create environments that allow for terrible behavior amongst teachers and other faculty. A bad administration can certainly create an environment where it’s okay to humiliate students and drag them down and create a culture of misery for students who don’t deserve it.

    Luckily for the whole family, we moved after two years and I ended up at a great high school and I never had to deal with an environment like that again.

  • Brianne Archer

    I remember my third grade teacher was horrendous. She gave us the wrong worksheet one day and told us that all of the problems must be solved using multiplication. Except that half of them required long division and when I went to her desk to tell her that she screamed at me.

    She also ratted me out to my mother that I refused to color. Fortunately, my mother didn’t care and told the teacher that coloring was a waste of time and that I should just be allowed to sit and read quietly instead. Which I did for the rest of the year and it was awesome.

    • Julia Gazdag

      I had a teacher in first grade who would yank our ears if we misbehaved (which in first grade is pretty much just breathing), and told me to flat-out lie to my mother. She was fired a couple years later.

  • Maria Andrea Hernandez

    I didn’t have a HORRIBLE experience until college. *Crosses self* I was seriously sabotaged. Seriously, it was to the point where, after recounting the story to a professor he was like, “Does your TA hate you?” By that point I thought I was just being paranoid, but apparently not. I have no idea how I pulled through that class with a B. I thought said TA was going to fail me.

  • Tali’Zorah Haberkamp

    My third grade teacher hated me for some reason I cannot understand even to this date. Everything that went wrong in the classroom was my fault, I never got stickers or other prizes for doing things right even though I was the quietest kid in the class, and answered questions right. We didn’t have varying levels of class at this point, but I was towards the smarter end of the class spectrum and she just made me feel like I could do nothing right. In fact, I realize in retrospect I have blocked almost all of this grade out of my life, I remember so little about this grade that changed my life. Other parents and students asked my parents after the grade how they handled my teacher’s unfair treatment, and I regret that instead of sticking up for myself and trying to make sure I was treated with the respect I deserved, even as an 11 year old, instead of turning from a sassy and charismatic kid into one so shy and skittish I refused to speak in public, and am still afraid of people noticing me, because being noticed means someone is going to be mad at you

    • Julia Gazdag

      They have so much influence!!! It’s so upsetting. SO UPSETTING.

  • Bailey Amis

    I had a terrible experience with an eighth grade history teacher. I also was born with a considerable amount of sass so I butted heads with teachers often but he was downright disrespectful. I was talking to him about something having to do with the class and he didn’t like what I was saying so he started making chicken noises at me, like bocking, in front of the entire class, then sat me in the corner as far away from him as he could get me. Really made me have prejudices against male teachers for years.

  • Sarah Hanasewych

    When I was a senior in public high school I had this one english teacher who hated me, I mean hated me. I’m not quite sure why she had something against me, I was the girl who sat to the side with her head down and did her work, never mouthing off or causing trouble. I was definitely smarter then most kids in my class, I loved writing and considered myself pretty damn good at it. Well this teacher apparently didn’t think so, I got my lowest grades in high school during her class, C’s. Since I was so shy though I couldn’t speak up to defend myself. Half way through the year though she left to go on maternity leave and while she was gone the second teacher that had been with the class the whole year took over teaching, and while she was our main teacher I not only enjoyed the class so much more, but I actually received nothing but A’s and high B’s on my papers and tests. How could I got from being a low C student to an A student in only a few weeks? I am truly convinced this woman hated me, maybe because I was white and she was black and so was most of my class at the time. Or perhaps because she knew my Dad was a cop, and she frequently referred to the police as the “po-po” which shouldn’t ever be said in a school by a teacher let alone an english teacher. Luckily here I am today not letting anyone step on me in school anymore and am happy to report that for my first english paper that I handed in at college I received an A.

  • Carolyn Toth

    I respect this, but a lot of students these days use their entitlement to fairness as entitlement in general. Students have taken me (a teacher) to the principal’s office to condemn my speed of grading and the pace at which was I was teaching (supposedly, too slow and too repetitive of the previous level… the student’s grades told me the pacing was just fine). I understand the need to stick up for yourself against unfair teachers, but a lot of today’s students are taking advantage of the idea in an attempt to get rid of the teachers they simply don’t like.

    • Candice Lucente Stutzman

      I agree with you and I also agree that some teachers are bad. So it goes both ways. Some kids are great, some teachers are great. I wish kids didn’t feel so entitled and glorify ignorance, then get angry when someone tries to teach them differently. I also wish all teachers enjoyed their jobs and respected the lifelong impact they have on students.

  • Candice Lucente Stutzman

    My 7th grade teacher refused to let me go to the nurse after a boy pushed me in the hallway and sprained my knee. She claimed it was because we were learning something “new” that day. Instead she let me sit in class crying in front of everyone and reviewed what we had learned for the week prior. She taught nothing new that day. That is just one example of how she treated me all year. She also laughed when I handed in my tests. I wasn’t a bad or loud kid. I was quiet, did my homework, but didn’t dress like the popular girls. She treated me like I was stupid and evil, but while I still hold a grudge and think back on how mean she was I also never had a bad teacher like her again. Even into high school I had a few teachers other people considered mean or hard, but they appreciated my intelligence and work so I was able to respect their authority in return.
    It’s terrible some people get into positions of power and use it to make others feel bad. It’s not just teachers, but I think when a teacher is that way it might stick with us longer because we expect a more nurturing environment. I had some mean supervisors, but they never made as big an impact on my self esteem as a teacher.
    On the plus side when I went home barely able to walk on my swollen leg, my dad had a nice long talk with the Principal…

    I also had a college professor that made me cry. I missed 2 classes when my dad died, and she had a pop quiz one of those days. When I returned I asked about making up the quiz and she told me I could make it up for HALF credit if I brought her something proving my dad died. Honestly that is what she said. I walked out of her class and my mom, newly widowed, had to go in to meet with the Dean. The Dean called the teacher a moron, promised she’d be reprimanded, apologized, refunded my tuition, and they let me retake the class the following semester with a different teacher for free. That was all really nice and I appreciated it, but I still get angry thinking about the teacher that made me cry.

    • Candice Lucente Stutzman

      sorry that was long…

  • Katherine Gregor

    I have ADD–the inattentive type that no one notices and goes undiagnosed for years. I was in a really good school district, and students with learning differences got a lot of help, but even though I was diagnosed in 5th grade, I didn’t really get any of it because I wasn’t noticeable. Inattentive type ADD really doesn’t look at all different from the typical student until they’re failing classes because of disorganization (rather than not knowing the material) and not finishing tests because they can’t concentrate on them. I think a lot of teachers let this kind of thing fly under the radar, even when it’s documented. So that’s just my standard shout.

    My fifth grade teacher, who I despised, was actually one of the only reasons I got diagnosed with ADD, because the school said “this kid’s IQ and test scores are too high to explain her doing this badly.”

    I also had a high school physics teacher who was completely appalled that I wanted to be an illustrator. He was harboring this secret belief that any non-engineering profession was useless, I think (he proudly mentioned having convinced his son to major in engineering instead of history). He also found out about an essay I’d written about the negative consequences of nuclear power plants and hated me for the rest of the year because he’d been a nuclear physicist and I guess he thought it was something personal…? Of course, he had little things like that with the whole class. He routinely gave us graded homework on topics we hadn’t learned yet. I also recall him teaching lessons and then following them with “I don’t expect you to understand this.” THEN WHY DID YOU TEACH IT IN THE FIRST PLACE?

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