An Open Letter to my 11th Grade Math Teacher
Oh how I hope you read this. Let me start off by saying something simple: you were a horrendous teacher.
In all my years in the public education system, I’ve had some terrible teachers. But you? By far the worst I’ve ever experienced.
I don’t mean this in a cocky, “fuck you” kind of way. If I did, that would imply I care about what you think about me. Heads up: I don’t. I never have and I never will. The reasons should be explained within this piece.
The point of this is to explain something. Not just to you but to everyone who is currently within or considers joining the public education system.
My entire life I’ve desired to be a teacher. I have a passion for history, a desire to teach it. To stand in front of a lecture hall and debate with people, talk with students, to have intellectual conversation while leaving a mark. So, what better career than to teach?
Now let me explain something. A teacher is far more than just an individual in an empty suit with fancy glasses who communicates with students. A teacher is someone who actually cares about the students.
They see them as people. Individuals who have personality, character, and strengths of their own. A good teacher sees their students not as a letter grade or burdens, but as younger versions of themselves. Perhaps as potential, perhaps as ideas.
At a high school level, the level you taught at and will most likely teach at for the rest of your life before you’re either fired for not doing your job or retire (I bet money on the latter rather than the former based on the education system we’ve found ourselves in), it’s easier to do this.
You’re able to communicate with classes on more of an individual level. You’re able to express the notions of not only knowledge and skill but of cooperation and the ability to care.
On a college level, it’s less about that. It’s more about teaching content and leaving an impact through the knowledge of the next generation.
Of course, many college professors don’t necessarily think of teaching as their main profession. Many grade papers, write research papers in their spare time, or actually “have a life to live” and need some cash to do so.
But the best college professors still have that level of competence to them. Where they enjoy dedicating themselves. Where they enjoy leaving that positive impact on people that listened to them for a semester. Failing final exams is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do for these types of professors.
But that’s besides the point. Let’s rewind back to high school. Back to when classes are small, assignments are made as benchmarks, and teachers have more of a social scale when it comes to names and behaviors of students. Obviously, in a scenario like this, we see more of a sociological impact when it comes to relations between high school students and high school teachers comparative to college students and college professors.
In high school, it’s a popularity contest. If you give a lot of work, you’re probably not going to be that popular of a teacher. If you give a lot of extra credit, then you’re probably going to be positively remembered.
However, if you’re just a terrible teacher who assigns a lot of work without teaching or giving the resources necessary to accomplish said tasks while also having a “Fuck You” kind of attitude, then you’re in the wrong business. You’ve managed to hit all three credentials that make you not capable of handling a high school class.
If you assign a lot of work, it’s a very good thing. Don’t get me wrong. Some of my favorite classes have been the hardest. But I expect to be taught information as much if not more than the amount of work at hand. In college, you teach yourself — but at least the professor will give resources and lectures and address topics and communicate with students on a week to week basis.
No high school student wants to see their teacher act like they know everything if it’s highly obvious they don’t know their subject. This is the case I had in my 11th grade mathematics class. A mix of algebra and geometry, the class was run like a Nazi prison camp. An authoritarian himself, the teacher believed he could do whatever he wanted and say whatever he needed to regardless of being politically correct.
Let me explain myself. The first day of school this math teacher forced students to do push-ups and sit-ups as a “brain break”. I, of course, ended up being one of the students who refused to do such a task. It’s a math classroom at ten in the morning. I’m wearing a button-up shirt and tie. It’s a mathematics classroom with damn near shag carpeting and cracked tile floors. I am not going to do physical exercise. I stayed standing.
What was this teacher’s reaction? Threatening to write me up and saying with grit teeth “I’ll remember this.” Good. I hope he remembers it to this day. Because it’s one of the most baffling, worthless things I ever saw done in a classroom.
This same teacher, please keep in mind he’s a math teacher throughout it all, did similar things throughout the year. He blared obscure modern classical music from his computer throughout the day, forced kids to stand up randomly if it even looked like they weren’t paying attention, threatened to fail kids if they didn’t understand concepts, talked gossip about students behind their backs, and here’s the kicker: he never taught us.
He sent us to the Internet to learn algebra and geometry. He’d demand we watch Khan Academy even though he couldn’t tell us which lectures or which assignments. He’d get red in the face and scream at the top of his lungs when someone would ask him to explain a topic that Khan Academy didn’t go into. No questions were ever answered, he’d give a quiz every day, and he continued to yell at students every chance he’d get.
When he randomly decided to do a problem on the board, it was almost never right. He was corrected by students almost every step of the way. It was more than obvious that he didn’t know what was going on, hence why he never taught. He would always yell at students who corrected him or asked questions, claiming that “EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES”. I personally witnessed several students cry in his class after being yelled at. I learned to stay silent.
Of course, kids went down to the guidance counselor to complain. They promptly told him to change his bullshit “flipped classroom” and actually do his job. Great, right? We’d have a math teacher finally teach us math. Wrong.
His response was horrendous. He stood in front of us, red in the face with anger (I swear this man looked as if he was about to have an aneurism), and told us “this classroom is my castle, and I am the king.”
He went on to talk about how there’s nothing that could change the way he taught. He repeatedly said to the class “You can try fighting me. You won’t win.”
Yes, a teacher actually thought that was okay. Students went to complain again, and the school sent in a representative to watch him for the day. Guess who suddenly learned to teach?! That day he gave an entire lesson. He still didn’t know the math, but he gave an entire lesson. He did not get mad while the representative was there.
When the representative stepped out to make a call, however, he temporarily changed his tone. He sent two kids out of the room for literally no reason and yelled at someone for writing down the wrong function. When the representative came back in the room, he was back to being an angel. The next day when the representative was gone he went right back to how he was before.
Now, I didn’t have this teacher for the full year. About halfway through he fucked up real bad. He went to my mother’s place of work and literally told her he was sorry she was my mother. Of course, this is something my family finally snapped at. He went from being a terrible teacher to targeting a student’s family. She raised hell. For some reason he thought he could bring his classroom attitude into a parent’s workplace.
He tried to come to me in a literal panic the next day. He made big promises after seeing a parent freak the hell out. He promised to change my grade from a D to an A. He promised to “help” me in one on one tutoring. He tried to get me to talk to him, asking other teachers to send me out of their class to see him personally after his class was over.
I was promptly removed from his class by my counselor. I was put into a different math class, halfway through the year with no knowledge of any of the course. I was promptly informed that what very little my former math teacher had taught me was blatantly wrong. In short, that full semester was wasted. And it screwed me over for the rest of the year.
He still teaches 11th grade math to this day. However, from what I’ve heard, he’s changed his tune. He no longer does online garbage. He tries his hardest to communicate with the students. He keeps his mouth shut when it comes to his narcissism. He still, however, gossips about his students. But, he no longer claims to be the king of his castle. He was scared out of his mind after the floodgates opened and he nearly lost his job.
I could call him out by name. I could call him out by school. I could link to his Facebook account or give his school email (I have all of this public domain information right here!) But that goes against what he has inspired me to do.
Yes! Out of all this, he inspired me in one way.
I learned nothing from this man. He was a terrible teacher. A terrible person. But, he has inspired me to not be a terrible teacher. To not be a terrible person. I never want to be the kind of person he was and is. He’s inspired me to be professional. To be knowledgeable. To not be ignorant. He’s inspired me to not be literal trash.
Because I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to run a class like he did when I finally become a teacher.
So, while many of my other teachers have left positive impacts of knowledge and charisma and ideas, my 11th grade math teacher left me with something else: the desire to not be him.