I come from a family of teachers, I have many friends that are teachers, and I work in the fields of education and psychology. Playful ribbing of the struggles and strife that educators have to put up with has always been a popular topic in my life. I have noticed trends in the stories of students that hate their teachers (or dislike them enough to exchange rude remarks in the hallway; ‘hate’ is a powerful word, albeit one used commonly by discontent students). When I asked a group of friends and acquaintances – including tutors, teachers, students, and professionals fresh out of 15+ years of education – why they think students hate teachers, I got responses like these:
-Egocentrism. The student feels the teacher’s lecturing style is self-centered, unable to see that the teacher is just following protocol.
-“They give me bad grades and get mad at me for getting bad grades.” This response, given by a middle school student, may be indicative of a failure to understand the relationship between effort and grades; however, it could also indicate that the teacher is failing to communicate how grades could be improved.
-“They teach something really boring” / “The class is interesting but they teach in a really boring way.” This was a common response among elementary students, and one which will be discussed in greater depth below.
-Instructor incompetence. In some cases, students may not believe that the teacher is smart, or a good authority on the subject, or the teacher may not take the class seriously or be habitually unprepared.
-Lack of engagement from instructor. Students can sense when a teacher is just in it for the money, and they resent it; they need someone excited about learning to engage them.
-Favoritism. Whether correctly or not, students perceive that some teachers have favorites who receive preferential treatment, making the class unfair.
Interestingly enough, my findings line up rather well with a similar, anecdotal post on a popular teaching blog. It seems that complaints about teachers fall along a few common tracks.
Between educators’ forums and discussions with my colleagues, I’ve found that teachers have two general reactions to unruly students: they either claim that the student is a no-good deviant who will never change and any consequent complaints are unjust and unwarranted, or they deeply desire to do something to change the flow of the classroom and lament that they have not yet found something successful. Which set of teachers is correct? Are there students who are inherently problematic in their own right, as opposed to those who are simply reacting to the environment around them using their (as-yet under-developed) mental coping mechanisms?
These questions must remain unanswered, as there is little to no scholarly research in this area. There was a study that found that attitudes towards teachers tend to be similar to the student’s attitudes toward other authority figures, such as parents and police officers. However, this only tells us that students that are respectful towards their parents are the students that are respectful toward their teachers. We cannot conclude that one causes the other, and we certainly cannot know how this affects student engagement and interest in school.
What we can address, however, is the common complaint that particular teachers – or the subjects they teach – are boring.
Breaking Out of the Mold: Overcoming a “Boring” Teacher
Students and teachers should remember that the classroom dynamic need not be one-directional. Teachers will probably do most of the talking, but they don’t need to do all of the talking (and in fact, most of them would prefer not to). A popular education blogger asked his readers to poll their students, and found that students particularly dislike taking notes off of a power point or lecture and reading, because they feel like they must simply memorize facts without any context. Unfortunately, not all teachers realize that this very common teaching method is falling on deaf ears. Thus, it is necessary for the students to implore change.
The best way for students to have an impact on their learning experience is to ask questions. Even the most boring subject material can be made interesting by a student asking directed questions. For instance, history is probably a boring subject for many students. To a passive learner, a lecture in history class sounds like an endless list of dates and names, with no importance to modern times. But people have always had the same problems and personalities throughout history. Remembering this could help students find the intrigue in ancient times. A student who enjoys war-based video games could ask their history teacher about the weapons, most skilled fighters, and interesting stories from the time period being studied. A student who enjoys blockbuster movies such as Interstellar could easily start a fun conversation in physics class by asking the teacher how gravity slingshots work, and how they can allow for ridiculously fast travel.
Student complaints about teachers and classes are common, and often follow the same track: teachers are either boring, or teaching interesting subject matter in a boring way. The greatest culprit is any form of note-taking that is not engaging for the students, including lectures, power-points, and reading straight from the text book. Teachers can change this by opening up more engaging classroom activities. And when teachers are not engaging, students can ask questions and make requests to talk about the subject material in a more interesting way. Tension between teachers and students can cause problems in the classroom, but if its common underlying causes are addressed, these problems can be mitigated.
Matthew Rottmann is a tutor for General Academic and a student of Psychology and Business. He has a passion using Psychology to make school and work more productive and enjoyable for people, and is working towards a career in business consulting.