Daily Post: The Worst Teacher

Suggested Topic: Describe the worst teacher you ever had.

The worst teacher I ever had was a professor at Portland State University. I wrote about it in a post a few  years ago, where I decried the sheepishness of professors. I got a “D” in the class. I am not a “D” student. I am an “A” student. I am also a questioning student, and if something doesn’t make sense, I ask questions until it does. I like to think that I was graded on his failure to teach. I was asked by my advisor why I got a D here, and then he said, “Was it So-and-So?” I grimly nodded with a terse mouth. He simply replied, “Ah.” Yes, that is victory and understanding for me.

So, what made him so bad? He was known for being bad. People who needed the class dropped it. Study groups didn’t even help. If you bought into his jargon, you were fine, but if you questioned it -you were not.

The class I took was about Third World Development. The way the course was described in the directory, red flags rose, fast. Let your stereotypes run free – because although they can be a frustrating cloud of what or who someone really is, they are based in some reason. And stereotypes are what the class offered, from the teacher, the students, and the text.

Once, after questioning what the real solution to Third World problems could be, he stated Academia. But, he couldn’t even answer that! I don’t know if it wasn’t clear to him – but I was trying to solicit ideas, find a solution. I am more action oriented than anything. You can sit around and talk about a problem only so long, at some point you have to try to do. I think it was because, in part, that he was part of the system for so long, that he found all answers in studying the problem. I guess I just forgot how one’s arrogance can actually get in the way of teaching. Rote memorization and classroom rhetoric got the job done.

We were supposed to think of ways in which the Third World was improving on its own. Yet, this instructor wasn’t able to leap frog ideas. Maybe it was a simple personality conflict. Maybe he was busy doing research for his own projects. He was a bad teacher because he didn’t try when I did. After class appointments. Emails. After class discussions. Countless, to my memory, times I tried to say, “What about this,” and he’d reply with “No, I don’t mean that,” and I would reply further with, “You mean this?” This would go on, and on until I finally gave up.

But you know what? I don’t feel bad about that giving up. I did try. I tried to figure out what he wanted. I received two other As that term of three classes. I had better rapports with multitudes of instructors, so I know it wasn’t all me. A frustrating caveat is I have sometimes been known as the person who can get along with anyone. And, if I can’t get along with this guy? Will that determine my future?

No.

If the point of the class was to emphasize grassroots planning and action – I get that. If the point of the class was to emphasize how “experts” often get it wrong because they sometimes (often) fail to recognize local knowledge – I get that too. If the point of the class was to get my classmates to look at the world through different lenses – I really get that. The irony of this class though was it was full of middle-to-upper class white kids, attempting compassion for being poor and without resources. The white kids who chastise and abandon their privileged upbringing because of guilt in circumstance.

How is that helpful? I don’t think it is. I think it is simply a scapegoat for feeling good – studying about and trying to understand a problem without actually going their to hear the local knowledge yourself. So, that’s why he was the worst teacher. He catered to the privilege without emphasizing the action. it was all talk without clarification. There was no room to show group wisdom and really fix the problems. He couldn’t practice what he preached.

I never took another of his classes. And, that’s okay. I’m glad I have the experience to tell even if my GPA suffered a little.

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