How to Overcome a Bad Teacher


Your teacher is one of the most important factors in determining your success in a class. They give the lectures, assign the homework, make the exams, and give the grades. Like it or not, your teacher plays a large part in what you get out of your class. Here we’ll discuss a few loosely categorized types of “bad” teachers and what you can do to get around their imperfections.

Type number one: The Anti-Teacher

We’ve all had a teacher (or several) who simply cannot teach. Whether their lectures are too boring, their examples make no sense, or they just aren’t good at making lessons, a key component of teaching is to, well, teach. So, if you aren’t getting the information you need from the lessons, how else can you get it?

Self-study: This is the most common, but most difficult solution. If your class had a textbook, chances are that reading and understanding the text will give you the knowledge you need to succeed. But be warned: you’ll need to make time to sit down, read, take notes, and check for understanding. You should know right away if this method is possible for you. When you read your book, does it make sense? Can you follow along and summarize what you read in your own words? Just staring at pages and copying vocab words does not constitute understanding.

Video Lessons: If you are taking a common class, you will likely be able to find video lectures online for your subject. Many college professors have some class lectures uploaded, and other teachers make video lessons specifically for students to watch online. However, the tricky part might not be finding a teacher you like on YouTube. You’ll also have to match their lessons to the lessons you have in class and hope that the curriculums line up well enough for you to do well.

Private Tutoring: Likely the most effective method to combat the anti-teacher is to hire a private tutor to help you understand the lessons. A private tutor will be an expert in the subject you are trying to learn, and they will also be able to tailor their lessons to suit you and your class. Your tutor can look at what your teacher is trying to teach you, and present it in a better way. At the same time, you’ll also be learning the material for your class, not a random similar class on the internet.

Type number two: The Tough Tester

So, you’ve taken notes, studied the class slides, read your textbook, and reviewed your assignment. You feel nice and prepared for test day, only to find questions on material you’ve never seen in your life. The test doesn’t have any of the homework problems that you practiced, and most of the questions were never even talked about in class. You bomb the test, but how can you prepare for the next one?

Meet with the Teacher: The first form of defense against this type of teacher is to speak with them in private. Address your concerns, and ask them what they recommend for studying for the test. Maybe they recommend practicing the textbook problems, maybe they say to take notes on the lectures instead of studying the slides, or maybe you need to familiarize yourself with their style of questions. Hopefully, the teacher can help you. If not, you need to try another method (READ: .

Look for the Question: Often teachers don’t write their questions or make their own problems. Many teachers create their exams from the teachers’ edition of a textbook, from question banks online, or from other teachers’ tests. A common cause of the Tough Tester is that they are making their tests using outside material without making sure that they teach that material. If you can find where they might be copying their questions from, you can look ahead to study those types of questions for future tests.

Seek an Expert: If the previous methods are ineffective, you should consider going to expert advice. A private tutor in your subject can look at your class material and your test. They can analyze what you got wrong, why, and assist you in finding a solution. Maybe the teacher is using different words on the test than the notes, maybe the questions you missed were more hidden in your textbook, or maybe your teacher is looking for special insight or extra knowledge that they aren’t teaching you. A tutor can diagnose the problem, and help you find a solution.

Type number three: The Overworker

If you’ve had a class where you feel like you have more assignments due than some of your other classes combined, then you may have been an unfortunate student of an Overworker. How can you get a good grade in your class when there’s a mountain of work to be done every week?

Plan Ahead: Assignments begin to pile up when you don’t start early and plan ahead. If you notice that your class has a lot of work each week, then you need to have the foresight to schedule a time to do work and the fortitude to follow through and stick to your schedule. This can be difficult for students with a tendency to procrastinate (i.e. most students), but an effective schedule and routine should alleviate the strains of all of the work. Try setting aside time each day to work on the class, even if nothing is due the next day.

Learn to Prioritize: You should be completing every task that your teacher assigns you. This includes all of your homework, projects, and extra credit opportunities if you’re lucky. But it is also important to know what is worth your time and what isn’t. If you have a project to complete by the end of the week and a test on the same day, how should you spend your time? Well, if the project is worth 5% of your grade and the test is worth 20%, then maybe the ten hours you spent perfecting your calligraphy to write nicely on your poster could have been better spent studying for the test you got a C on. If you’re overwhelmed, try asking your teacher what’s most important.

Find Accountability: If you can’t make an effective schedule or successfully manage your time and work, it might be time for you to find a professional who can hold you accountable for following through. A private tutor can help you plan ahead, tell you what to do when to do it, and what’s most important. When you have someone with you to help and make sure you follow through, a mountain of work can quickly erode into a manageable hill. If you cannot succeed on your own, there is no shame in looking for help.

These are only three types of “bad” teachers. Most students have likely encountered at least one of these stereotypes throughout their school careers, and you may even have one of these teachers now. If you have a bad teacher, it doesn’t have to mean a bad grade if you can identify the problem, and find a solution that works for you.

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

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