There are absolutely no exceptions to the things I'm going to say here. If this were a Buzzfeed article, it'd be worded "Some Signs You Might Be a Terrible Teacher," but I don't hedge. This isn't a clickbait article; it's an autopsy.
Every profession has its mediocre members, but among professional teachers (or as the bad ones call themselves "educators"), competent people are truly rare. Teaching is a career path perfect for frauds and hacks because it might be a decade or two before a teacher can actually be evaluated on the "good" they provide society. Bad teachers get bad reviews, sure, but there's always the idea that the professor that everyone hates now will be loved later for the life lessons they instill.
Because true evaluation is so far off, the culture of teaching is a farcical, cargo-cult-like pseudo-trade of self-congratulation and vague references to pop-science. Every week in this country, there are thousands of teachers meetings where teachers' superstitions and confidence-boosters are exchanged. Now at some level, everyone involved knows that teachers' meetings have nothing to do with teaching anyway, and everything to do with cultivating the cult mentality and self-deception needed for this culture. That of course, and doing what bad teachers do best: talking depreciatively about their students.
Anyway, although I'm writing this to complain, now's not the time. First thing's first: how do we identify bad teachers? Easy. If a teacher does any of the following, they are bad. Again, there are absolutely no exceptions.
Yep, this one is a hard one to swallow. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in democracy, but student opinion is one of the best indicators of teacher quality. The students are never wrong taken en masse. As a group, students know when you're faking it, they know when you're a pretentious wanker, they know when you don't actually know the material, they know when you can't communicate, they know when you think you're better than you actually are and they know when you're covering your ass.
Above all, your students, specially if you teach at an institution of higher learning (yes, even your local community college) are not stupid. Surprise. Don't get me wrong, intelligence is a genetically highly heritable trait; some kids are just dumb and will never understand some things. But take any random assortment of 40 undergrads and you can do magic with them. In fact, if you can stand up in front of these kids for 45 hours a semester and fail to teach them anything, they're not the ones who are dumb. Sorry.
And don't pull this, "I'm an academic, not a teacher" garbage. If you can't communicate the basics of you're field to uninformed laymen, be they students, businessmen, or Waffle House servers, you just don't know the topic in a useful way. Fluidity of mind is fundamental for any field, and teaching is a tool to keep you in touch reality.
And by the way, maybe the class content is just "hard," but that doesn't mean students will automatically dislike you. A moderately Good Teacher can fail half his students and still get good reviews because his students can tell that he communicated well despite the material being rough. Grades have a greatly exaggerated effect on student opinions. When it comes down to it, even the lazy ones know the difference between a class hard because of the content and hard because of a Bad Teacher.
Good teachers keep their kids interested by showing the elegance of their field and showing how useful and productive its principles can be in our lives. Bad teachers try to keep their students interested by throwing around questionably-relevant pop-culture references and internet memes. If you got interested in your field because a teacher of yours pulled something like this, you're an idiot. Thankfully, I know that's not you, because stunts like that don't work on anybody.
If you teach at the college level, your students are your equals. I don't care if you're a Nobel-Prize winning professor emeritus, your undergraduate students who couldn't care less about your class have the sense and wherewithal somewhere in them to turn everything you do upside down. If you hold low standards for them, you will never see any of this. They are not stupid, they are only ignorant about a very narrow band of knowledge which frankly doesn't mean anything to them before you make it matter.
A red flag (albeit not conclusive proof) of a Bad Teacher is constant "activities," especially "fun" ones. Good Teachers employ activities to make students grapple with necessary class material that requires practice. Memorization, productive recitations and similar things are perfect for activities and if your students have to memorize things, in-class activities may work where homework doesn't. Bad Teachers, however, overuse these to waste time when they run out of stuff to say and cultivate sociality in the class. They don't make the students do anything that actually needs to be done as a practical activity, but they just think that students will leave the class with the idea they had fun. In reality, unnecessary activities are generally interpreted as preschoolish and condescending by students.
If you are good at what you do, students will enjoy class without any frills. Even idiots enjoy the elegance of knowledge. Expose them to that and enjoyment of you and the class come naturally. You're lost if you think that students come to classes to feel like you're aimlessly just "hanging out" with them. Even apathetic ones want to feel like they're doing or learning something by coming to class.
These mean the same thing. Assignments which are easy to grade are assignments which are easy to do... provided you know the material. Assignments should be breathtakingly easy for students who know the material productively and should be simply impossible to anyone else. Telling the difference when you grade should be easy. Your assignments should always promote thought and never carpal tunnel.
This is especially true of short answer and essay questions. Bad Teachers seem to think an essay question exists as an endurance test, dangling points far above students in ambiguously worded questions. Good teachers know they are either for (1) listing a large about of information that a smaller question couldn't cover or (2) asking for the student to use class information to reach a novel and creative conclusion.
By the way, I'm serious when I say that your assignments should be impossible without knowing the material. That's why I never assign True or False questions or multiple choice; there are more clever ways of asking for information. (Using them on occasion doesn't make you a Bad Teacher® though, just a little lazy.)
Oh and one more by-the-way, a metaphorical kind of busy work is keeping class in until the last minute with only filler. If you have covered class material in an enjoyable way and answered questions, and can't start the next lesson for time constraints, you better let class out. Don't waste anyone's time unless you have something actually funny or insightful to say. Again, your students aren't stupid. They're adults whose time you should respect if you're done with the content. If they came here for steak, don't let them leave with the taste of bologna in their mouths. If the steak only takes 40 minutes, so be it: Class dismissed, see me if you have any questions. Be a hardass about material, not the timing of the class.
Don't pull this garbage. Even if this were true, by the time you can finally teach a class, you have been trained to do this: you've been forced to sit in classes for twenty years of your life... In grade school, you had good teachers and bad, you saw what worked and what didn't, you gave presentations yourself, you helped and tutored classmates and got an idea of how they think, and just by being a human you know how people work as a group, how to appeal to them, how to keep people interested, et cetera.
Let me majorly trigger you. The reason teachers are paid "so lowly" is because they are easily replaceable. By anyone. Teaching is easy. It is also fun to morally normal people. Let me trigger you again. Most people working as teachers are not struggling to teach because teaching is hard, but because those people working as teachers are abysmally incompetent. Competent people usually get real jobs, while incompetent people stick with the job they've been exposed to the most: teaching. And they're still just bad at basic things.
Cut the crap. You will never learn anything about teaching from teaching seminars, meetings, self-help books, exhaustive certification and anything else. You learn to teach by (1) observing, which you've done plenty of, (2) doing it, and also (3) reflecting on your experiences from (1) and (2). Your teaching experience is based on your immutable personality and the happenstance of the personalities of your class. There is so much variation from class to class that you can't make dumb generalizations most of the time. Shut up and do it. Good teaching happens a day at a time, usually too fast for lesson planning, which is a terrible idea anyway.
"I don't know."
Do you know what that is children? That's an English phrase you say when a student asks you an insightful question to which you do not know an answer.
Bad teachers bullshit. Bad teachers make things up on the spot just to sound smart in front of kids. No good teacher or honest person would ever do something so vain and pathetic.
Now luckily, if you're really good at what you do, you'll only have moments like this every once in a while (you will certainly have them, that's part of the point in teaching). Unfortunately for those of you reading who are Bad Teachers® (provided you haven't ragequited reading this and gone back to your safespace of mediocrity, whatever website that is), since you're generally bad at everything and are a superficial hack, you have events like this every day, sometimes multiple times per day.
Bad Teachers spend most of their time trying to boost their self-confidence because of how bad they are at their "calling." That's why they go to teachers' meetings, trashtalk their students, make up nonsense answers, etc. Nowadays there's a new pseudo-scientific, social-sciences, hocus-pocus disease that mediocre people have made up to diagnose their lack of self-confidence amongst their unbridled narcissism: it's called "Imposter Syndrome," and boy oh boy is it making the rounds at teachers' meetings. Imposter Syndrome is supposed to be the feeling that Bad Teachers have when they stop for a moment and actually reflect on their lives. They realize that they're basically incompetent frauds who are so irresponsible and full of themselves that they have to blame everyone else for their... oh god no, that's just the Imposter Syndrome talking. Don't worry, you're great at what you do. Even if every single one of your students and yourself know otherwise.
The greatest cause of Imposter Syndrome is, of course, being an Imposter. Imposters are worse than dumb people, because dumb people can improve. Imposters just go on bullshitting their way and when their sociopathy wanes and they start to wonder if they're not a horrible blight on the world, now they can pin it all on this phony-ass diagnosis. Rinse and repeat.
This is the doozy. This is the hallmark of a Bad Teacher.
You complain about having to answer email questions. You complain about how "dumb" your students are for not understanding jargon. You complain about bad formatting, grammar and form in a non-composition class. You complain about not getting paid enough.
Fuck you. You have one of the best jobs in the world. You have academic rigor and social connection. You don't have to do any physical work whatsoever. You have power and influence over dozens of minds at a time. You will automatically be remembered for what you do, even if you're bad. No one remembers plumbers, bureaucrats, paper-pushers, temps and 99% percent of the other career people out there.
The only conceivable thing a Good Teacher should complain about if the arbitrary limitations placed on them by Bad Teacher busybodies in the department or administration. Bad Teachers don't realize how much damage you can do by placing inane requirements on classes or telling teachers what they should "save for next semester." Teachers must be dictators in the classroom; only once they have total freedom and total responsibility will it be totally clear to all who is Good and who is Bad. Only then can Bad teachers try to become Good.
Aside from that, complaining is a form of entitlement. Complaining implies that you, you pouty little princess, deserve more; like you deserve savant students with encyclopedic knowledge of everything who are fully independent. Guess what? If your students did know the material before class, you would be useless; of course they don't know anything, that's the point of you teaching them. Of course it takes a while for them to catch on, that's why you have a whole semester. If construction workers were as entitled as teachers, they'd get to the construction yard for the first time and whine about how the house hasn't already been built. And a teacher complaining about student apathy is like a construction worker complaining about gravity. Sure it would be easier to do your job without apathy, but this is the real world. Your job is to fight against natural forces like gravity and student apathy, or better, use them to your advantage.
I am an optimist. As I said, some students are incorrigibly stupid and cannot be changed or educated. I'd wager about 1/100 kids are like this in American universities. But you can still paint a beautiful picture on a shitty canvas. You should try it sometime, it's easy, and very fun. I am slightly less optimistic about improving Bad Teachers, which are probably around 75/100 of all teaching appointments of universities. It's hard because while apathetic students can be easily ignited, Bad Teachers build their lives, social networks and personas around being Bad Teachers; it's hard to get them out of the rut. But I have some faith.
No, not in the moribund university system, it's good as gone. No, not in the actual teachers, they are self-absorbed reptiles who can barely wipe their asses. But I have faith in Good. That some day, these people will finally face judgement. I can't wait to see bad teachers out on the streets begging for another massive state bureaucracy to come around and feed them to babysit young minds and infect them with mediocrity, immaturity and despondency.