I recently changed jobs, and now I ply my trade at a smaller, private, teaching-oriented university. This is a culture shock, having spent my academic career (if it can be so labeled) at massive, research-oriented state institutions. Not only is teaching the subject of zero shits given at such places, but the tenure process (and faculty culture) actively discourages putting any effort whatsoever into teaching. So if you were curious, kids, that's why all of your classes at State U. are terrible.

This is not to say that I find myself in an idyllic paradise of outstanding pedagogy; in fact there is good and bad teaching to be found here just like anywhere else. However, it is noticeable how much more teaching is talked about here. It is a thing people actually think about and attempt to do well, even if unsuccessful. Talking about teaching leads to one of the real perks of academia: the teaching Horror Story.

It has been a while since I did one of these crowdsourced NPFs, so this one is all on you. I could tell you my stories, and in fact I occasionally do in the odd post, but where's the fun in that? What's the worst (hopefully in the amusing sense, not in the "One of my classmates shot someone" sense) thing you've ever experienced in a classroom setting? Who's the worst teacher you ever endured and why? There is no right or wrong way to approach this question.
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You can mine your life experiences for anything from preschool to grad school. I'm sure you have some sordid tales of amazingly inept teaching.
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Let's get a nice blooper reel going here.


78 thoughts on “NPF: THE HALLS OF KNOWLEDGE”

  • Leading Edge Boomer says:

    It's a mixed bag, and I think frosh and sophs suffer the most, but my experience was different:

    I had a Chinese grad student lecturer for a pre-calc class that I was forced to take who often referred to "loots swee." It took all of us a long time to figure out that he meant "the square root of three."

    In the same year I had a world history professor who undid the damage by a truly stupid high-school teacher, to the extent that, for many years, I was a recipient and reader of volumes from The History Book Club.

    As a strictly STEM guy, I learned a lot from undergrad literature classes, where I saw that my takes on the readings differed from others, but were not denigrated as invalid.

    In my discipline at the graduate level, I had a real analysis professor who lectured immaculately, without notes at all, including his writing assignments out on the board (it was just all elementary stuff for him). My 3-course numerical analysis professor was a wonder, using notes, and could occasionally get stumped by a great student question. Next class he answered comprehensively. These guys guided my teaching style, to the benefit of my students later, for decades.

    Before starting a war about non-citizen teaching assistants, hear this. As a department chair, I got complaints from a parent of a student who did not do well in two courses, not both in my department, about non-citizen grad assistants. Turns out his discussion session TA guy in my department was a native of India, where they speak the King's English excellently but quickly, and he just blamed the guy for his bad performance. In the other department, his grad assistant was a bland US guy, and the kid did badly there too.

    Nevertheless, the state legislature passed some kind of useless resolution to require that all state college instructors must be fluent in English.

    Mostly, I learned to teach well from my professors. Sorry I cannot fit my experience into your desired stereotypes, maybe try in the social sciences.

  • Let's see… my second kindergarten teacher (I had started in Massachusetts, then we moved to Georgia and started over again) got fired for being absolute shit. I remember her pretty well for one reason: she graded our coloring. She marked us down for any white left on our coloring page. Even if the white was meant to be clouds. My class got divided up and given to the other Kindergarten teachers. This happened within a few weeks of the start of the school year.

    When I was in fourth grade, this time in Puerto Rico, I got into a number of fights. See, on the mainland I didn't catch too much shit for being Puerto Rican – that tended to come in high school and even more toward my little brother. Instead, I got my first taste of discrimination in Puerto Rico on account of being too white (hooray mixed race!). My class was a mixed 4th/5th grade due to a shortage of teachers, and a lot of the native-born Puerto Rican students in the class, particularly among the fifth graders, didn't like me and tended to be vocal about their reason. Anyway, I got into a fight during recess with one of the fifth graders in my class because of a particularly violent tackle he landed on a girl in our class out during our daily 'rugby as imagined by elementary schoolers who care not for even having enough ruled to make rugby actually happen, so here's soccer with everything short of punching' game. I didn't like his tackle, told him as much, and he started swinging. Long story short, he knocked my glasses off and I lost a lens which I spent an hour searching the fireld for to no effect. The vice principal, when he asked me what happened, decided to tell me that I was lying and that I had taken off my glasses before the fight so they wouldn't be damaged.

    Another one, in Georgia again (we moved o another part of that godforsaken place after Puerto Rico). I remember in early high school one of the middle school teachers got fired for telling a sixth grader (she also happened to be our neighbor across the street, and her older brother was my brother's best friend) that she belonged in a garbage can instead of a school because black kids just weren't cut out for learning. The case was pretty much so open and shut that the school board had no choice but to fire this teacher, despite their inclinations otherwise – this school board made no bones about hating anyone who wasn't a white southerner. This same town had a mayor who repeatedly rejected any proposals involving building a bowling alley because it would "attract the wrong type of people."

    Those are really the big three for me.

  • Hey, guess what, math professors can suck too. One of my math professors (also teaching real analysis as it turns out) could not have given less of a shit about what he was doing, to the point of trying to figure out a proof on the fly we had read about in preparation for class ("Hmm, I forget this . . . let me try and work it out"), refusing to acknowledge students when they pointed out he had strayed from the proof we had read, and eventually ending the 40 minutes of our time he had wasted playing with himself by saying "Well, anyway, this is wrong. Let's forget about it." Of course we had to learn it, so the professor had helpfully dumped responsibility for a class period on the TA who was so sleep-deprived he was literally shaking when he tried to help us.

    A friend of mine has that beat, though. He had tested into the last quarter of Spanish to fulfill the language requirement, and besides the instructor there was a TA focused on speaking and pronunciation practice who ran his own assignments. During the second class period the TA had everyone compose a couple paragraphs to read in class about why they were learning Spanish, and my friend said the usual like "It is a world language with a great culture to learn" stuff. Then he said "And I really enjoy the teaching of the professor and the TA. They are the best instructors we could have hoped for. I am very glad – "

    "STOP." The TA had jumped out of his chair and was scrunching every muscle in his face. "You STOP that. RIGHT NOW. You are DONE." My friend was in a state of shock, not knowing what the hell he had done. "I didn't mean, any, any uh, disrespect, I didn't -"

    "STOP. YOU ARE DONE." He called on the girl sitting next to him to speak her couple paragraphs, who of course was mortified and scared the hammer of arbitrary Mediterranean authority was going to fall on her next and put at least three "uh erhm uh"s into each word. After class was done the TA called my friend over.

    "I am so sorry, I didn't mean any -"

    "Matt I was so embarrassed. No-one embarrasses me like that. Do you know how easily I could sink you, Matt? I could destroy your GPA with one decision. It could be destroyed, by my one decision. Do you understand the control I have over your future, Matt? The power that I have?"

    " . . . I, uh, I didn't mean any – "


    ". . . Yes."

    "You are lucky I am a just man, Matt. I am overly generous to people, it is a fault of mine. But if you disrespect me again like that. If you embarrass me again. I will absolutely do what needs to be done. Now go."

    I saw him soon after he had left, and he was already trying to just laugh it off. But after that term he tended to obsess over choosing classes where he had some kind of idea what the professor was like before he signed up.

  • In an Argumentation course, my professor made the course into a lesson on advanced citations. She was real old school, and required detailed information in APA citations such as where and when we accessed our articles and databases.

    She also hated the internet, and would attempt to make us cite as many books as possible for assignments. This was in 2009. The worst part of the class was a set of sample questions we were to find answers to in periodicals…it turned out she pretty much copy/pasted the questions online, so we literally printed out an answer sheet. Web usage in research papers was frowned upon from that day forward.

  • While I had my share of "interesting" teachers and professors as under-grad and grad student (from those who couldn't speak the language, through those that failed more than half the class consistently by asking exam questions intended for the follow-up course, and those that spent their time telling us their family history and recent exploits instead of the subject matter, to the one professor that invited students to his home a few days before finals for a "training session" that magically included all the exam questions), my "best worst story" is from high school.
    I went to a boarding school (a recently opened, highly regarded establishment), and we had a few days of uncharacteristically heavy snow that winter. This was not a total surprise (the area does get its share of snow every few years), but the city just wasn't prepared for 2~3 feet on the first night, and had to cancel school. The next morning was cold but sunny, and while school getting cancelled is fun for any student, it's twice the fun in a boarding school. Except for one of our math teachers.

    That guy was a recent immigrant from Russia (see "language" category above), and when he woke up that morning and saw the snow, he guessed there will be no bus to take him to work, and decided to walk. And since the shortest path from his home to school was through the nature reserve in the valley below (between two and three miles over rough and vegetated terrain), that's where he went. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt (it was, after all, sunny), sandals, and carrying a pair of socks in his pocket to change after the walk. Sandals dry out much faster, he said.

    He was genuinely surprised to learn that school was cancelled due to whether ("that would never have happened in Russia"), and it never crossed his mind to listen to the radio for that sort of message. He then insisted on gathering his entire class (sending students to bring their friends from the dorms), and proceeded to teach his entire schedule for the day. Needless to say, we were the only school in the city or the surrounding area to have any kind of teaching going on that day.

  • At my college there is apparently a professor that occasionally discusses 9/11 and how it was orchestrated by the Bush administration.

    I had a professor that was well regarded in the History department, but has been getting loopy in his old age. On a paper about Robespierre he corrected my misspellings. The problem with that was he was correcting the French names of places and people into English, and did not always do a good job of it. For example,"Place de la Revolution" became "Palace of the Revolution." Also he chastised me for referring to the nicknames Robespierre had during the Reign of Terror because they showed a clear bias in my writing…even though I had 50% positive and 50% negative.

    I had a professor who walked into class on day one and asked if we thought she needed to teach. And then asked in complete sincerity what she was supposed to be teaching us.

    I had an English professor fail me on a homework assignment once. The assignment asked what my opinion was about a play we had read. All I got on it was "No." and "0"

    I once had a professor that didn't know what Scooby Doo was.

    I had a professor with a different version of Microsoft Word than the version I used, and she was unable to open assignments I emailed her and didn't let me know this until the right after the FINAL. And wouldn't let me remedy the situation by emailing them in a different .doc-whatever format because the due dates had passed.

    These aren't necessarily too amusing. But they were/are horror stories, especially when they were happening in real time.

  • It turns out that horror teaching stories are lllong.

    Again with real analysis, it's an area in math, we had a guy in shorts and no notes. He would regularly get into trouble with proofs. The class hated it. I loved it; he was bright and always got out of trouble.

    In advanced set theory the teacher tended to consider a mistake if you wrote proofs identical to his. "I am wrong kids, don't you know it?" No, we didn't.

    Second hand story: my high school buddy was taking classes at my department. According to her, one of our profs was devoting the bulk of the lecture to sex talk. What a joy; the guy is ugly.

    Some foreigners never get rid of their native accents and sometime I cannot understand what they say in faculty meeting. Students complain bitterly. Have no idea how to deal with that.

    I came to the US in my early 30s. So one day we were looking at class evaluations and in particular, spoken English. We had this guy let's call him Smith from Philly who spoke beautiful English; I like listening to him. My spoken English was rated way better than his. Sure, and I am the queen of England.

    Finale: Norma was my high school English teacher (in the jungle where all non American grow up). She was bright, good looking and liked smart asses. I fitted well. We did well except when I, accidentally, said something she didn't like. Nobody is perfect, you can ask my 3rd wife.

    To be continued.

  • I routinely have to teach highly-educated, middle-aged professionals who can't recognize the flags of Germany, Italy, or several other major European/Asian/South American countries.

  • Ozymandias, King of Ants says:

    I had a professor in grad school who was a nervous wreck who could often be found in the men's room throwing up before a class. This guy scripted his lectures, including bracketed directions like [WALK TO OTHER SIDE OF BOARD]. Not notes, but scripts that he read.

    My third year I was assigned to teach a year-long undergraduate class under his supervision. I found out that he wanted me to do it just like he did. After the first observation, I received in my box the script that I had given him with red circles around the part where I had deviated (which was basically the entire thing). No comments, no suggestions. Just red. I walked directly into the department chair's office, tossed it on his desk, and said "I quit. Effective immediately."

  • In an Art Appreciation class we were supposed to go see some play that was being produced on campus and then write up a two page paper and analysis (long time before the 'reflection' bullshit). I actually went to the play, but had smoked some before going and then attempted to write up the paper afterward. I got the name of the play wrong, the names of all of the characters wrong, but I did get the plot right. Handed it in and got it back with a big fat 'A' on it. Realized they weren't reading this shit, and never went to another play/art display/book reading the rest of the semester. Easiest A I've ever gotten. The prof spent one hour and a half class doing Hamlet as if modern actors were playing the role. An hour and a half of Dustin Hoffman doing Hamlet, then Richard Dreyfus, then Marlon Brando (you can tell the era I went to college). Yeah, good times. And attendance was mandatory, I could see why.

  • I had a Shakespeare professor who was brilliant when it came to knowing and teaching the plays – except for the times when he felt he had to read various scenes, acting out the different parts.
    The man couldn't act for sh*t, and it was all we students could do not to laugh out loud.
    Fortunately, he spent most of the time analyzing the language, and the history behind each play.

    He did peg me as a student better than anyone else in my scholastic career.

    Virtually our entire grade for his class was based on our final paper.
    Now, I was, and am, one of the great procratinators of all time, so I kept putting off writing the paper.
    Now, I'd seen other classmates in the library working on their papers. But I went to the library to nap, not study, since I was a commuter who worked, and was frequently tired for reasons beyond last night's kegger – and then, THROW IN last nights kegger on top of the job, and you could see why I napped.
    Well, the day before it was due, a friend of mine asked how my paper was going?
    I said I hadn't started it yet.
    He said, well, you'd better – it's due tomorrow.
    So, after working at my job that night, I went home and thought about a few plays, and came-up with an idea early in the morning.
    I compared the relationshing of Hall to Falstaff, with Dionysys and Silenius in Greek mythology.
    I typed my idea out – but it was only 4 pages long, with hand-drawn bubbles on it, with additional ideas.
    I walked into class, and saw the thickness of other students papers – most were 20-30 pages long. One guy had 100+ page paper!
    I knew I was F*CKED! But handed it in anyway.

    I got the only "A" in the class.
    The professor said mine might be an original idea, and he might want me to present, or help him present. the idea at next years Modern Language Association meeting.

    Well, I bumped into him in the hallway early the next semester where he told me mine wasn't an original idea, and that Dr. Samual Johnson had written something about that back in the 18th Century.

    I looked at him, and said, "I swear, Dr. ___________, I didn't copy that!"
    He looked at me, and said, "I know you didn't. You don't' work hard enough to plagiarize."


  • During the Vietnam war, when I began my academic journey, our classes at City College were filled beyond capacity with young men for whom making grades was literally a matter of life and death. Drop below a 2.5 (and this was before grade inflation) average and ones student deferment was rescinded– putting one on a fast track to a Southeast Asian tour in a rice paddy.

    We had one wonderful prof in our required History 101 , a caricature of the pipe smoking, elbow patched tenured class of his day, who began his course by stating to the packed lecture hall that he fully intended to fail 40% the class. His rationale was twofold: he felt that 'academic standards' were being polluted by the influx of 'future bricklayers' that had invaded his sanctum; and he felt it was his civic duty to supply as many able bodied men to the armed forces as possible.

    Half the class transferred out, I stayed (foolishly) and managed to pass. I was lucky enough, several years later, to encounter this fellow at an historical conference in Washington, D.C. On the last night of the conference, I and a few other coconspiritors, lured him out to what was to be a group dinner in one of the nastier sections of the city, knowing he was a cheapskate who would not front cabfare. We went elsewhere. I assume he survived, but I wonder what that walk was like for him.

  • I've had some wonderful professors, and some lousy ones. Most of the math ones ranged from lousy to should-never-be-allowed-near-people. I had Calculus my senior year of high school and did well, but I signed up for Calc 1 my freshman year of college to make sure I had it down, because my computer science major inexplicably demanded three semesters of it (I have spent the last 25 years as a computer programmer and have never once needed anything higher than simple algebra to do my job).

    First day of Calc 1 class, the professor got up and announced, "If you don't already know Calculus, you're in the wrong class." Really? If everyone is an expert in Calc already, why pay this loser? Sadly, he was one of the *better* math professors.

  • Another freshman-year fiasco: a course I was taking for the mandatory humanities credit was Archaeology 1. We were assigned a paper on an artifact of our choice from a certain range of time in Egypt. This was the 1980s, the days before the internet, and I lived on campus because I had no car. The campus had no public transportation. The campus library was a tiny building lacking in anything on Egypt whatsoever.

    When the library proved fruitless, I used my food money to pay someone to drive me to the nearest city with a museum and found *a single statue* from the right era, but sadly, there was no real information on it besides its assumed age. I took some snapshots of it and then set about writing the paper.

    How do you write a paper about something of which nothing is known? I made up stuff. Out of whole cloth. Oh, the stuff I made up! I turned in my paper and got a big fat F, with the order "SEE ME".

    I turned up at the professor's office and got reamed out for plaigiarizing (remember, this is before the internet, and the library had nothing). She demanded I explain myself, but how do you admit that you made up everything you wrote, and you can't plaigiarize yourself?!?

    She "generously" gave me the chance to re-write the paper, this time attributing my sources. I was left with the bizarre task of making up reference books and articles to quote as sources for "facts" I had previously made up. I got a C on the paper. Definitely one of my more surreal moments in college.

  • A tale from the other side of the fence: in my last job, my team of programmers supported my customer's in-house "school" for adults. This school teaches a variety of technical and professional classes–for example, need to learn C# to do your job? You can sign up for a class and spend 2 weeks in a classroom with an in-house instructor. Thinking of transferring to the HR team and need to learn HR stuff? Take three classes in HR and apply for the job.

    The programming team was seated down the hall from the classroom schedulers, and we were forever being bothered by Millenials barging into the room and DEMANDING to know what class they signed up for. Because my team designed the online sign-up forms, we knew darned well that the students got a confirmation email telling them the date, time, and location of the classes. These folks couldn't be bothered to print it out or remember it, but they were incensed that the programmers wouldn't lead them by the hand to their classrooms. After all, they were special, special snowflakes and could not be expected to remember what they signed up for or when the class happened.

    Do you guys out in academia run into this, too?

  • grumpygradstudent says:

    I'd say about 15% of my teachers have been terrible, about 15% have been really good, 70% have ranged from kind of bad to kind of good. It's like most skills, basically.

    I had one public management class where the teacher lectured for maybe a couple of weeks, and then we went into this thing where each class consisted of groups of students presenting material. These group presentations took up the rest of the course. I learned nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    One of the worst professors I've had is also one of the most intelligent people I've ever met (he taught statistics and policy analysis). Those are difficult subjects to teach well, but his technique wasn't great. He fell into the trap of wanting to present all the details of a subject without spending anytime focused on how it relates to "the big picture."

  • There were two courses at my university that were acknowledged as the hardest. One was Physical Chemistry in the Engineering school and the other was Comparative Anatomy over in Bio. I ended up taking both.

    CA is a comparison between the anatomy of the different classes of vertebrates. The lab animals represent four groups of vertebrates. Usually a fish, amphibian, reptile of some sort and a mammal. When I did it the animals were a dogfish, frog, iguana and mink. Sometimes the reptile is excluded. Over the semester there is an inordinate amount of memorization and analysis backed up by the labs were the animals are slowly disassembled.

    The first time I took CA I was in the first class and the instructor came out and gave the following speech. This is pretty much verbatim:

    "Good morning. This is Comparative Anatomy. How many of you are Pre-Med?"

    About 1/2 raise their hands.

    "Okay. How many are Pre-Vet?"

    About 1/4 raise their hands.

    "The rest of you are Biology and other things?"

    We all nod.

    "Good. There are a hundred ten of you. I grade on a strict curve. There will be ten A's, 20 B's, thirty C's. You need an A to get into Med or Vet school. Good luck."

    I dropped the class that afternoon.

    Apparently, the competition was so intense that people were breaking into lockers and destroying other people's lab animals, messing with the tests culminating in the instructor's office being firebombed.

    The following year I signed up again. This time the class instructor was my adviser, a man for whom I had enormous respect. His starting speech went something like this:

    "I grade on a strict point basis. If you make a 900 to 1000 points you get an A. If you make 700-900 you get a B. And so on. You need an A to get into Med or Vet school. I don't care how many of you there are. Good luck."

    See? They can be taught.

  • Not so much a horror story, but here's my most memorable teacher experience. I was an engineering student at UW Madison when one of my electrical engineering professors was under investigation for financial fraud. The charges were very serious (falsifying financial documents to get grant money, etc). Toward the end of the trial he was still teaching, but nearly every lecture would be interrupted by a photographer from one of the two school newspapers. He would stop mid-sentence and scream "GET OUT OF MY CLASS!!" Eventually he was found guilty and sentenced to some jail time. The only thing he ever said about it was when he started one class with "Well, it looks like I'm going to the big house." Then he went straight into his lecture material.

  • Chris "Limey" Lewis says:

    Kinda common to most people, but finding out my school kept a whole bunch of giant plastic penises for sex education. As a 14 year old, I was highly bemused by the sight.

    Further to that though, hearing my middle-aged sex ed teacher, in the middle of describing the main three forms of sex (vaginal, oral, anal), saying "The anus is one place a penis is never meant to go" (bear in mind I went to a C of E church school), before lecturing us on why we shouldn't "bowl from the pavillion end" (so to speak.

    Kind of offended by this, I promptly responded "You're telling me it's SUPPOSED to go in the mouth?". Cue much teenage laughter and a detention. I was a rebel back in those days…

  • First-year physics course at Edinburgh University. Tutor is a hotshot young Cambridge-educated particle physicist, extremely intelligent and very arrogant.

    One day, he asked a Scottish girl in the class what the mass of a proton was. She didn't know. Tutor sneered and said, "Hah. So much for the Scottish education system." A moment of shocked silence followed.

    I said that I'd been through the English education system and didn't know it either. At this point the tutor seemed to realise he'd made a complete prat of himself, and that the other Scots in the room were contemplating retribution, and perhaps in addition that he himself was part of the Scottish education system he had just maligned. He stammered a bit and swiftly moved on to another topic…

  • I've been fortunate, I think. Most of the stories I have are failures of the students (usually me), not the teachers. Two college experiences, though, stand out.

    1) My undergraduate college was in a consortium of colleges near each other. Students could take a fraction of their non-major courses at the other colleges. The lit. classes on some of the other campuses attracted me (since my college focused on science and technology.) One time, the class I registered for ended up being unexpectedly popular…instead of having 50 students, we had 150. It took a few weeks for me to understand why—an underground newspaper, edited by students of my college, had rated the easiest "A" courses. The professor learned of this before I did.

    He might not have known which students were from which college, but I made it easier for him. I project a nerdy appearance. And I showed up in my brand new "Albert Einstein" sweatshirt, complete with equations and diagrams.

    So, naturally, he singled me out for "questioning". I successfully answered his questions (being genuinely interested in the reading material, and not in the class for the easy A.) He kept going with several questions, leaving me looking around the room at people, with an expression of "why is this happening?" Eventually, he decided to shut me down with "Does your sweatshirt glow in the dark?" to which I answered "Uh, no." He looked at the ground shook his head, laughed, and said "I know. That's how humor works. It's *nuclear*, so it glows in the dark. Maybe you should teach humor to your fellow classmates from (science and technology) college."

    2) In an engineering course, where I was acing all the homework assignments and doing all of the reading as expected, I entered an open book/notes midterm to find NOTHING that looked familiar. I brought it up to the front to confirm I had the exam for the right class. Professor confirmed.
    I scored 9/155. [Yes, it stung enough that I still remember.]
    I visited the professor in his office, to protest—I'd never had a problem with any of the homework assignments. In fact classmates were seeking me out to help them. I'd done all of the reading, and brought my books into the course. "Well, yeah," he said, "but I solved all of the questions you *didn't* get points on, in the last 3 lectures."

    He'd noticed that students weren't attending lecture, and decided to punish us. He recommended I drop the course, and retake it the following year. I didn't. Immediately after track or cross-country practice (I can't remember which immediately preceded his lectures), I would go sit in the front row of his lecture, stinking to high Hell and sometimes splattered with mud. I high-scored the final exam, and aced the 2nd mid-term, and passed his class. And he got what he wanted—my attendance.

  • I'll also point out that I earned my MBA at a state school. And I never once had a bad professor experience.
    (There was a professor who was an excessive sweater. And the students were quite rude to him, IMO. He ended up switching to our arch-rival, a private school nearby.)

  • There was this one time when one of the CS profs decided that he was too lazy to teach both sections of a course and a week before classes started got a TA to teach the other one, except that TA wasn't actually a grad student in that particular sub-area of the subject and had basically just taken the class once like four years prior. The TA also didn't know how to program in the language the course used.

    Oh wait. That TA is me and that semester is happening RIGHT NOW. Fuck everything about that. D:

  • As an alumnus of a large state university, most of my classroom (read: auditorium) experiences were thoroughly unremarkable and are mostly lost to memory a decade on. I *wish* something truly awful had happened.

    I had a lot of bizarre experiences in improv classes, mostly involving "shocking" behavior from angry male students. One guy went into a protracted monologue about another student's physical attributes, and the teacher gave him a What-The-Fuck-Is-Wrong-With-You speech that makes me want to applaud just thinking about it.

    I imagine this happens a lot in small creative-type classes: A particular student uses the creative freedom to unleash the inner psycho, and the teacher has to choose between separating the art from the artist and protecting everyone's safety.

  • I went through Air Force pilot training in 1984 under what we called the "Fear, sarcasm and ridicule" method of instruction.

    I had one T-38 instructor who was a "screamer". He was from New Jersey, and every other word out of his mouth was the f-word. He'd start cussing from the moment he plugged into the intercom and it would go on that way for the whole flight.

    My other T-38 instructor was more of the sarcastic type. His nickname for me was "Worthless Fuck". At least once a day I would be addressed as "_____ you worthless fuck". I finally decided to just own it so I put the letters "WF" on my helmet visor so that whenever I was flying formation with him he could look over and see "WF" staring back at him.

  • My senior-level mathematical analysis course as an undergraduate was taught by an older (probably now passed away) man with the following teaching style that was followed to the letter each and every day:

    He would walk into the room without saying a word and begin writing on the board. With perfect handwriting and exquisite board presentation skills, he would state definitions and proofs of theorems until all boards were filled. Most information he presented was almost exactly taken from the text, although he didn't use any notes.

    Then he would walk out of the room, still having not said a single word.

    A few minutes later, after the class had enough time to copy his handwriting from the board, he would return. He would recite what he had just written, perhaps filling in a few holes.

    After he got to the end of the board, he would turn to us and ask "Any questions?". Of course, we hadn't absorbed much of anything, so there were very few times any of us would say anything.

    Then he would say "okay." and leave. This happened three days a week for 10 weeks.

  • God, my 8th grade math teacher. He was a sadist who hated kids. Here's how his schtick went: some poor soul raises their hand and says they don't understand how to do a particular problem/equation/whatever. Said person is then ordered to the blackboard to work out the problem that they don't understand, all while being humiliated by this "teacher." There were several girls that ran from the room in tears.

  • 25 years ago our Comp class had a librarian come in and give us a lecture on citation form. Followed by a quiz which everyone failed. Followed by librarian's arrogant gotcha attitude.

    I have an intense dislike for this jerky misanthrope which survives to this day. I can't forget about it, because the nincompoop went on to become the celebrated children's author, AVI.

    His books are assigned to my children and end up in my house. I do take some small pleasure in explaining to my children what a small-minded nit-picking freak the author was/is. I don't like his work either. His defective character is evident in his oeuvre. I'd like to track him down and hit him with a stick.

    Other than that, my college experiences were wonderful.

    Am waiting for my chance to relate college teaching experiences.

  • The worst teacher I ever had was a lower division History teacher when I was in college. He was basically a bitter old man and that's how he taught the class- as a bitter old man. In his mind, we were all lazy, uninformed do nothings, which he reminded us of on a consistent basis. It basically came down to survival in there- keep your head low and hope that you don't get singled out for ridicule that day. Not every day was horrible in there, but he was enough of a loose cannon that you never knew when he might go off, so there was at least that tension every day. He was the kind of guy that if you came late to class, he'd stop class and glare at you until you found a seat. Meanwhile, the several times he was late to class, he'd mumble something about the parking being terrible and that would be that- no apology, no nothing. In the class survey at the end of the semester, I made a point to document how awful he was, which in turn made the class awful. He was the only professor I had in college who was bad enough to motivate me to do that.

    Years later, I had a meeting with the chair of his department. As he was looking at my transcripts, he raised an eyebrow and said "I see you had History 17A with professor so-and-so" (who wasn't teaching there anymore at that point) and I replied that I had and what a brutal experience it was. The stuff I told him about professor jerk certainly didn't come as a surprise and in a very pc way, he basically said, yeah, he was a dick. 'Nuff said.

  • Sock or Muffin? says:

    Another story of math and accents combined. I was never good at math and unfortunately my career choice meant I had to take calculus. My first college calc prof was a woman in her mid 60s with a HEAVY Boston accent. It took me about two weeks to figure out half of what she was saying so by then I was hopelessly behind. I failed the hell out of her class.

    "As X becomes LAHJEH AND LAHJEH…"

    Oh! You mean larger!

    Also had a HS French teacher with a speech impediment. She would pronounce 'Le' as 'Lerr'. We even called her on it and she said we were wrong.

  • College Freshmen says:

    My physics teacher last year, rather than teach us physics, spent a couple of days of the year showing us videos of random shit that doesn't pertain (even loosely) to physics.

    His excuse? It's like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle you never quite know what's going to happen! Reality is uncertain.

    My favorite thing he showed us, just because there is no way it pertained to physics even loosely, was the Colbert Report video about "Time Travelling Porn". My only thanks was that I wasn't in the AP class. They did basically the same stuff we did, except they took the AP exam at the end. I really hoped that one of them wrote a response to one of the problems about time traveling porn.

  • State U (Illinois at Champaign/Urbana) as a freshman in Calculus II. I actually had passed out of the class after taking the Calc BC AP exam but felt that I needed to take it again to solidify my base for future classes.

    The section class was taught by a TA that couldn't say the word 'integral'. He would say something like 'int-gull' and struggle through the word every time. This wasn't just a language thing (he was Japanese if I recall) – I think he learned the word wrong when it was first taught. Calculus II is of course a class about integrals…the word came up 100 times per class.

    The 2nd class period he opened the book to that weeks section, wrote an example problem on the board, & spent the entire class time trying to work out the problem, screwing it up, starting over, etc. without turning around to the class. Half of the class left during the course of that "lesson" and the majority of the rest (including myself) didn't show up for the 3rd class.

    So was my introduction to Engineering at Big U. It turns out they (and many others) know that their Freshman are pushed not only academically, but by terrible classes, teachers, & a lack of guidance and they feel it's a perfect setup. They highlight the Freshman dropout rate / major changes as a strong point of their glorious institution. If I knew what I knew now it was just about the worst fit I could have had. I'm sure he was a great researcher, but Big U doesn't have teachers in Engineering until you're in your 3rd year (at best).

  • Adjuncts – could be lunch meat, could be peaches…

    The downside: Let's just say that if you were an adult during the Clinton administration, yet are willing to vehemently argue that NAFTA was passed in 1976, you have no business in academia, let alone adjuncting political economy courses. This was pre-smart phone era, so I had no recourse. I was a straight-A student throughout college, but after that and several similar disagreements over facts and structure of the globalizing economy, the professor in question never gave me above B.

    The upshot: On the other side of the spectrum, one of best profs was an adjunct of my policy course (oddly not a requirement for a poli-sci degree at my alma mater…). He actually worked in politics – not the ivory tower – and knew the ins and outs of how policy is actually made. Long story short, we used to have friendly debates in class and he dubbed me the anarchist. Years later he became the state treasurer and I became policy director for a state legislator. Upon seeing me in the statehouse hallway he yelled out, "Hey, hey you! Anarchists aren't allowed in committee rooms!" It elicited some memorable looks from nearby lobbyists and electeds, but he's been one of my political mentors ever since.

  • My first-grade teacher was a steady proponent of embarrassing her students over the quality of their work. She would make us do things over if they weren't up to her standards, and often announce the fact to the entire class. A few years after I had her class, she was forced to retire after she tore up a kid's paper in front of the class.

    And the focus of all this? PENMANSHIP. That was all she cared about. The fucking Palmer Method.

    Also, she once berated one of my friends for crying the morning after his dog was killed by a car because "first-graders don't cry."

  • The bad thing about being in academia is that I find myself to be both the best and worst teacher I've ever had. There are quarters (I'm at a private engineering college that is teacher oriented and we're on the quarter system–12 courses a year is the teaching load for a full-time faculty member such as myself. No tenure, only promotion and contracts) where I am sure I have absolutely ruined the education experience of my students. I feel flaky, disjointed, non-committal, evasive, vague, and obtuse. Other times I'm a fucking rock star.

  • Ugh, what I meant to say is that after 12 years as an adjunct/grad student/adjunct/faculty member I can't clearly call anyone a good or bad teacher anymore. We all have our good moments and our embarrassing moments.

  • The only "horror" story I can remember is from high school. Our sophomore English teacher was a marathon runner. Somebody asked him why so many marathon winners are from Africa and he answered that it was because black people have an extra muscle in their legs.

    I distinctly remember looking at one of my friends and mouthing "what the fuck?"

  • I was waiting for a flight out of the Dominican Republic a few years ago. It was the middle of December. The weather was sweltering, and the terminal was only lightly air-conditioned. A British woman sitting next to me and I struck up a conversation. She told me she was a teacher in a primary school. At one point in the conversation, she remarked on the weather:

    "I don't know how people survive here. Thirty degrees [that's Celsius, my fellow Americans] in the shade IN DECEMBER! If it's that hot here in December, what is it like in July? Sixty degrees?"

    I swear, it must have taken me minutes to scrape my jaw off the floor. But once the initial shock was over, I felt kind of relieved that she was not an American, that other countries have educated people who are that ignorant. And teachers, no less.

  • Thought of a non-math/engineering one from my Music 101 class. (which reminds me, Big U doesn't allow engineering majors to minor in music because…it's useless or a waste of time or something. When I went to drop a physics class to lighten my class load (a 3rd semester class I had placed into and took only because my advisor said I should try it out and drop it if my load was too heavy) the engineering department supervisor suggested that I was taking too many elective classes and should drop one of those instead. Asshat)

    The weekly lecture taught us about common forms, famous western composers, listened & evaluated pieces, etc. etc. The 3/week sections were taught by a TA that was an ethnomusicologist specializing in music of the Andes and had us memorizing obscure instruments, working with local music forms, and I don't even remember what because it was so specific. Other sections were taught more typical '101' stuff and actually learned things that applied to other classes.

    He was a great guy – I joined his panpipe ensemble and loved it – but the class was effectively useless, not at all challenging, and bared no resemblance to the class description which was meant as a foundation class.

  • I had a love/ hate relationship with my high school Calculus teacher Mr. Jackson.

    On one hand, he sincerely loved Math and teaching. He would celebrate every significant mathematician's birthday by decorating his classroom with banners of their discoveries and quotes. He would also tell adorably dorky math jokes and laugh heartily at them. His handlebar moustache was awesome and not in an indie ironic way.

    On the other hand, he reseated the classroom by test grade EVERY test. Lowest score in the front, highest in the back.

    As a lazy Math student, I found this particularly stressful. Effective, but stressful.
    In fact, thinking about it right now stresses me out a little.

  • i had a substitute teacher in 6th grade at a private school that was a religious preacher/baptist idiot. by far the most ignorant person i knew at that time. Mr. Newell. how could i ever forget such proof of teh evolution of apes.

    i wasn't interested in this idiot and what he had to say, so I was laying my head down on the desk. Mr. Newell called upon me and my neighbor said, "he's catching radio waves from space." i"ve never forogotten the "look" on his face. it amazed me they would allow someone like this, a preacher, in a private school. i guess degrees were hard to get back then. and being teachers, power was abused for the fun of it. My contempt for religion had an early start. and Mr. Newell was perfect as the religious pharisee, intent on "correcting" our ways, until a "real" science teacher was found. and this was science class, no less.

    a 5th grade teacher used to yell and scream at those she didn't like. so i learned to read lots of books and keep "busy"/quiet in her class. Ms. Ozette Spears. how i remember such lovely "teachers", lol.

    so private schools are also hotbeds of insanity and stupidity, too.
    America, so exceptional!

  • Two, I'll try to keep them short, from law school at a private school in the late 70's. First, this was the days when the dean of the school addressed the new freshlaws and told them look left, look right, one of you won't be here at the end of the year. The academic dismissal rate really was about 20%. They don't do that any more, but that is a different story. First was the contracts prof who was a known terror. He sat at a desk at the front of the room, was dry, uninteresting, and impenetrable. At one point a student in the middle of the room leaned over to ask where the prof was in the textbook. The prof stopped talking, rose to his feet, pointed at the talker and roared OUT! NOW! Needless to say, we were cowed.

    The second was an adjunct who was a known drinker, (though unknown to me when I signed up for the class) holding at least one or two classes in the bar across the street, and always holding court in that same bar before and after class. One night he was standing (at least he stood) while lecturing and started to cant to his right. AS he tried to recover his feet kept overcompensating moving him faster to the right until he slammed into the far wall and fell down. He got up, tried to continue but gave it up after a little bit. Poor fellow died in a single car wreck a couple of years later. Sad.

  • I had a math teacher in late high school who may have been psychotic. She believed that she had a psychic power that applied exclusively to what students might have eaten the night before. She would walk around the room and try to use the powers of her extraordinary mind to guess meals. Everyone agreed with whatever she guessed because it got things over with, which ended up reinforcing the delusion.

    Another anecdote for her crazy:
    She was explaining a problem for the textbook. When finished writing on the white board, she said: "I like that problem. It's a chicken problem. I don't know what that means, why did I say that?" She then proceeded to laugh quietly to herself for a few minutes and continued the lesson.

  • This is easy — my third grade homeroom teacher.

    There were 21 students in the class, including myself. Of these students, six of these gained great pleasure in bullying me, and two of them were the sadistic ringleaders of the group.

    One day, I told the teacher about the bullying. The next day, the desks in the room had been rearranged into three groups of seven. Guess who the other six students in my group were. Bonus credit is given if you can guess who the students put directly next to me were.

    Incredibly, this teacher managed to last for over 25 more years in the school.

  • 8th grade English/Social Studies teacher.

    That fucker was always high. He was crazy (but I secretly loved it). He once came to class with a mug in his hand and told us to guess what was inside of it. We spent the entire class trying to guess what was inside his mug. Right before he let us out, he revealed it was a strawberry. He ate it and left.

    He would frequently play Janis Joplin and tell us to really listen to her music and "feel it." It was never even somewhat related to whatever we were supposed to be studying.

    A student who honestly didn't know any better asked him what the word "dyke" meant. He walked up to the chalkboard and wrote DYKE in huge letters. Then he just pointed to it, and said "It means lesbian, but don't say this to a lesbian!" Later in that same class, someone said the word "bitch" and he also wrote it in huge letters on the board. No explanation of any kind was given that time. We just sat through an entire class with the words DYKE and BITCH on the board.

    Another time, he took us outside to this wooded area that was beside our school. He told us we would get "bonus points" for climbing trees and reciting poems. He spent his time in the woods smoking. He got high and lost track of the time, and we ended up missing most of our next class.

    He would start many classes by asking "Have I read you Jabberwocky, yet?" We always told him no. It was very entertaining.

    He also made us watch "Roots." Twice.

  • Mine isn't really a dreadful experience, but an odd one that turned out well. Sophomore English in high school. This was three-year high school, so first year. The school I went to was an "inner city school" which had been relocated to a new building and thus had new district lines drawn. The lines were drawn specifically to get more white kids in the school. This was also back when the school district wouldn't allow changes of district except under very exceptional circumstances. So there we were, us white kids from a "good" junior high, bringing the scholarship level up in the school. My English teacher was probably in her late 60's and she came to school dressed in a different costume every day. No, I am serious. She came dressed as Cleopatra, as a belly dancer, as Marilyn Monroe, as Jane Russell, you name it. She passed out these workbooks our first day and just sat up front filing her fingernails or putting on makeup. The kids from the 'hood sat in the back, rolling joints. Us white kids completed the workbook in about three weeks. Maybe less. We turned them in to our teacher who then didn't know quite what to do with us. We had the rest of the semester yawning wide in front of us. So she asked us if we were interested in learning some Shakespeare. We said sure. What the hell else were we going to do? Well, I will tell you that this woman gave me the best analysis of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet than I have ever had. Better than any of the Shakespeare or theatre professors I had in college. So I figured that this poor woman had likely been a literature teacher at some point in her life, but had been shunted to a school where everyone had basically given up on the kids, so she was forced to teach sophomore English to kids who couldn't care less. She was just biding her time until retirement. It made me kind of sad to see her potential wasted like that.

    Still didn't get the costumes, though. THAT was bizarre.

  • I went to a large state school in the Midwest with an excellent theater program where I was overjoyed to be admitted. The keg at my very first college party was purchased by the chair, while one of the tenured musical theater profs, a forty year old gay man, was on a singular mission to determine which of the freshmen boys could fit the bottom of a beer bottle in their mouth… he clearly had a high opinion of his own endowment.

    Needless to say, he was fired two years later for fucking undergrads. And it was a damn shame, because he was a phenomenal arts teacher.

  • Back in the 70s I was at a six week (home to the Atlanta area in the middle) corporate training school located in NJ. My speech/presentation teacher was ol' Bernie Doodahday' from NYC, a very witty and urbane dude – city boy Yankee.

    In the evening we were known to throw back a few and Bernie's class was 0800 hrs. One morning I'm sort of half poured into my seat in the back of the room w/ my eyes half lidded and in bright and cheerful tones Bernie, knowing I'm from the South, says:

    "Mr B, what is today?"
    I said "Sir, what is the date?"
    He said "It's the 19th of January."
    I said "Well of course, Sir, It's Marse Robert E. Lee's birthday, Sir."

    By this time I'm sitting upright in my seat and the look on ol' Bernie's face was priceless – you know jackjawed and all.

    He thought he was gonna hee haw the dumb Southron, but…not that day.


  • I once had an English professor (who was actually quite brilliant) walk into our lecture room, sit down and gently place his head in his arms on the desk. He then looked up at the class with a kind of bewildered, depressive gaze and said: "What is this?…What am I doing with my life?" He paused and then, as if nothing had happened, proceeded wearily with a lecture on Milton.

  • Two instances come to mind.

    First was in a Mainframe programming class. On a programming assignment all the students in the class were using the same, master input datasets. We were just learning the proper methods of referencing datasets on the MF and one of the students deleted the master file. Obviously other students could no longer reference the dataset. In the next class the professor decided to make it a "teaching moment." He called out the student and spent the better part of 10 minutes berating him in class.

    Second was an Art Appreciation class. It met a basic requirement for a semester of fine art study. The first class we were told to find a seat we would be in for the rest of the semester and that was recorded on a master seating chart. Each class TAs would come around and mark if your seat was occupied. For every class missed after the second absence you lost one grade level. On the very first day the professor even suggested if we were going to miss a class to have a friend show up and sit in the seat. Every day after that he put on an 1:15 slide show and lectured with no student input. Besides attendance the grade in the class was based on the midterm and the final. Now this is why everyone took the class. He had been giving the same two tests for the class for years and everyone, I mean everyone, had the answers. As his TAs were handing out the midterms he told the class "Some of you underclassmen are going to notice that there are some very fast test takers. Just take your time and don't worry about the people turning in the test after 5 minutes." The tests were over 100 questions long. You couldn't read them in 5 minutes much less actually write down answers. He was giving everyone permission to cheat.

  • In 10th grade, I had Chemistry I. The teacher was retiring and a student teacher taught the second semester of the class. She was middle eastern or Indian. At the end of every sentence, she would say "Right?" An example: "Water is 2 Hydrogens and an Oxygen, right?" *pause* "So you write it like H2O, right?". In one class period she said that word over 80 times and then we stopped counting. Another strange thing she did is assign questions from the book. If you didn't copy the answer straight from the text, she marked you down. All of my other classes wante dthe answers in my own words. Lastly, in the lab, she would mark points off if your results weren't almost exactly the same as hers. I'm talking like measurements and results. Within a gram or a degree. I didn't do well that semester, but I did well enough to pass the class due to the first semester.

  • My 6th grade teacher taught us that Isaac Newton invented, yes, invented gravity. And thank Goodness he did or we would all be floating around in space. No lie.

  • I have a similar 6th grade story to renrph. I had to explain to our 7th grade "science" teacher that no, if you were going at the speed of light and fired a gun the bullet wouldn't go 1200 fps faster, it wouldn't go anywhere. Time dilation, you know. That and that infinite mass problem. At twelve I was demonstrably better read than any of the teachers in my junior/senior high. Not a startospheric bar by any means btw.

    I also was retaliatorily failed out of a freshman year college Radio & Television program for drawing the inside card (10 of Hearts)on a King high Straight Flush in Seven Card Stud. We were on a field trip to 30 Rock in 1985(?) from Herkimer County Community College in upstate NY.

    The instructor ( I won't call him a Professor) got a little poker game going in the hotel after all the tours and sightseeing. I figured he'd been rooking students this way for a few years. I was going back to school @ 24, and had faced better cardplayers out there in the 'real world'. The guy was a prick, and a smug player. Funny thing was I bet it all up to drive out the other guys, and him, but no one quit. I had nothing til the last down card.

    Best hand I ever won. Got my FCC Radio license & left that depressed, crappy area with no regrets.

  • My first grade teacher was competent, but had a rule at the time (now illegal) that if you asked to use the bathroom during class time, you would be penalized five minutes of recess. As a 7 year old and a goodie two shoes, I didn't want to get in trouble, so when one day nature called, I held it. Finally, I got up to hand in an assignment, and simply could not hold it any longer, pissing myself right in front of her desk, leaving a huge yellow puddle on the tile floor—but with no direct witnesses and the fact that I was wearing stone wash jeans (and therefore the wetness was not obvious), I thought I got away with it. I sat down and about 15 seconds later I heard her yell, "Gaaaah! Who did this?!" Sadly, my best friend betrayed me.

    Most of my university profs and TA's were very good, actually, but there was one old duffer emeritus who taught "Voice and Articulation" who knew his stuff, but spent most of his class time bragging about giving voice lessons to celebrities back in the 50's and 60's, all while leering at the female undergrads and constantly saying cluelessly sexist things.

  • My "worst teacher ever" story is, I'm sorry to say, a story I can't tell. Literally–I don't know what the story is, but I know that it happened, and I know that *I* was the teacher.

    I was assigned (not by choice, I might add), by the first college to hire me out of grad school, to teach a mid-level course in Women's Literature. Since my area of specialty is Renaissance Lit, an era in which the prevailing attitude was "Bwa-hah-hah, women can't *spell*, much less *write*!", I had little experience in the subject. But, fuck it, whatever, I gave them what I knew: Austen, the Brontes, Woolf, Morrison–I covered the gamut.

    My students were, to a man (wink), female. The only guy in the room was the one teaching the material. To say I got very skeptical stares from Day One would be putting it mildly.

    But guess what? I won them over, so much so that the college quietly arranged for me never to teach the class again, because–I kid you not–three of my students collectively informed me that as a result of this class, they'd decided to switch majors to Women's Studies, which our teeny li'l college did not offer, so they were all transferring to the nearest UW campus.

    My reviews from that group of 28 women were among the most devastatingly flattering I've ever received.


    But there was one. No idea which one she was–it was a small class, and everyone participated, and no one gave off any signs of bad juju. And all she wrote, after giving me the lowest of all possible marks in every category, was the comment: "The worst teacher I have ever had on any subject."

    I was that woman's worst–I would be the one she'd be writing about in this thread.

    And I have NO IDEA what I did that was so awful–so consistently, misery-inducingly awful–that I was her worst. This was several years ago, and I'm still re-running lectures in my head from that class, trying to figure out what happened–where I went so right with so many, and so wrong with one.

    I really would like to know her story…

  • My college freshman English teacher (visiting professor of English; required class with assigned sections) had…something wrong with him. Something really, really wrong.

    By "something wrong", I mean mentally not-right. Like a personality disorder (or two), or maybe a mental illness. Or quite possibly both. I also strongly suspect that he did not actually earn the degree he was supposed to have. He not only had a lack of knowledge about English literature and composition, but also demonstrated a near-total lack of knowledge about basic English written grammar. And he appeared to be a compulsive liar. Also, mean. And crazy.

    It would take too much space to get into all the details of his insane behavior and jaw-dropping ignorance of the subject matter, but trust me – it was bad.

    He also played favorites. I was not one of his favorites. In fact, I was the opposite of "favorite". You know how in dysfunctional families, one kid is sometimes made the

  • well, here's the REST of the comment that got cut off – I hope:

    He also played favorites. I was not one of his favorites. In fact, I was the opposite of "favorite". You know how in dysfunctional families, one kid is sometimes made the “scapegoat”? It’s usually the kid who has the BEST grasp of just how fucked up things actually are. I was a stellar English student. I knew exactly HOW incompetent this guy was. I didn’t laugh at his jokes. I pointed out contradictions in things he said. I questioned both his (lack of) knowledge and his grandiose tales about himself. When he told me a compund sentence I had written was a "run-on", I promptly said "no, it's not, look!" and diagramed it for him to prove him wrong. (Yeah, I was kind of a snot – but he was major prick. Also, an idiot.)

    It all came to a head sometime in November, when he verbally attacked me in class, and I fought back – then stormed out and went straight to the dean to file a complaint that can be summed up as "my freshman English professor is incompetent, insane, and persecuting me because I know he's incompetent!" I was not believed at first….until I refused to back down and made a big enough stink (working my way up the administrative food chain) that an investigation was conducted.

    After the investigation, I received apologies from the dean’s office AND the head of the English department (the former was rather stiff, the latter seemed quite genuine), and was moved to another section. I was, however, strongly warned to keep my mouth shut about the whole incident – which was deemed “strictly confidential”, of course. The professor in question kept his job for the rest of the year (under closer departmental supervision, as I understand it) but was not rehired the following year.

    I was later told by the department chair (in confidence, of course) that yes, the guy was incompetent – they’d figured that much out! – and that he (the chair) did in fact suspect that the prof-in-question might have forged his credentials – but that the school has decided “not to pursue to matter.” The prof-from-hell subsequently dropped of the face of the earth – there is no record of him in Google or the academic databases. Professionally, it's like he never existed.

    In retrospect, I'd guess the guy may have had some combo of narcissistic personality disorder, as well as some sort of delusional and/or paranoia issues. And I’m pretty sure he faked his PhD in some way (if he did “earn” it, I imagine someone else did the work for him). Yet this crazy, incompetent, student-abuser got a gig at a highly-respected, selective institution. How do these things HAPPEN?

    Worst. teacher. EVER.

  • First, J. Dryden, I've been there. I've taught a class that was widely enjoyed, but I received one truly bad review. That's still the one I fixate on, 4+ years later.

    Fortunately, I'm sure the worst teacher in my life is not me, but a nearing the end of the line "teacher" from 8th grade, who taught Study Skills. To give you an idea of the esteem the public school district had for him, he held his "class" in the junior high cafeteria. The "study skills" he taught consisted of such challenging tasks as ordering the alphabet from 1 to 26 and arranging words like "bank" "banana" and "banjo" in correct order. Without even a chalkboard, he didn't really teach, he just talked about . . . crap, I can't remember one thing he talked about unless it was about our behavior, which was awful, and who he liked and who he didn't. He was either very dumb or wrapped in the onset of senility.

    We did things like throw superballs around the cafeteria when he turned his back, but he could somehow never catch us. But he gave me a "C" in his class not because I didn't know the alphabet, but because the class should have been called "Behavior as Graded by Someone Who Has No Business Being in a Classroom." Needless to say it was my only C.

  • I had a comp. lit professor who would walk in and read out loud to us the same two passages that had been assigned for homework (sometimes taking up 45-50 minutes of a 75-minute class). She would then look up at the class, say, "Compare and discuss," and leave. Of course, attendance was required (and it was a small enough class – maybe 30 students – that it was clear when someone was not there). She did this twice a week (T/Th), for 14 weeks. The exceptions were the first class, during which she read us the entire syllabus and course expectations, along with a brief description of every writing piece we'd read, and the last class, the final exam, which was, in essence, "Tell me in detail about one of the discussions you had while I wasn't there."

    Most of my other "horror stories" involve me being a bright but utterly lazy and apathetic college student.

    One of my guiding principals as a teacher — lofty a goal as this may be — is to never be part a horror story for one of my students to tell.

  • My freshman year Algebra teacher was also a proponent of the "rearrange the class after every test" method, always in strict grade order, ignoring things like whether kids could actually see the board from where they were sitting. He'd also have a couple of days at the end of the semester where you could come in and retake a test if you'd done poorly on it.

    Except the tests he used were from another book series, not the same test, so that it would be "fair." And the other book series didn't necessarily cover things in the same order as our book series, so you might ask for a retake for Chapter Four and get something completely different from what you'd studied for.

    The truly odd thing? Only a couple of us figured this out, and got odd looks for throwing our tests away rather than handing them in on our way out the door. The rest of the kids turned them in, got lower grades, and then griped about how hard the retests were. They weren't hard! They were just over the wrong material!

    Bad teacher, weird class. My only D in high school.

  • Public school in Alabama abounds with great tales:

    My 8th grade social studies teacher (male) kept a score for "dumb" comments between the blondes and the brunettes, and yes we learned all about how the Civil War was only about states rights.

    My math teacher (female) informed us that it was disgraceful that a woman was running for governor because God did not intend women to be leaders.

    And health class, forget abstinence only education, we had no sex ed.
    Completely ignored the subject, instead we got Maslow's Hierarchy of needs and the three sides of the personal-development triangle (physical, intellectual, and social, if you were wondering). Very helpful.

  • I went to College at a school that will accept anyone and touts itself as a career college. They brag that their faculty were activley working in the field that they were teaching. Translation, the faculty all had full time day jobs and very little time to commit to the courses that they were teaching.
    I had an accounting class that started in March and had a brand new textbook. The instructor right out of the gate complained about how busy she had been due to it being tax season at her sole proprietorship accounting business. She then cracked the new textbook open for what I assume is the first time and began reading p. 1 to us and writing the key points down on the dry erase board. There was a steady stream of students heading out the door after about a half hour. I lasted an hour and 20 minutes.

  • Two stories, both related to arts.

    First was in high-school. Took a "Digital Arts" class back in 02'. The comp lab was new to the school, so the teachers assigned for the classes within, Digital Arts being one, were fresh. I had this lady who, for what I could gather, had zero experience using any of the programs she was set to teach us. She read to us step-by-step projects out of a "How To Use Corel Draw For Dummies" style book for the duration of the class, sometimes. The class devolved into a free period where everyone simply surfed the internet and gave no fucks. I would have liked to have taken away at least a basic understanding of Photoshop and Flash, of which I got neither from the class. Complete waste.

    Second story was while I was in a CalState system university for my BFA. I took a Typography class (which I later ended up not needing) with one of the worst professors I've ever encountered. I'm pretty lax when it comes to questionable teaching, but there was nothing redeeming about this guy. From the start he came off as really smug, having been in the commercial illustration/design industry for years, taught at high-end art colleges, blah blah blah. Spent a lot of his time telling us horror stories about how thankful we should be that he's not the kind of prof that rips students projects off the wall and throws them out the window. For as much as he demanded us to be organized, he was never prepared when class started.

    The absolute worst was his insistence on using our Type and Font resource book as our main source for our typography projects, as opposed to just, opening up Adobe Illustrator and dicking around for a few minutes. What this means is, if you needed to get let's say a few letters like S, H, I and T, in Baskerville font at a particular size, you'd have to drag your book to the nearest copy machine (and/or scanner with an oversize printer) and trial & error for a while as you print page after page of sample letters in various sizes, trace them, quickly ink them, and hope it works with the design you're making, otherwise it's back to trial & error stage. Alternatively, you could get exactly what you need with no trial and error in Adobe Illustrator in less than a minute, without wasting money and materials making test prints. He didn't give us access to the comps with Illustrator, which were in the same fucking classroom, and he'd mark us down if he found evidence that we used Illustrator to create our designs. It's the equivalent of not being allowed to use the internet as a resource when citing works, it's that inhibiting. No contemporary design firm would use this methodology. As the semester was winding down, his teaching methods were holding back the class with his archaic guidelines, so he finally allowed us to use Illustrator at the very end.

    On the last day, we had a potluck when we turned in our final portfolios for the class. He managed to spill cola over roughly half the class's portfolios. I felt bad for the Graphic Design and Illustration majors, who didn't have a choice but to deal with him for a few classes, as he was the only one teaching some of the required core classes.

    All that aside, I have been fortunate enough to have a good ratio of awesome profs, a fair amount of 'okay' ones, and very few terrible ones.

  • Ok, I know I'm really late, but since someone else brought up the issue of religious school I'll share a story from the one year I went to a private, evangelical Christian school. They had a very peculiar form of punishment at this school, which can be termed "the paragraph." The paragraph was just that, a paragraph on a piece of copy paper, which would would have to copy onto normal paper. Naturally, if you got the paragraph you wouldn't get to just copy it one time and be done with it. It was basically like the old punishment you see Bart Simpson doing at the beginning of every episode, but you're copying this paragraph instead of one sentence. Usually you were put in this little room near the principal's office until you wrote all the paragraphs you needed. You wouldn't be allowed to write them at home as homework.

    Naturally I can't remember the words of the paragraph verbatim, but it began with something like: "I am an important and unique individual. Jesus lives in me!" The Jesus part is verbatim. In the middle there is something about how you need to behave correctly at all times and then it ends with something about how you're an asset to your classmates or something along those lines.

    One time I had to write 100 of those. No, there's no extra 0 there.

  • Hinterstoisser says:

    I will never forget my American Literature teacher. He taught the honors class, which had been getting progressively smaller as stories of his conduct had spread around amongst the students. The most infamous tale was of the students coming into the room one day to find the tables rearranged. "I'll bet you're wondering why the tables are rearranged." He told the students, who by then had learned better than to ask such things. "It's because the temptation to look up the girl's skirts was growing too great."
    By the time I got around to taking his class, he had a policy that all students had to have lunch with him in his office, once a term. He couldn't care less if the men did, but he checked up on all the women and when they were having lunch with him he would take pictures of them and then show off the pictures in class the next week. His favorite thing to do in class (when he wasn't giving one of his bizarre lectures) was to find all the explicit sex scenes and ask someone to read them aloud. That someone was always female. He would then ask them to explain any metaphors to the class. When everyone pretended to have no idea what those metaphors were for, he would explain them himself.
    His lectures were always perplexing. My mother didn't believe that he was quite as crazy as I told her until Mother's Day, which was when the school allowed parents to sit in on their children's classes. He gave a lecture on "Virgins as an Energy Source" with enough chalkboard diagrams and arrows to confuse Glenn Beck. After that it became a running joke in the family. Of course, there was another class when some parents walked in and he immediately stopped talking and started reading random passages out of the book until they left. He then commented "I always have to be careful around student's mothers". His family also owned the school (it was a private school), which meant he couldn't be fired.

  • I had a Medical Terminology terminology teacher a couple years back who handed out crossword puzzles and find-a-words for homework. The reproductive system unit was hilarious, but I don't know how finding words like "testicular torsion," "vagina," and "penis" were helping me learn medical terminology, those are some of my favorite words anyway! In one homework assignment, she asked us to define "phrenopathy," which is an obsolete term for disease of the mind. The only mention of the word phrenic made by our textbook was in relation to the diaphragm, so we all wrote down that phrenopathy was a disease of the diaphragm, and all got it wrong. This teacher said that a green stick fracture was a fracture where the bone protruded through the skin. The bone may protrude, but that's not the definition, that is more likely in a compound fracture. I would sit and take notes in class and just contradict everything she said.

  • Not a funny story, but a man who affected my life.
    My freshman English teacher was a small man, maybe 5' 6" or 8". In class he was the absent minded professor, although some of us eventually discovered that that was a persona he adopted as a teaching tool. He would come to class after lunch with a paper napkin tucked in his belt, and leave it there for the whole hour unless someone pointed it out. He frequently stood in front of the class, apparently lost in thought for half a minute (his timing was perfect) and then suddenly appeared to wake up, point a a particular student, and ask a personal question that seemed irrelevant, but wasn't.
    "Mr. Smith, how do you feel about trains?" "Miss Jones, have you ever been tempted?"
    He spoke softly, and was the kindest and by far the smartest teacher I ever had. At the same time, he was not to be messed with, or baffled with BS. Clever students wanted to do well in his classes.
    Later, an administrator told me that Dr. Pfeil (not his real name, but it was a German name, and he spoke fluent German.) had been an infantryman. He fought in North Africa, landed at Omaha beach, fought all the way across Europe and had been seriously wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. Probably one of the few to survive that long and intense a history.
    (I just realized that the story sounds like "Saving Private Ryan," but this was in the 1960s, long before the movie.)
    When I was a graduate student, and he was my unofficial mentor, I got brave one evening (aided by alcohol) and asked his if the story was true.
    "Yes," he said, "but I don't think about it much. Did you fix your housing problem?"

  • Everyone saw Corey Robin's latest, yes?

    "Why do people hate teachers unions? Because they hate teachers."

    Pretty much cuts through the rhetorical crap, doesn't it.

  • I was a history major at UC Berkeley. A good friend of mine (English major) persuaded me to take an English class on the modern novel. Two problems – I had not taken an English class in college before, and this was actually upper division. The instructor was a tall, bearded old professor, who had been doing this for a long time. During one office h our, I confessed to him that I had no idea what I was doing. Apparently misled by my facility with spoken English, he assured me that everything was fine, and to proceed as I had been.
    After the midterms were graded and handed back, I noticed there was no grade on my paper. He asked to see me in the hall. With what I can only describe as a shit-eating grin, he confessed that I had been right, and had no idea what I was doing. Since it was too late to drop the class, he promised me that if I kept coming to class and 'doing' the asssignments, he would guarantee me a C. He seemed both apologetic and embarassed.

    Don't think I'll ever forget that moment.

  • @Major Kong:

    I went through Air Force pilot training in 1984 under what we called the "Fear, sarcasm and ridicule" method of instruction.

    Sounds like law school.

  • Sigh… I am probably the TA that most of you are talking about. In grad school I was assigned to teach five times with no preparation and no natural skills to boot. I tried by best, but I feel bad for my poor students. But that's why college-level teaching can be so bad. People do it because they have to do it, not necessarily because they have any particular inclination, skill, or training to teach. (Though some are excellent, of course.)

    On the receiving end: I had a friend from grad school who signed up for a course that met for three hours once a week. When he arrived on the first day, he realized he was the only person who had signed up. The professor proceeded to lecture from the blackboard for 1.5 hours (no discussion, just lecture) to my poor friend, then said, "It's time for a break. This class will be canceled because not enough people signed up. So do you want to just call it a day, or come back for the remainder of the class?" My friend took that opportunity to bow out.

    On the good side: I had a professor spend the first 20 minutes of a class on pre-historic demographics talking about the merits of anal suppositories. He made several well-reasoned arguments (among them, "If you all were serious about getting drunk, you'd bypass the stomach and take your alcohol anally"), and I remember it fondly as my favorite lecture during my undergraduate years.

  • Teachers that stand out:

    — Adjunct professor, getting paid about $75 total to teach a semester course, with zero command of spoken or written English. Apparently he taught a lot of you too!

    — Computer science professor, horrible combination of incompetence and extreme arrogance. He would lock the door to his class ten minutes before the scheduled start time to encourage students to be on time. Spent most of the class leering at the females.

    — Calculus professor, believed himself to be extremely smart and therefore would not deign to teach anything about the material except in a single run-through, as fast as possible. There was no going back, no restatements or recaps. Anyone who asked a question was denigrated (and the question not answered). He was doing this in part so that he could end his class a month early and take a vacation in his home country. He did this every year – race through the class, end class early, depart for his home country.

    — Physics professor, senile. Had long ago given up grading materials and therefore graded assignments by heft. Thin = C. Thick = A. Students discovered this and started stapling a lot of blank pages into the middle of the lab work they were handing in – guaranteed A's.

  • My 5th grade teacher. The first day of class, her first day teaching at our school, she put a math problem on the board. When none of us could do it, she yelled and said, "I know you went over this last year, you know how to do it!" To the point where she asked each kid individually if we remembered doing this work last year. Every one said no. So she stormed out of the room yelling, "This is covered in 4th grade! I know you went over this already!" to get the 4th grade teacher to confirm that we had indeed gone over it. She didn't get the confirmation, because we had NOT learned it yet (I don't even remember what the specific type of problem was). She didn't even apologize for blatantly calling students liars. We should have known then that she was the bitch from hell. I had forgotten my homework for my morning class one day, which was tantamount to treason in her book. My punishment? When I asked to go to the bathroom after lunch, she refused. She continued refusing to let me leave the classroom to the point that I peed my pants. As a 5th grader, I don't need to tell you the level of humiliation that brings. THEN, when my mother sent in a note asking to speak with her, this woman didn't even open the envelope, because my mother had written "Miss M_____". Being the super-feminist she was, the teacher crossed out the "Miss", wrote "MS." above it, and handed it back to me to give to my mother unopened. You couldn't write a better "evil teacher" character.

  • My intro into philosophy prof in my second semester sophmore year class was pretty amazing. He came to class with a little stuffed gorilla called "Mr. Wedgewood". Mr. Wedgewood would adopt whatever philosophical idea for the day was and my professor dissected all the pros and cons of each or sometimes just ramble on with ancient philosophical stories. I forget if "Mr. Wedgewood" had a higher pitched voice or not.

    Sorta crazy, but actually really brilliant. I miss that class. It was lots of fun, I still have the notes. :)

    I really liked the majority of my high school teachers too and high school in general. I'm odd in that respect.

  • My high school was a reservation for delinquent teachers: there was the cigar smoking, XJ6 driving (1971) lesbian headmistress who hated children; the cross-eyed paedophile science teacher (spotted years later at 10.00 at night squatting on a city pavement beside a paper boy); the mother/daughter art teacher duo in adjoining rooms who were batshit crazy with the world's biggest Electra Complexes; the cretinous ex-beauty pageant winner English teacher married to a gay footballer and who was subsequently fucking a science master (not the ped); the woodwork teacher who saw himself as an amateur counsellor but who broke the confidences of those who spoke to him.

    The only nice person on staff was straight out of teachers college, and she broke her leg on her honeymoon, leading to weeks of campus giggling.

    University was better: for the first time in my life adults spoke to me like an adult, and I thrived. My favourite teacher (of Anthropology), a man I liked and respected, had had to spend some time in hospital being treated for the infection he contracted getting a full initiation into Australian Aboriginal manhood – a ritual that entails massive penis mutilation.

    Apart from that I'm alright, thanks.

  • Another great teacher stories I have was when I was a junior in high school, in a small waspy town in the northern midwest. First day of classes, my American History teacher had injured himself some how the previous day during football practice (he was also the assistant football coach) and was sort of loopy from the meds prescribed for him. He took attendance and was giggling to himself at points through role call. He gets to me and calls me Nathan, and then stops and asks me if I preferred Nathan or Nate. I said (as I do to this day), "Whatever floats your boat." He cracked up and recorded my name for the attendance sheet. Flash forward to two weeks later, during role call, and he comes to my name and looks confused for a second and then calls me "Nate". I said, "Here" and he said he was wondering why he had scrawled "Boat" in quotes by my name.

    He also graded presentations on celerity and substance, rather than research or presentational length. One of my friends gave a 15 minute presentation on early submarine technology (complete with slideshow!). He got a D, my other friend stood up in front of the class gave a short speech about the subject he had chosen and after the 3 minute minumum said, "I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have." There wasn't one and he got a B. The "D" and the "B" were friends in my nerd clique. "D" fumed about it for weeks and "B" couldn't stop laughing.. for weeks. I got a B as well, even though I stuttered and stumbled through my speech, it was short, informative and to the point.

  • Hate to burst your bubble, but as the product of two public R1 universities (three if you count my freshman year at another), I have to say that overall I had excellent teachers at all of them. I'm currently teaching at yet another large public university – though not R1 – and pedagogy here is kind of a Big F'ing Deal. Perhaps it'd be different if I were on the tenure-track, I don't know.

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