What Can I Do About Incompetent Teachers? [15 min Audio]

Student question, answered…

This was recently send in to me from a student in the final years of school…

“Hi Leah – How did you deal with incompetent, lazy or unbothered teachers? I got together with a few classmates and met with the Head of Department who was really defensive about it. Should I just leave it and do the work on my own? Or would you say it’s worth the battle?”

Here are my thoughts via audio because, as this could be an explosive topic, I’d like you to hear my tone as I share my reply:

Click play to find out…

  • How Our School System Leads to Student Powerlessness
  • Why Advice to This Student is Different to What I’d Say to My Younger Self
  • The Most Positive Influence Students Could Make While They’re Still Inside School

Looking for help with revision? Here’s a link to Lucy Parson’s work at Life More Extraordinary

What would your advice be to this student and all the students who face this question?

Twitter chats…


And here’s the student’s response to the audio…

“Leah – wow! Thank you so much for this, I really enjoyed listening to your answer (audio was definitely a lot better than text – good idea there). I loved the idea of putting together a study group! I’ll message a few classmates later today to see if they’re up for it. Regarding doing my own revision, I eventually reached that conclusion, too. I’ve now started to find my own texts, annotating them, etc and it’s actually very rewarding. The only downside of this strategy is, of course, that I miss out on the interesting discussion in class, but the study group you suggested is an excellent solution for that!

It’s slightly annoying that I’m having to do all of this on my own when, ideally, the teacher should be doing it, but I feel that it’s teaching me a valuable lesson for the long run — if something isn’t working and it affects me, then I have to take steps to sort it out; I can’t just cross my arms and complain about people lacking a sense of duty because that leads nowhere. Thanks again for the very refreshing perspective! I look forward to more audioblogs like this with questions from other students! Thanks”

Personally, I consider this an important conversation that (it seems) most people inside education aren’t ready to have. If you are though, I’d love to hear your thoughts:

  • Atlas Educational

    As always Leah, your advice is spot on! I fought the system way too long and endured much too much frustration with a bureaucracy that does not bend. With that mindset, I spun my wheels for years all while you had the perfect answer.

    When you can’t go through, go around.

    Not only does your response promote autodidacticism, it does it within the realm of respect and leadership!

    You just helped someone transition from feeling like a victim to empowering that person.

    Well said! I love it!

  • Kevin Hewitson

    A fair and balanced response Leah.

    Teaching is regarded as both an art and a science and as such there are no absolute consistencies. No two teachers will teach the same and no one teacher will “perform” the same each and every lesson. Even in an authoritative hierarchy which makes teachers accountable to their line managers I have found few do not feel accountable to their students. It is this more ethical and professional accountability that drives, that motivates teachers to do their best. It is also the one that creates the greatest stress and conflict in teachers. There are pressures on teachers though that act to wear down this aspect of their character and the mere mention of Ofsted can cause many to feel extreme anxiety. It should not be this way but it is. I have written about the teacher learner relationship and what happens when it is “meddled” with in this way and you can read the article here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-s2

    Whist the courage of the students involved is commendable I fear it shows yet another aspect of the education system that has been eroded by focusing on examination performance measure, that of the pastoral care system. In the past, and in my own experience, this would have been picked up by a form tutor before it got this far. The tutor should be in the position of being able to both investigate and mediate and offer advice and guidance to the students and have the time to do so. Sadly this is not so often the case as it was.

    It is fair to say the strategy chosen by the students was not the right one for it will do little but set up conflict and damage the teacher learner relationship. It is also a reason why we need to develop in learners their LQ. LQ (more information on my website) is so important in the education environment we now find ourselves. The suggestion of involving the teacher is a necessary conciliatory one but will need to be carefully managed to establish trust and re-establish the relationships.

    The practical and effective advice of solving the issue by taking responsibility for their own learning is probably an unexpected one on the part of the students. It is the right one though. Students are expected to be compliant learners and are encouraged to see this as the way to succeed in schools. My view is this is a disadvantage at best and a disability at worst. This incident I believe supports this view.

    Understanding that we need to take control of our learning environment to meet our own learning needs is a powerful and necessary stage in learning. It is one that in my experience schools are either afraid to explore or reluctant to accept.

  • Natasha

    I absolutely love the question that this student posed and your response to it, Leah. Well done! Last semester I was teaching at a college here in NYC and I had several students talk to me about teachers who seemed as though they were “burned out.” They started by talking about these teachers had come in with such enthusiasm but by the end of the semester or year it seemed as though they simply didn’t care. One went so far as to say that one of her teachers had cancelled class 5 times and the 6th time she said it was a “gift” to her students before their final exam. While some students celebrated the news, many were discouraged as they had real questions for her before their upcoming final.

    What I found in my personal experience is that I have seen both students and teachers disinterested in classes. As a professor it was frustrating to work so hard to try to reach students and get them excited about learning so I have to acknowledge that in speaking with students, I could see that same frustration for students who are praying their teacher will exude the excitement necessary for learning. I truly feel for the student in this situation and my response would have been very similar to yours.

    The battle with the head of Department seems like it might lead to more frustration, a spinning of one’s wheels and eventual exhaustion. This student has a passion to learn and that is all you need in life. My suggestion would be the same – gather up some of your fellow students and learn. Sometimes the learning one is meant to do goes far beyond the classroom. It is not about the class itself because you can learn anything you set your mind to but instead it feels as though this student is learning a far more valuable life skill – leadership. This student already got people together to make something happen and it hit a wall. Well don’t stop there. Don’t let the world step in and say, “No,” This is your story, your education so go out and get it. Is it worth the battle – absolutely! Just not the one with the head of department because you will get nowhere. Grab hold of what you want and do not doubt yourself, simply say – “What can I find out?” You see in following what it is you want to learn you are going to grow in SO many ways. That’s what happens when we follow what we are passionate about and right now this student has a passion to learn. THAT will open doors. That will allow this student to connect with others. THAT will allow this student to use his/her voice to make a change with their life and the lives of those who come along to learn.

    This teacher presents the obstacle but there are no limits to what this student can achieve. It’s time to move beyond the classroom to learn about the class material and how to lead in this life. It’s an opportunity and I love the way you supported this student so that they are empowered and ready to take learning into their own hands. Who knows what exciting, unexpected lessons will be learned!

    Thank you for sharing this discussion, Leah! Thank you to the student for having the courage to step forward and start a much needed conversation. Together, change for the better is possible!

  • Leah K Stewart

    Lisa, see what the student wrote me about your comment ‘when you can’t go through, go around’ – “Fantastic, I’m going to write that on an A3 sheet and put it up on my wall!” :D and I’ve now been informed your quote is on the wall. Thanks so much for your contribution.

  • Leah K Stewart

    “Even in an authoritative hierarchy which makes teachers accountable to their line managers I have found few do not feel accountable to their students” – absolutely right. The way this human to human accountability can pull against the top down accountability teachers work within comes up allot, and was even explored by Tim Oates in the first section of the Politics in Education eCourse (if you’re reading this and don’t know what I mean, click here – http://leahkstewart.com/welcome/ – for some info on this free eCourse). I’m hopeful this audio, and the student reaction to it, might help some of those in schools who may feel “afraid” of accepting student control to see that many students wouldn’t turn away, given this chance – they’d support the school more.

  • Leah K Stewart

    Thanks so much Natasha for sharing your perspective as a teacher and your own frustrations with students, as well as the stories you’ve heard from students in this situation.

    “This is your story, your education so go out and get it” – love this and, yes, it’s so true that doors really do open once you start moving your own way :)