George Lucas Educational Foundation
Parent Partnership

When Your Child Has a Mediocre Teacher

If the teacher isn’t great, you can help your kid take charge of their own learning.

January 11, 2017
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Is your child’s school year turning out to be something other than spectacular? Maybe the school is poorly managed or is unable to retain its best teachers? Or maybe your child is lost in a crowd of students in a class that has been supersized, unable to get the attention they need?

Some of these issues we don’t have much control over. But when it comes to quality of teaching, the not-so-great teacher gives us the opportunity to get involved in our child’s education at a deeper level than perhaps we have ever been before. We can’t simply be on the sidelines as we may have been in the past when our child had a really stellar teacher. We may have to provide extra tutoring when we can, and look more carefully at assignments and enhance and augment them when necessary.

A Disguised Blessing?

If our child is having a mediocre classroom experience, we may have to make more school visits, talk to more parents to find out if they are dealing with similar challenges, and have more meetings with teachers and administrators (all things we really should be doing anyway).

In a way, this situation can be a sort of blessing. It can lead us to discover (or rediscover) that the quality of our child’s education is also affected by what happens at home and in the communities outside the school.

When our child has a not-so-great teacher, it can help us get better at parenting and working within a community. It can force us to turn inward, reconnect to our values and how we spend our time and resources. Though it can be troubling when our child is experiencing mediocre teaching, it can also lead them to become more self-reliant.

Passive Teaching, Overly Proactive Teaching

While a student myself, I had my share of poor teaching experiences. In college, I had a professor who was, ironically, one of the great film scholars in the world, but a mediocre lecturer and guide to the group as a whole. When I sat down to ask questions, however, he was a fount of knowledge. He was very generous with his time and willing to lend books, but he only gave as much as I was willing to ask for.

This type of passive teaching has a long tradition. By being the passive partner in the relationship, this teacher makes the student take on the role of the proactive partner, so that the student can become thoughtful and reflective about their learning, ask questions, and guide their own journey.

We see this type of passive teacher in the classic movie trope that we love in fictional narratives. In these movies, our hero—the young apprentice—is taught by a wise teacher who only teaches when the student is ready to learn. Up until that moment, the student has proven unworthy of being taught, and the lesson plans are all mind games and riddles. While we love this in movies as it makes for a dramatic tale, it’s not ideal in the real classroom. In real life, honestly, we would call this poor teaching.

This passive mode of teaching runs contrary to the proactive model of teaching that has been idealized. But a teacher who is overly proactive, or too controlling, can make students passive about their learning. This situation can lead students to only value the teachers who can entertain them. When they aren’t entertained, it becomes difficult for them to take responsibility and move forward with their learning.

Regardless of the type of mediocre teaching that our children may be experiencing, we can hope that they will strive to find their own teacher within.

In the meantime, while you continue to struggle and be frustrated by the situation, it’s also a ripe opportunity to build stronger bonds with your child, other parents, and the school community.

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