Thanking bad teachers

Every year, I write thank you notes to my sons’ teachers. I include a gift card, and words of appreciation for all their hard work.

I also encourage them to spend the gift cards on tequila shots or therapy sessions.

My children’s last year in middle school, we experienced two truly ineffective teachers. These “educators” had been horrible since the beginning of the year and all efforts to remove my children from their classrooms were unsuccessful. The boys managed to learn anyway, and pass their classes, but I wasn’t planning on writing thank you cards.

That is, until I thought about all the reasons why maybe I should thank them. They certainly did teach my children a great deal and so perhaps a bit of gratitude was in order.

I gave it a try…

Dear Awful Teachers,

Thank you for making that Pink Floyd song so relevant in a new century.



No…that didn’t quite work.

Dear Awful Teachers,

Thank you for giving my sons something to truly complain about. “My mom won’t let me download Chris Brown songs” was getting kind of old.



Okay, that didn’t work either. I tried again…

Dear Awful Teachers,

Thank you for reminding me that my boys are honest. They told me you often answered your cell phone during class to yell at your own children and deal with personal issues when you should have been teaching. They know all about your son’s suspension from high school and your daughter’s motorcycle-riding boyfriend. I thought perhaps they were exaggerating until your son called from jail during our parent-teacher conference. Twice.

Thank you for giving us new family games to play. “Will this get her sued?” was our favorite. Remember that time you failed a troubled student when he lost his notebook, but when your favorite student lost hers, you offered extra credit to whoever found it? Half the family thought you were evil and the other half thought you were stupid. Can’t wait until the hearing!

Thank you for giving my kids an opportunity to advocate for themselves. It’s not easy approaching a teacher who is more interested in her Facebook profile than students’ questions. My sons felt all kinds of brave just asking you if they could sharpen their pencils.

Thank you for teaching my boys there is virtue in respecting adults even when those adults don’t deserve it. Like that time you said to my oldest, “You are the only student who’s been to every tutoring session and is still struggling.” My son showed restraint and didn’t call you any names. He doesn’t get that from me.

Thank you for teaching my children they are part of a team. I’ve always said they can depend on their parents, but this year, you proved it. Remember when they asked about errors in your online grading book and you said, “Get out of my face”? I was the one who organized parents to call in and complain. In the end, you changed your grading policy.

See? You turned me into a hero, instead of that lady who makes hungry boys eat asparagus and gluten-free pasta. That was kind of cool.

Thank you for teaching my children they can do amazing things on their own. They met with a tutor instead of playing video games, attended help sessions when they could have been goofing off, and spent extra time every evening teaching themselves metrics you ignored in class. “Just because she sucks, doesn’t mean you have to!” became our family mantra, finally replacing “Does this smell weird to you?”

Thank you for a teaching all of us that a “C” does not mean the end of the world.

Thank you for teaching that they are responsible for their education. No one else. When teachers are less than stellar they might have to double the time they spend studying the subject, but that’s better than giving up. We shouldn’t blame others, just because they’ll allow us to fail. We should rise up and prove them wrong.

And give them the finger when they’re not looking.

Thank you for helping us to more fully appreciate great teachers – the kind who take it personally when kids don’t learn. I’d like to think we have always known the value of competent educators, from pre-kindergarten through middle school. But our boys have never known the damage that ineffective teachers can do first-hand – until now. They’ll forever be on the lookout for signals that indicate trouble: teachers handing out worksheets and retiring to the computer for the rest of the class, taking weeks to grade homework assignments, and reacting to questions with hostility.

You may have removed any inkling of interest they had in your subjects, science and math, but I’m hopeful that’s a temporary loss and next year, with some great teachers at the head of their class, they’ll return to appreciating the tougher subjects.

I’m still going to be their hero, though, and you’re still going to have a son in jail.


There. That outta do it.