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Tips for surviving bad classes and/or horrible teachers?

I'm open to answers from both fellow students and former students for this question! I'm currently taking a literature class, and I absolutely love it, but that's in regards to all the novels on our reading syllabus being outstanding reads and my own innate passion for literature. When it comes to the actual class, I almost dread going to school every morning since it's my first period (I'm a high school student). I find that my own desires and expectations for the class are incompatible with the reality of it. My teacher provides shallow commentary on the content of our novels, but then expects high-quality analysis and understanding from us students when she can't even provide that level of analysis herself. In fact, students often ask questions for clarification and she either beats around the bush or manages to avoid the question entirely by redirecting their attention to some other topic she brings up. She also expects everyone to improve in their writing and reading analysis skills, but provides no coursework or feedback for improvement, instead repeatedly assuring us that "our skills will improve during our time in the class" - something unlikely to happen if she just expects us to become better "naturally." She never returns or allows students to see past quizzes and tests, and on essays, she only writes vague, criticizing remarks of what we did wrong rather than offering advice on how to improve our writing for higher scores. Confronting her directly/privately for advice and further feedback results in more vague comments. There seems to be no way to coax constructive criticism or explanations of the "high-level analysis" she expects out of her, so the result is a class full of disillusioned and tired students who don't want to try anymore and don't want to improve. Not to mention her behavior makes her lack any sort of credibility so I really can't take anything she says seriously anymore. I'm doing relatively well in the class, but this is thanks to the foundation of literature-based skills I've acquired prior to entering this class, not the result of anything she's taught us. With that being said, are there any tips to trudge through a pointless and unfulfilling class? There are a number of problems here, but my primary concern is preventing a terrible teacher from damaging my love of literature, because this has happened in the past where I had an English teacher so awful that I started to hate literature despite it always being one of my greatest passions. On a personal level, it's also difficult not to let her interpretation of the novels we read ruin my reading experience and my feelings toward said books - for example, she makes a lot of misogynistic comments reinforcing gender roles and completely missing the point that I think the author was actually trying to make when we discuss feminist novels. I need tips on how to survive teachers like her so I can get through the rest of this year and also put them to use if I end up having professors like her in college. (Sorry for writing a novel for my own here!)
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Thank you comment icon Unfortunately, some teachers just plain suck. However, there are some things to do when trying to survive horrid teachers like these. For example, when doing essays in this class, ask peers and any other people you can to read over your work. While the professor may not look over your work and give feedback, your peers and other people will! Make sure that you know that they're good at proofreading, though. Another thing you can check out is if your campus has a writing/reading lab. If you do, then feel free to use that as much as you can! More than likely, they'll be more than happy to help you with that essay/paper of yours. However, if your campus does not have this, don't worry! You can still ask others around you for help. Mia V.
Thank you comment icon Now, as for the teacher's point of view-- unfortunately, there's nothing you can really do about that. However, don't forget that the teacher is the one who is grading your papers, essays, and assignments. It's annoying, but it's true. So, if you can, agree to what the teacher is saying, while keeping your opinions to yourself, for the most part. It sucks, it really does. But maybe after, you can complain all you want about the teacher when you're out of the class. Mia V.
Thank you comment icon Thanks for your response. I'm actually pretty good at essays, and my peers and I do tend to band together and try to help each other improve since it's one of the only things we can do, but some people have just blatanly given up and it's quite sad. I guess it's not so much surviving the coursework and the class itself as keeping my mental state intact - because I do exactly what you mentioned, I have to pretend to agree with the teacher's point of view and her interpretation of the novels for the sake of my grade, even though it kills me inside. Sometimes it feels like I'm sacrificing my beliefs and sanity for the sake of preserving my grade, and that's the hard part. I guess there really is no good way to survive being in a bad class with a horrid teacher. Catherine T.
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Kim’s Answer

Catherine, I am sooo sorry you are having to deal with this in high school - it's not supposed to happen until college ;-) I remember college lit classes. I did not want to discuss anything about what the author was trying to say - I just wanted to enjoy the darn book!!

I will say this: Based on my experiences, it is teachers who are not confident in themselves, their beliefs, and their opinions who tend to act this way. It sounds like she is one of those. She is possibly in a position she does not belong in, fearing getting exposed .... (I'm probably about to get slammed by a teacher reading this. . . !) So, if you were a teacher, and felt challenged by a bunch of young energetic and intelligent kids, imagine how you would feel!

I had trouble like this with a professor. One called me up after class, after my friend and I tried to engage him in an intellectual class discussion. He threatened to flunk me.

So, the question is this. What do you want? Do you want to learn? Do you want/need a high grade? Do you just want to make it to the end with your sanity intact? It sounds like you already know complaining probably won't work. You could ask to transfer to another class. Or, just grin and bear it. Don't let her kill your love of reading though!!

I do recommend keeping notes and saving all your work in case you need to challenge your grade.

Best of luck!


Thank you comment icon I actually don't mind discussing the content of books so much, but I do think it's far more enjoyable to have such discussions with friends; plus, there's nothing more frustrating than your teacher telling you the meaning of the book is different than how you interpreted it and the author's intended meaning ("but teacher, you're missing the author's whole point!"). Catherine T.
Thank you comment icon The perspective you proposed makes a lot of sense, but it doesn't make me dislike my teacher any less. It's not exactly fair that students have to suffer due to the incompetence of their teacher. Perhaps a better profession would have been better suited for her. I hate the fact that I've encountered so many teachers throughout the course of my academic life that clearly became teachers as a last resort, not because they have any passion for their subject or educating students. Students can't be passionate about learning if their teachers are equally dispassionate. Catherine T.
Thank you comment icon Anyway, thank you for your response! :) I suppose I'll just be trying to grin and bear it as I always have. I mainly just want to keep my sanity intact until the end of the year, but I find it extremely difficult not to let bad teachers kill my love of reading and wear down my enthusiasm for learning :( Catherine T.
Thank you comment icon I like the "spunk" in you. As I was told, "pick your battles." Decide what to fight, and when to fight it. And, what to let go. Nothing would make me happier than to see you go to college, and come back as a member of the school board! There is a lot of injustice out there. Fight it. But do so smartly. Right now, I'm finalizing a formal complaint about a college professor who was given a position. Given. No one else was even considered. She did not submit her application until after being appointed. No writing sample was even required. She is teaching a Master's Level Legal Writing class. Has NEVER even taught before. And she has limited legal experience. It's everywhere. Just don't lose that spirit of yours!!!! Kim Igleheart
Thank you comment icon Haha, thank you so much, that means a lot! I will definitely hold onto my spirit and pick my battles wisely. There's too much injustice in this world for me to fight it all singlehandedly, but I'm sure we all do what we can, and that's the most important part. Catherine T.
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Rachel’s Answer

Speaking from the perspective of a middle school lit teacher, I don't feel this teacher is teaching in a way that fosters ideas that go beyond the spectrum of her own beliefs. This doesn't foster a very healthy environment to learn in and I can tell your classroom culture is suffering. My advice to you, play by the rules while you are in her class, do your assignments to the best of your ability, and continue to engage in great discussions of the book in class (regardless if she agrees with you).

However, tread carefully, you are allowed to have your own analysis and interpretations of the book and the author's meaning. Just make sure if you write about these for assignments, be sure to provide clear evidence from the text that suggests your argument is plausible. If you do this effectively, you will get a good grade regardless of her own personal feelings about the text. If there is textual evidence, your analysis cannot be wrong and you cannot receive a bad grade. Be sure to be respectful and mannerly when engaging in classroom discussions about the text.

Perhaps, be as mannerly and polite as possible around this teacher. As a teacher I can tell you that not every student is mannerly and respectful, it is certainly notable when students are respectful and kind. Even if you disagree with her, as long as you are able to provide evidence from the text or even outside research suggesting your analysis is on-point or plausible -- she cannot say you are wrong (and if she does, then she is wrong).

I'm not going to judge another teacher, remember that she is human too and the way she treats others has a reflection of how she may be feeling on the inside. Perhaps, there have been a lot of students that have been unkind to her or disrespectful, or many something more is going on (beyond the classroom). Remember that society teaches us - and instills within us - an insane amount of gender roles and constant reminders and reinforcements of those gender roles (in media, school, work, social life, television, etc.). She may not have had the opportunity to learn about this in college or otherwise and this is probably why she is reinforcing those roles.

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Sri Athithya Kruth’s Answer

I would say that if your teacher does not provide the intellectual manure you need to grow in your subject, then look for it elsewhere.

There are many resources on the internet, with websites like skillshare, coursera and udemy offering a plethora of courses to help you improve.

Considering you are in high school, some of these would be a bit difficult to follow, in which case feel free to search for youtube videos to help you understand how to analyze something. As a recent college grad, I can relate a little to some of the struggle you must be facing - one time I had to cram for a test primarily by streaming videos for a CS topic using youtube, which helped a lot.

So, don't be disheartened, as this can happen, try to use this chance to inculcate a research habit, and try to use it self-evaluate, and grow further. You could also try group study (which you probably are, just had to mention it though) and you could improve the work of yourself and your fellow students by reading and providing critique of others' work.

I hope this helped.

Sri Athithya Kruth recommends the following next steps:

Look for Courses/analyses/interpretations online for the passages and quotes.
If you cannot find analyses for the same texts, look for similar ones or ones with similar themes.
If there is something that you find challenging to comprehend, try looking at explanatory videos on Youtube or sites like that.
Try forming a study group to critique your peers' work to improve.
Thank you comment icon Thank you for your answer! I'm no longer in high school, but I hope your response will help anyone else who stumbles upon this question and happens to be in a similar situation. Catherine T.
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Quinci’s Answer

Don’t spend your time with teachers and classes like that it is not worth the mental harassment. Drop the class and try to take another next semester or maybe try to do online classes so you won’t have any classroom drama.

Quinci recommends the following next steps:

See if your school offers online classes