Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Poor teacher behavior


Here I will discuss some cases of poor teacher behavior.

I caution that not all items need rest predominantly with the teacher. For instance, giving mandatory readings over the summer (cf. below) might be a requirement “from above”. Even when the teacher is ultimately to blame, there can also be a good chance that the inappropriate behavior ultimately goes back to poor advice, poor influence, conventions/traditions of school, or similar—not individual lack of judgment. The infamous “what I did this summer” essay (cf. below) is likely an example of exactly that.

Due to the focus on teachers, I will often speak specifically of “school” (“schooling”, or similar) without commenting on the bigger issue of education. However, I repeat my observation that schooling and education are very different things—and that school, at least for the worthwhile students, is not a good way to gain an education. Claims about how to do something better should be seen with an implied “but it would be even better to reduce schooling in favor of education, replace ‘school schooling’ with home schooling, [or whatever else might apply to the case at hand]”. Ditto, m.m., some other claims.

The page was originally created based on thoughts after reading comic strips. Other material will likely be added in in the future, to reflect personal experiences and other real-life situations.

Encounters in comic strips

Main discussion

During my readings of (predominantly U.S.) comic strips, I have repeatedly encountered a few teacher behaviors that I, at least from an adult view point, must consider inappropriate (or intrusive, incompetent, or otherwise negative). Below some notable examples follow. For brevity, I will use “strip[s]” to indicate “comic strip[s]”.

  1. Giving essay and other assignments that force the students to reveal more of themselves than is the teacher’s business. Consider the infamous “what I did this summer” essay: What a student did (unless in summer school...) is a private matter, to be shared or not shared on a voluntary basis—not something that the teacher should dictate as a topic. Moreover, such an essay stands a considerable risk of containing information about third parties, e.g. the student’s parents, siblings, friends, or neighbors. Who says that these would consider it acceptable that information is shared with a teacher? (Be it in general or without having the opportunity to correct errors and provide context.)


    Giving this essay topic as an option is a lesser problem, e.g. in that the students are told to “write a summer-related essay, for instance on what you did this summer”. However, even then, some concerns exist, including that a too young child might not be able to make a good judgment call and that the privacy of third parties is still at risk. Moreover, this is only an acceptable approach when the choice is sufficiently free, as with the above suggestion—but not with e.g. “write an essay on what you did this summer, on your favorite book, or on your first kiss”. (All three examples are of a private nature and the listing is exhaustive.)

    More specific topics can be even trickier, as they give the students less leeway to cherry-pick, avoid embarrassing events, and similar. Consider e.g. something as harmless-seeming as “Where did you go during the summer vacation?”. What if the answer was “nowhere” or, worse, “nowhere—my parents are broke”? Not everyone would wish to give away such information, especially not when having had to listen to “cool kids” brag about foreign travel or Disney Land. Or consider answers like “my parents sent me to fat camp” and “we went to a nudist colony”.


    Keep in mind that what is an embarrassing or sore point for the one need not be so for the other (I do not care much for vacation travel; others might view it as a must) and, in particular, that adults, teenagers, and children can have very different ideas on the topic (consider “looking cool”).

  2. Having the students read their essays aloud in class (or otherwise making the contents public) without being clear on this in advance. There are things that a student might find acceptable for the teacher to know but not for the other students.

    A specific example from my readings includes a young girl who wrote at length about her feelings for one of the boys in class, and was unexpectedly confronted with the reading of her text in front of the whole class—including the boy in question. (This was likely the eponymous Luann, but I am not certain.)

    This is the worse when the teacher has not actually read the essays before the public reading, even privacy issues aside, as contents that are unsuitable for the audience might end up being read.

    In the wrong political climate, the consequences of such essays can be horrifying: various Leftist dictatorships have abused children to find out what parents might be dissidents or otherwise troublesome and a similar attitude seems to be gaining some ground in the modern West, if less with an eye at politics and more at the (alleged) welfare of the children. (While I, to my surprise, have not written anything non-trivial on this, some discussion of a related “school decides what is good for the children—parents are just a pesky problem” attitude can be found in [1] and [2].)

  3. Putting a young kid in a corner or in front of a wall to just stare, often with the demand to “Think about what you did!” (or similar), for a non-trivial amount of time. (The exact amount has varied. Sometimes it is five minutes, sometimes thirty, sometimes no time limit is stated.)


    The punishment is often referred to as a “timeout”, but I am far from certain whether this term is reserved solely for this punishment or whether it covers a wider area (potentially, including non-punishments). As a name for the punishment, “timeout” is certainly poorly chosen.

    Unlike the other examples, I have not encountered anything even resembling this in my own history. It might be a coincidence, it might be that there is a cultural difference between countries, it might be that the strips have taken liberties.

    In this case, the teachers are joined by a great number of parents.

    This type of punishment is truly barbaric, cruel, wasteful, and counterproductive. It is an especially poor choice for teachers, who should have as their first priorities to stimulate thinking, intellectual curiosity, etc. Here we do not only see the opposite—but an opposite that can severely damage an often already weak interest in school. As a contrast, I caught some very old strips (1930s? 1940s?) of “Nancy”, and I found it less objectionable when Nancy suffered the occasional spanking with a hairbrush.

    The “Think about what you did!” aspect is particularly troubling, as it (a) presupposes that the kid had done something that was both wrong and recognizable as wrong by the kid, (b) is more likely to lead to resentment and reactance than insight, even when the kid was wrong. Looking back at my own younger childhood, there were cases when I or someone else was on the hook for something that we had simply not done; further cases where I do not agree that the act was wrongful even from my today perspective; and further yet where I might see the wrongfulness today but did not back then. From another angle, this approach can be seen as a very dubious attempt to foist the morality of the teacher upon the kid, through an implicit attitude of “You will remain in the corner until you agree about what is right and wrong!”—something not only egocentric but incompatible with the intellectual attitudes and ideals that school should further. To this: What are the chances that the kid will spend thirty minutes in deep thought and come out more insightful (let alone: sharing the teacher’s opinions) vs. the risk that he will spend thirty minutes brooding over a “stupid” teacher and an “unfair” punishment? This the more so, as teachers of young children rarely are great thinkers, have a well-developed ethical system, are able and willing to see both sides of an issue, put emotions aside in favor of reason, etc.


    As to the exact reasons for the punishment, the “crimes” have varied considerably, but have usually involved some type of disagreement, “talking back”, disturbing class, or similar, with what is deemed worse being met with detention or a trip to the principal. Some of the punishments have not been compatible with ideas like intellectual curiosity and free thought, have been overreactions, and or have seemed arbitrary. In virtually no case has the punishment been likely to have a constructive effect; in some, it might have made matters worse, as with a hyperactive child.

    (The pros and cons of detention might be a later topic, as are others issues around in-school punishments. For now, I note that it is rarely a good idea to pour on more school onto those who already struggle with motivation and behavior, and that giving detention without clearing it with the parents raises ethical issues.)

  4. Assigning work, including reading assignments over summer.

    The summer (and other) holidays are a time for rest and relaxation, for pursuing other interests, to catch up on what the students have not been able to do for lack of time during the school year, etc.—just like the vacation of an employee. To impose school work during such times is outright contrary to the purpose of holidays—just as if the employee was handed a stack of files to take home and work through during the vacation.

    Moreover, such assignments are disproportionately likely to cause resentment, be seen as an invasion of “my time”, reduce interest in school (or, worse, education), etc.


    1. The difference between this and the above “what I did this summer” essay is considerable—both are to be avoided, but the problems are very different and that both feature the word “summer” is incidental.

    2. Whereas e.g. reading assignments are to be rejected, reading suggestions are acceptable, to give the students the opportunity to widen their horizons, engage with more advanced material, or just have some fun (depending on the books at hand) on a voluntary basis. Equally, a tip of “Next semester we will read ‘Hamlet’. If you get a head start during the summer, there will be less work during the semester.” can be quite acceptable—as long as the teacher does not assume that the recommendation will be followed and tighten the semester schedule accordingly. (And as long as the original claim remains correct...)

    3. Summer school is another issue yet, if one with potentially similar problems. I have yet to form a true opinion on that topic, but I do raise the suspicion that (remedial) summer school is indicative of severe flaws in the overall approach to schooling, and that the solution lies elsewhere, e.g. in a system that is more based on passing or failing courses (as in college) than on being promoted or held back in school year.

  5. Making other major impositions on students, especially when not of an academic character.

    The great variety of the field makes it hard to find representative examples, but consider variations of the fake-baby scheme, where students (in one variation) are paired up, given an egg to care for as if a baby, and receive a failing grade on the assignment, should the egg not be in a sufficiently “alive and healthy” state by the end of the week (or whatever time period applies). Moving outside strips, I have seen variations that include screaming baby dolls—the egg might be bad enough; a screaming doll is inexcusable.

    The goal, I suspect, is to reduce the risk of teenage pregnancies, but I doubt that it will do much to help those in the “risk group” and it certainly does not justify exposing the overwhelming majority to this nonsense that would otherwise not be involved on either side of a teenage pregnancy. (A motive of “prepare the students for a real baby” with an eye at, say, twenty-somethings is implausible, as too many of the practical issues are missing and the likely timespan from egg baby to real baby is so large.)

    If such an exercise is taken seriously, it potentially creates major problems of coordination and care, especially for those who have a load of after-school activities. (For an exaggerated-yet-telling example, note “Trollhunters” and the problems of coordinating “parenthood” and saving the world.) Depending on the details, other impositions can be considerable and spread to others, including the parents and siblings of the students. Note e.g. the effect of a screaming pseudo-baby in a house where teens try to do their homework or adults try to relax after a hard working day. If a parent exposed to such a horror, I would likely have refused the pseudo-baby entry to the house and filed a formal complaint with the principal.

    Other common examples include requirements, often on a short notice, to bring this-or-that to school, where the this-or-that might be lost/destroyed/altered through the following activities (notably, in “arts and crafts”), might be expensive, might require a short-term purchase, or otherwise be an imposition.


    My memories of specific examples from strips are blurry, but an example from my own past includes bringing a white t-shirt for a “tie-dye” or some such, which was a waste of a good t-shirt. A more typical example might be to bring, for non-destructive use, some type of specific clothing for sports, e.g. a particular type of shoe. During my own, Swedish, childhood, there seemed to be a blanket assumption that everyone had skis, skates, and whatnots—and of a sufficient currency that they still fit well.

    A particularly sketchy area, but one where school might more often be to blame than the teacher, is to use or abuse students (their parents, whatnot) for activities like fundraising and cookie sales in order to raise money for the school at the cost of the students or to favor some group of students (e.g. “band”) at the cost of the entire student body:

    Firstly, the teacher/school has duties towards the students and the parents, not the other way around. (Notwithstanding some specific exceptions, like a duty not to disturb class for the other students.) Secondly, the school is almost always already paid by the parents, be it through fees or taxes. Thirdly, there are great ethical questions involved, including what should at all be allowed and the often used unethical manipulation (e.g. claims that parents have to buy something to guarantee that their children have an acceptable school or that they would have a duty to “give back” to the school for all that the school, allegedly, has done for the children).

  6. Insisting that everyone gives everyone in class, boy or girl, a Valentine’s gift/card/whatnot. (Below, I use “Valentine[s]” for these.)

    Apart from an overlap with the above “imposition item” (with costs and/or efforts, but no acceptable educational justification), this brings a fundamental problem with self-determination, as the students are now forced to give Valentines regardless of their own opinion of Valentine’s Day and regardless of their opinions of various recipients. Secondary problems include that this makes a mockery of the idea of Valentine’s Day, as something for someone romantically special, and that it indirectly furthers the Valentine industry.

    Even whether the underlying idea (presumably, that no-one should feel left out or unpopular) is sound can be disputed. In as far as it is, however, the true solution would be to have a “No Valentines in school!” policy, while leaving it to the students what they do outside school.

    A particular problem is the reduced ability to actually give someone special something special: Giving an additional Valentine outside school would prove the wasteful futility of the scheme (unless school, inexcusably, tried to extend a ban to the students private life) and would require additional effort/cost beyond the already considerable (and unnecessary) efforts/costs from school. Giving a “good” in-school Valentine to the special someone and “vanilla” Valentines to the rest would either be banned (consistent with the idea of the teacher) or, again, prove the scheme a wasteful futility. (The handling of the special case that the special someone is in another class of the same school has not been clear from the strips and other sources that I have seen so far, but could well result in another proof of wasteful futility.)


    Valentine’s Day was, fortunately, a blip on the radar screen during my own school years. From what I have seen and heard since then, mostly in the context of U.S. fiction and steady adult couples, I consider the excesses idiotic and am somewhat sceptic even to the underlying idea (without factoring in the excesses). A better approach with less costs, less crowded restaurants, and whatever else might apply, would be to simply pick an individualized “us” day, e.g. coinciding with an important anniversary. (With the additional benefit that the original religious day can be restored for those so inclined.)

    Had I been the victim of a “Valentines for the whole class” scheme, I suspect that I would only have participated under protest.

Excursion on homework

Homework has many of the same problems as summer assignments, but the issue is not an equally great violation of “my time”.

Nevertheless, there is a fundamental unfairness in first having to spend the day in school and then doing homework on top of that. Moreover, excessive homework is likely to further reduce students’ interest in school and to further reduce the time left of the day to actually gain an education (something for which school is inefficient and, often, ineffective). Moreover, more time spent studying can be counterproductive through replacing quality learning with quantity learning.

While my own school years were much lower in homework than the hours per day so often depicted in strips, I did encounter a teacher attitude that I have repeatedly seen in the strips, that every teacher considers her subject and/or class the most important, and makes decisions, including on homework assignments, in accordance and with insufficient coordination with other teachers. (For homework, there was also a more indirect similarity, as some of the books came with homework recommendations, which were invariably out of touch with reality. Fortunately, these recommendations were not, or only partially, followed by the teachers.)


Some caution must be taken, as there could be an element of comic exaggeration (comic strips abound in it) or of children being hyperbolic (children often are) in their protests; however, my impression from non-fictional sources is that many schools in the U.S. do assign hours of homework per day.

A fair comparison between schools and countries would also have to factor in the length of the school day and compare the overall time spent—not just the time spent on specifically home work. To a lesser degree, the same applies to the number of school days per year. (The effect on the overall hours per year is equally important, but more work per day over fewer days in likely to be more stressful and lead to worse educational outcomes than less work per day over more days, even when the overall hours per year are identical.)

An interesting complication outside the strips, repeatedly encountered in real-life anecdotes, is a teacher attitude that it is the parents’ fault if the students do not keep up—that the parents need to spend more time helping with the homework so that the students meet their “learning goals”. This is not only grossly unfair (the parents are first removed from the education of the children through enforced schooling and then given the blame when the schooling fails), but defeats the purpose of homework and actually does introduce a risk of “social inequity” or whatnot. Claims about the last are usually cheap Leftist propaganda and reality distortion, but here there truly could be issues through the greatly varying ability, opportunity, and willingness of the parents to help. (Contrast e.g. a family with two highly educated parents and a single child with an uneducated single mother who has two jobs and two children.)

Another complication is the risk that homework involves too much pointless busywork, work on a level inappropriate for the student at hand through one-size-fits-all schooling, and similar.

Excursion on other problems

The above does not contain some potentially problematic issues where e.g. the examples in strips have been too few or entirely absent, where it might be that the pros outweighs the cons, even when there are major cons, where the role of the teacher is clearly too small (or entirely absent) relative the role of the school, or similar.

A good example is the apparent U.S. drive to monopolize the students’ “club activities”, hobbies, and whatnots, which might do more harm than good to the students and hurt those who would otherwise provide alternatives. For instance, the predominant expectation seems to be that someone who wants to play “organized” soccer will do so on the school’s team. In e.g. Sweden and Germany, the expectation is that the wannabe-player joins one of the many separate-from-school clubs, while the school sticks to academics. (In a next step, such school teams can trigger some of the above problems, e.g. in that non-playing students and their parents “must” support the team, come to games, help with fundraising, whatnot.) Generally, there seems to be a drive towards “organized fun”, while students in other countries are more likely to entertain themselves, find more individualized solutions, and/or find entertainment in a greater world than the limited one provided by their respective school.