By Nogie Demirjian, 17, Granada Hills High School
Print This Post
Nogie says that bad teachers have the power to destroy your academics and keep you out of college, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Recently my cousin, Alicia Derkrikorian, called me to ask what classes to take. She is shooting to attend a UC school, and as a sophomore she knows it is like a chess game—one wrong move could cost you the game.

In this game, there are no guarantees. A classmate of mine had a GPA of more than 4.0 and a near perfect score on the SAT. He got rejected from UCLA. Everybody was shocked.

With that in mind, I felt hesitant as I talked to my cousin. What if I gave her the wrong advice? She told me she had taken honors biology and enjoyed it, so I told her that AP biology could be an option, however, she should consult her counselor. AP classes are good, but not if you do badly in them. Overall I advised her to lay low on the AP classes and to think of taking classes at her local community college as an alternative. Community colleges have more course choices, the credit is transferable, and if you don’t like the teacher, you’ll be out of there in a couple of months. That is the only way I have found to get around the biggest problem in high school—bad teachers.

As I told my cousin, bad teachers have the ability to destroy your academics and keep you out of college, and there is nothing you can do about it. There were times in my high school years that I wanted to rip the hair off my head because things were going so badly and I did not have any power to change anything. My junior year was a disaster for me academically. I saw my GPA drop to a 3.6. My dream of attending the most competitive UC schools evaporated before my eyes. Even though I was working really hard, I still could not get the A’s I had gotten previous years. When I tried to talk my teachers about the problems I was experiencing, they blamed me.

Although I brought my GPA up to a 3.8 this year, in March I was denied admission by USC, UC San Diego and UCLA. It really hurt my pride.

Now I’m figuring out what to do next. After studying the transfer options, it looks like I will be able to transfer to UCSD after six months or a year at a community college. Thank God I took one or two community college classes each semester. My days have been long—sometimes from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.—but when I graduate, I will already have taken nine college classes. Combined with credits from my AP classes, I only need a few more community college classes in order to meet the transfer requirements and enter as a sophomore or junior.

When I think about the bad teachers at my high school, it’s so frustrating. Teachers continue to make the same mistakes year after year. They won’t listen to the students when we try to tell them what’s wrong. And we, the students, are the true losers in this scenario. I don’t want to sound like I am whining. I know I share some responsibility for learning, yet how can I learn if my teachers can’t teach?

And so I would like to present this advice to all high school teachers. May you all put your students first.

Make your expectations clear

Ms. Chelsea Crawford, my AP environmental science teacher, is someone students can relate to and respect. But I was frustrated that we had already taken three tests before Ms. Crawford spelled out exactly what she was looking for on the free-response questions. Once she made her expectations crystal clear, all of her students did better, including myself. It is great to see a teacher even attempt this and more should.

My government teacher told us to read the book. I read it, in addition to studying my class notes. But the material from the book was never on the tests. My friend told me to skip the book and focus on the notes, so I wouldn’t get confused. I tried it, and it boosted my grade. If my teacher had stressed paying attention in class rather than reading the book, all of his students would have done better.

Organize the curriculum and tell us what your plans are

In the beginning of the year some teachers hand out syllabi, claiming how they will spend time on certain topics. Only a few of my teachers have actually stuck with their syllabi and made life easier for their students. Ms. Crawford handed out a syllabus and important dates for each semester, including what we would be covering each week. All the dates of key assignments were final, and for each week of the semester, she made it clear to the students what she would be talking about. Other students and myself knew exactly what to expect when we walked in her class period every day. This enabled me to prepare in advance and better understand the concepts when she gave notes in class.

Meanwhile in other teachers’ classes, it seemed like they were picking something out of their hats. Sometimes they couldn’t remember where they had left off on the previous day. That meant time was wasted trying to figure out where we had left off and in some cases realizing after we started that we already covered that material.

Every year in my math classes my teachers rush through chapters the students don’t understand and spend too much time on the ones that are easy. Are they in competition with other teachers or the semester itself? They feel obligated to finish the book, but what good does that do when the students aren’t learning the material? Maybe they think that if they can get further in the book than the other math teachers, then they are great teachers and have smart students. Yeah, right.

Don’t pick on students for no good reason

In my Spanish class we used to talk in the beginning before the class started. I whispered with my friend, but many others did too. When my Spanish teacher was ready to start class she wouldn’t say "Let’s begin." Instead she would single me out and tell me to shut up. I let this slide a couple times but it was getting to me. On another day when she did that again I said, "Look at that side of the room, too—why don’t you pick somebody from there, too?"

I guess I was an easy target because I was a junior, and sat in the front. Since the other students were younger than I was, she could use me as an example. I asked her many times to change my seat so that I would not be in her direct view. The first semester she agreed and we had no further problems. The second semester she put us back in alphabetical order, which meant I went back to the front. Once again I asked her to move my seat because she was picking on me again. This time she said no. I guess it was harder to torture me when I sat in the back. Every day I dreaded that class for the way she harassed me. I did my best to simply not engage with her. I would put my head down in class and turn away, not looking at her anymore in class. I relied on the book, not the teacher, to learn the material.

One time in front of class she said: "Nogie, you don’t say anything anymore." I just ignored her sarcasm. I knew that if I said anything, she would come down on me even harder, and I needed to get an A in the class. But when I realized I would probably have her my senior year as well, I decided to drop Spanish.

I don’t want to discourage teachers from joking around with students or teasing them in a good-natured way, but teachers need to remember that students might feel like they’re being attacked. They may not feel confident enough to speak up about it. If students feel uncomfortable in class, they might stop interacting, asking questions and caring about the class. That’s what happened to me.

Please be respectful

Teachers always tell students to be wise with their word choice in class—basically to watch their language. This has not been a problem with me because I talk to teachers in a respectful manner as much as possible. Unfortunately, they do not always do the same. Once my coach complimented me for working so hard in his conditioning class to a fellow coach. The fellow coach was my P.E. teacher from ninth grade who responded that I was "a pain in the ass." I was shocked and angry. Teachers are supposed to be our role models. How can we respect their actions when they are doing such immature things?

Give us real work that helps us learn

It doesn’t help us to spend time in class copying things from the book and doing busy work. The time could be better spent putting things into more understandable terms in notes or possibly responding to questions about the problems we have encountered. Homework assigned by teachers should help us on their tests, building in information as the semester goes along.

Vary the work load

Don’t allow a class to be just about tests and quizzes. Students can benefit from different kinds of projects, papers and assignments.

Give extra credit

Extra credit assignments allow students with a borderline grade to get the boost they need for the higher grade. That way a teacher can be less subjective in making the call if the student deserves the higher grade.

Update your curriculum

The world goes around and things change. It would be nice if teachers updated their curriculum so their notes wouldn’t be in conflict with modern books.

Review sessions really do work

Review sessions do make extra work for teachers but they can help the students a lot. My favorite review sessions are the ones that combine both the material and group discussion. Students can help by sharing their tips in order to remember information. Sometimes another student asks the stupid question you were dying to ask.

Listen to your students

Teachers should all know that the key to their own success lies in their students. It would be nice if they paid attention to our voices and listened to our feedback, understanding our concerns. That is the way to improve, and to offer even more to next year’s students. When students tried to share concerns with my English teacher she would play an air violin and tell them to stop whining.

The job of the student is to learn and the job of the teacher is to teach. But when teachers can’t teach, how much can students learn? Not enough to get into a good college.