The Six Signs of a Toxic Teacher

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Academic Leadership

You work closely with your faculty and staff every day within your school. You trust their judgement in the classroom, their desire to further your mission, and their dedication to helping your students succeed.

But sometimes a teacher in your school doesn’t quite fit the mold. Their actions aren’t always in line with the school's mission or the needs of the students. They negatively influence the faculty culture, spreading gossip in the teacher’s lounge or complaining during meetings.

Often, these educators aren’t outright “bad.” They can be popular with particular groups of students and parents. They can appear effective in the classroom but have no desire to exceed baseline expectations or take on new challenges.

They could simply be tired or burned out from teaching. But their presence can be toxic to other faculty members and your culture as a whole, preventing you from meeting your school’s mission.

So how do you identify the toxic teacher? There are six signs.

  1. The toxic teacher is disillusioned. A toxic teacher is no longer excited by working with students. Teaching has become a business decision rather than one that focuses on students and mission.
  2. The toxic teacher is not on the students’ side. There’s no denying that teaching is hard work, requiring much time and effort. This teacher is not willing to give what students’ demand, only enjoying them if they support the teacher’s attitude or perform well enough to make him or her look good. When the teacher fails, it is always the student's fault.
  3. The toxic teacher is a source of gossip. Gossip seems to follow the toxic teacher like an invisible stream, but it’s difficult to ever truly confirm he or she is the source. This gossip is almost always negative and aimed at making the toxic teacher look better.
  4. The toxic teacher displays an attitude of dissent. While toxic teachers may not be outright oppositional, they often put down new ideas or dismiss new ways of doing things. They say they’re being proactive and participatory, but their input is negative and usually designed to ensure nothing changes.
  5. The toxic teacher does the bare minimum. The toxic teacher follows his or her contract to the letter—fulfilling their requirements and nothing more. Forget volunteering or going the extra mile when a student or colleague needs it.
  6. The toxic teacher doesn’t believe he or she needs to improve. The toxic teacher sees little to no value in professional development or learning new methods of classroom instruction. What he or she does now has worked in the past and there is no ambition to change.

As you review these signs, we hope they don’t fit any of your faculty members. But, if you do employ such a teacher, carefully assess whether this educator still fits your mission and should have a place within your school.

Additional ISM Resources:
The Source for School Heads Vol. 12 No. 7 “Detoxing" Faculty Negativity
The Source for School Heads Vol. 16 No. 1 Are Your Faculty Evaluations Effective?

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
Vol. 42 No. 7 The Toxic Teacher: Identification
Vol. 42 No. 8 The Toxic Teacher: An Unfortunate Journey


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