I am mostly very happy with my teachers - they are almost all good or excellent at teaching, nice as people, and knowledgeable about their subjects. However, my chemistry teacher is a poor teacher, has behaved very unprofessionally in the past, and I suspect possibly does not know much about the subject.

The bottom line is that this teacher is, in my opinion, lacking in both subject matter knowledge as well as knowledge about how to behave with students. I want to study chemistry but I do not want to study with them. Changing schools is a tremendous challenge for me and because of my other teachers, I would strongly prefer to stay in my existing school.

Are there any options here to avoid this teacher in the future?

Edit: The issue was resolved, as the teacher failed to pass the exams they would have been teaching (teachers at my school have to do the exams every so often, presumably to check that they are competent), and I am very happy with the teachers I have instead.

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    I'm afraid questions about high school and undergraduate studies are not within the scope of this site. Feb 10, 2014 at 21:48
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    @JoelReyesNoche I have massively edited the question to get to the core of the issue, which I believe is an issue at all levels of study. I hope we can re-open it.
    – earthling
    Feb 11, 2014 at 0:59
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    It's not clear to me what the question is here. If several people teach the course, then take it from someone else. At a university, this is generally easy; at a high school, it may require a special request, but you can at least try (it's often smoother to say you would like to take it from X, rather than you would like to avoid Y). On the other hand, if this is the only chemistry teacher and you want to take chemistry, then you are stuck. There might be other options (independent study, summer school, a course at a local college), but that depends on your specific circumstances. Feb 11, 2014 at 16:14
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about high school teachers. Feb 11, 2014 at 20:37
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    I'd argue that this is on-topic, because the question can apply equally well to grad school courses in its current form. Feb 12, 2014 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


I think there are two parts to answering this question. First, you should make sure that the teacher is incompetent and not merely unlikable. Second, if the teacher is incompetent, there are a number of options available to avoid studying with them.

With respect to the first point, it is important to note that a teacher can be unlikable, and perhaps even appear ignorant (to students), while still being great at his or her job: making sure you learn things. For example, group work and peer instruction are known to be effective teaching strategies. At the same time, they are also quite unpopular with students, and some students even take the view that the instructor is not doing their job when these strategies are applied (even though the outcome may be very good). Professionalism and teaching style are very personal traits, and I've not seen any evidence that they have strong impact on student learning outcomes. It sounds like maybe your personal dislike of the instructor is clouding your judgement about whether they could be an effective teacher. A teacher has only one job: making sure you learn things. If they can do that job effectively, then it shouldn't matter whether you like them or not.

Talk to students who have finished the course, and find out what they've learned. Often its only after such a class is complete that students realize they've learned a lot. If you know you'll get a lot out of the course, then you should probably take it even if you don't like the teacher.

On the second point, if the teacher really is incompetent, and former students are in strong agreement on this point (and they really don't seem to have learned anything about the subject), then you do have some other options:

  1. Many schools will let you take online courses from other universities for credit. For a chemistry course with a lab, this may not work out, but otherwise this might be your best bet. You can shop around, find an instructor that you like, and still get credit for the course.
  2. If the instructor is genuinely incompetent, you could speak with the school administration, and make a formal request for a different instructor. Often your request will be ignored, but I have seen this result in a new instructor being assigned once. Again, it is important that you make sure this is an instance of incompetence and not unlikeability. This is a serious step, and could have implications for the instructor's job (especially if they lack tenure).
  3. You might be able to wait it out, and take the class with someone else. At the university undergraduate level, this can be the easiest solution, provided that the course is not a major prerequisite in your program. At the high school and grad school level, there may not be an alternative instructor in that subject area, so this may be infeasible.
  4. Attend the class, but plan to use external resources to study. Consider forming a study group at the start of the semester, and meeting several times a week to talk about class material. Use online courses like those offered by MIT's Open Courseware, or any of the MOOC companies, to supplement the lecture material, and shop around online to find the best textbook at your level for this topic. You can make sure that you've learned the material well, even if your instructor is unable to help you learn it.
  • Thanks for the response, I have been wondering whether or not the teacher is actually incompetent, but I am fairly sure they are. Originally, I was asking for any advice if for if I went with option 2 - for instance, to write down any notable unprofessional or incompetent behaviour. Do you have advice about that?
    – rlms
    Feb 11, 2014 at 17:29
  • Well, it ultimately depends on what you hope to do with that information. If your goal is to learn the course material (which it should be), then collecting that information is probably not going to help you. In the best case, you'll get a new instructor switched in after half the term, and if all you have to show for it is comments on unprofessional behaviour, that's not a winning outcome. Since you know that the instructor is incompetent in advance, a better solution is option 4, where you actually learn the material. Feb 11, 2014 at 20:43

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