Helpless no more: Rate those teachers

By Marsha Sutton

Now that one-quarter of the school year has passed, parents and students are quite familiar with their teachers and know who’s good, bad, average or outstanding.

In most cases, it doesn’t actually take one-fourth of the school year to find out. If the teachers have been employed for at least a few years, almost everyone knows before school starts. Teachers know who in their own ranks is stellar and who is weak. And students certainly know by talking to other students.

Parents by now can recognize their kids’ groans when they see their schedules and teachers. Because reputations are widely known, schools got wise and many don’t reveal the names of the teachers until the first day of classes. Having to deal with all the requests for schedule changes because students got the “bad” or the “hard” teacher became overwhelming.

The obvious solution is to fire the “bad” teachers. But since union rules make this next to impossible, we as consumers are left with few options. We can write letters, meet with administrators, or ask for conferences. These options may work if the parent can make a convincing case that the “chemistry” between one particular teacher and one particular student is all wrong. But for most parents of unlucky students who get the short straw, it’s a frustrating process.

Parents whose kids struggle through a full year with a mediocre teacher may breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the school year, grateful the ordeal is over. The inclination is to put the whole dreadful experience behind them and move on. Since their kids are finished with those teachers, many figure there’s no point in complaining. Or even praising for that matter. Your kids won’t have those teachers again, so why should you bother voicing your opinion?

Well, you should, because other kids will have those teachers next year and the year after. And if administrators don’t get feedback from students and parents in real time, how do they know what’s going right and what’s going wrong?

Granted, there isn’t a whole lot administrators can do with teachers of poor quality, given all the protections teachers have. Unless they commit some sort of heinous crime, teachers with tenure really can’t be fired. But there are things that can be done, once administrators are made aware of problems.

is one way to make yourself heard without exposing your or your child’s identity, or risking retribution.

The infamous R-word, retribution, is what keeps so many parents silently fuming, bottling up feelings of helplessness and frustration. This site gives the silent majority a way to express their views without fear of harmful repercussions against their kids.

Students have used the site for years. One might think that only negative comments are posted, but that’s not necessarily the case. True, many grumble about impossible instructors and warn future students to beware of teachers’ particular quirks, habits, preferences and styles.

But surprisingly, many of the comments and ratings are positive. Students often elaborate about outstanding teachers and provide hints and tips on how to get along with the difficult ones.

Yes, there are vindictive comments from some kids who give teachers a poor rating for petty reasons. But by and large, the comments feel real. Sometimes charitable kids will say they didn’t like a teacher personally but that the teacher was quite capable and fair – that it was their problem and not the teacher’s for not acing the course.

Insightful comments pepper the site, and the great teachers — those who really know how to transform the learning experience and make education exciting and life-changing – are duly recognized by students who are generous with their adoration for those gems in public education who devote their lives to the betterment of our kids.

Although administrators will say the comments on cannot be used on evaluations (union rules generally prohibit this) and that they never look at what students and parents write, I suspect it’s visited far more often by district personnel than teachers would care to think.

We as consumers dealing with a monopoly like public education that has complex union protections cannot “take our business elsewhere” unless we pay for private tuition. But we can make our voices heard. If nothing else, the venting makes us feel better.

Local schools are listed on the site, including elementary schools, not just middle and high schools. And it’s not just teachers who can be rated — principals, counselors and other administrators are fair game as well.

I encourage all parents to go to at the quarter mark in the school year and take a few minutes to rate those teachers. Give the feedback you feel they deserve, and review their performance as if they were in a competitive market.

Heap praise lavishly when earned — those excellent teachers need to hear that their efforts are recognized and applauded. And get the complaints off your chest about those who need to find new careers.

Be specific. Comments like “worst teacher ever” — even if true — are not particularly helpful. Be sure to identify yourself as a parent (no names, obviously) as opposed to a student. Parents see teachers in ways kids might not, and our feedback provides principals and administrators with a perspective that can be valuable for helping weak teachers improve.

Students too should make it a priority to go to and review their teachers at least twice a year.

Lurkers can go there and read what kids and parents have already said. It’s eye-opening. But don’t just read — write your own comments. And make your voice heard. If for no other reason, you’ll feel better for saying it.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at