What can you do when your child comes back from school with tears in her eyes or her heart because of an incompetent teacher? Three examples to illustrate:

  • she told her class that humans can hear radio waves. Without a radio! She teaches physics in high school.
  • On another occasion she said that if the moon was not around the earth, it would not have a great influence on ocean tides because the sun was also responsible for ocean tides on the earth.
  • She often has to stop her explanations in class because she is confused herself about what she is teaching. The correction of her exams and labs changes from one copy to the other and she rarely accepts to make corrections. There are mistakes or missing elements in the questions of her exams. On three occasions she did not try the lab herself before the class and, therefore, could hardly explain it. She forgets regularly to check the material for the labs. The list goes on, growing since September.

I am a parent, but also a retired teacher. The only bright light: my daughter has 11 weeks to go before being liberated from high school. She is one of the best students of her school, so you can imagine the other students.

What can we do and say, as parents, when this happens?

  • 3
    As a note, I'm not sure that's a great example: xcorr.net/2012/05/24/hearing-radio-frequencies
    – Catija
    Mar 15, 2017 at 15:57
  • 5
    Are you concerned with the content of the course and not the teacher per-say? The example you gave isn't great, while it sounds absurd, it's actually accurate. Have you attempted to verify the claims made by the teacher instead of dismissing them as "out of the realm of possibility"? Physics especially is about opening your mind to understanding how the universe works on mysterious levels... You should also be teaching your son about independent verification and having an open mind. If the teacher was saying the world was flat, I'd be concerned about that...
    – Ron Beyer
    Mar 15, 2017 at 16:24
  • 1
    move to skeptics.SE? By far the most important thing to learn about science is you don't have to take anyone's word for it. If it is science you can demonstrate or name someone who could, and if you can't it's not.
    – user26011
    Mar 15, 2017 at 16:37
  • 2
    Based on a quick fact check on the science you brought up, it sounds like the teacher may be competent and current in the science but not so much as a teacher (or burned out and ready to quit). With 11 weeks to go, tough it out. If it were the beginning of the year, I'd be looking at home schooling.
    – pojo-guy
    Mar 16, 2017 at 5:27
  • 4
    The sun is also responsible for tides (~50% of the effect of lunar tides)...
    – Joe
    Mar 17, 2017 at 5:27

4 Answers 4


Teach your kid on how to deal with incompetent superiors. In a manner which is acceptable to the other side, of course.

Unfortunately, this is not really easy to learn for young people - especially not if they are very intelligent. A child will be able to play the role of the attentive student who admires the teacher, but acting like this all the time can be difficult. Even for an adult. It is, actually, some kind of self-humiliation, and most people have a limit on how much bullshit can be fed to them.

The danger is that the child might "shut down" and begin to behave like a robot which emits pleasant phrases while trying to provide a minimal attack surface. This might be an advantage for a future politician, but might be something you might want to avoid. So make sure that your child also understands how to monitor herself so she'll recognize when she's about to turn into a politician.

As a kid, this was very hard to swallow for me. I wasn't very good at acting like this, and I sort of resigned under the constant exposure to incompetence. My grades dropped. What I did was to change the school and select challenging courses with competent teachers. I was good at physics, so I chose biology instead of physics. And some years later, in yet another school, I actually came back to physics course, with a very competent teacher.

Oh, yes, and hearing RF without a radio is possible. But the teacher should have explained how this works.


Firstly, remember that teachers are people too :) Sounds like you are describing a person who is under a lot of stress, perhaps out of their depth.

Know that the school teaching faculty is supposed to protect that teacher and even if they are incompetent the school employed them and have a duty of care to mentor them towards a competent state.

With this in mind, you absolutely should approach the school, they will likely arrange a meeting with you, the teacher, and a union rep or support person for the teacher. Tone down the aggressiveness and keep things simple. In your opinion, this particular teacher has demonstrated a lack of knowledge in the subject area and/or they have demonstrated a lack of effort to extract the highest level of effort and understanding from your child as a student. Due to these observations you are requesting that your child changes class.

You cannot ask that a teacher be sacked, or that someone else takes the class, the school might decide to take such actions, but you can ask for it up front, that is way to confrontational.

I was forced down a similar path when me daughter was in the 3rd grade. To make things worse, I was a teacher at the same school. At the end of the day these people are the caretakers of our children, if you do not agree with their level of care and it is having adverse affects, or you believe it will have on your children, then IMO it is your responsibility to remove your children from the situation at the earliest chance. At the very least you should voice your concerns and give the school an opportunity to offer you a better solution.

It is a grave accusation, but if you do not say anything, then perhaps no one else will. It might be that the school is aware, but unable to do anything because there have not yet been any complaints. Our children's lives are too important to gamble like this. Be short, concise and matter of fact. This needs no emotion or aggression, that is implicit, but not helpful for a discussion.

You have identified that this is UNACCEPTABLE if they cannot convince you otherwise and cannot offer you an acceptable solution then remove your children from the situation. Your children will respect and admire you for this. If your child was younger I would recommend removing them from the school all together, hopefully you and the school can come to a more agreeable solution.

  • I'm not going to comment on the specific cases you have described, they are after all here say to a degree, but together I support your analysis of the situation and that of your child. Mar 17, 2017 at 13:49

As in every profession -- there are good and mediocre and outright bad people performing it.

Though your example showed me that either you or your child probably misunderstood the lesson, that doesn't mean the teacher was good. You may have a laundry list of reasons why you think this person should not be teaching.

If it were my child in a classroom where I thought the teacher was consistently incompetent I would:

  • Ask for a meeting with the teacher and the Administrator (Principal). I'd have my list of concerns ready and be prepared to hand over a hard copy to them. IF I had to hand over the hardcopy, I'd make sure that the Principal's supervisor -- District Superintendent -- also had a copy. On that list, I would express what I think needs to be addressed to calm my concerns. (While it is extremely unlikely that a teacher (unions!) would be fired -- they can be put on probation.)
  • Teach your child that even if one person in their life is not living up to basic expectations -- that she can make lemonade -- study on her own; make a study group of other concerned students; ask for help outside of the immediate 'circle'. She will have many opportunities in life with making the most out of poor or bad situations if you help her gain the tools. Most of us have had bad bosses, co-workers or even friends, servers, doctors and teachers -- the list is endless. We all need lessons in standing up for ourselves -- but politely and respectfully. No one is heard when they are lobbing grenades.

Many thanks to all of you, I appreciate the time you took to answer. At the beginning, as noted A.I. Breveleri, my question did not show evidence of this teacher's incompetence. My mistake. I edited the original text to explain more about it. I first gave the impression that it was a question of physics, but it was more a question of educational practice.

"Based on a quick fact check on the science you brought up, it sounds like the teacher may be competent and current in the science but not so much as a teacher (or burned out and ready to quit)." No the teacher was not competent, I met her and discuss physics with her. She could not explain many basic things in physics, I could have given the course myself to the class.

My daughter had about 10 "bad" teachers in the last 5 years but most of the time they were just exhausted with teaching. This time was different and I decided to help my daughter. Being a teacher myself I know when a teacher is incompetent.

Here is what happened with my complain. The administration of the school really took action on the issue, I was surprised myself. The director went personally in her classroom on two occasions and five more students decided to talk and complain like we did. Many students complained that this particular teacher had discouraged them two, three or four years ago. Bottom line, the teacher took the only solution available to her: she went on sick leave for the rest of the year. Within a week, more students started to tell their stories to the direction.

My answer to "What can a parent do when his child has an incompetent teacher" is :

  • Make sure it is really incompetence in educational practices. Most of the time the teacher is close to a burnout or disillusioned about the school.
  • Avoid being emotional or aggressive about the issue.
  • First meet the teacher personally, then meet the director.
  • Write a letter, short, concise to explain your points.
  • If the director wants to talk to your child, insist on being present to this meeting.

Two extracts I especially appreciated in your answers :

  • *"It is a grave accusation, but if you do not say anything, then perhaps no one else will. It might be that the school is aware, but unable to do anything because there have not yet been any complaints." I am very happy with what I did and so are many students in the school.
  • Your daughter "will have many opportunities in life with making the most out of poor or bad situations if you help her gain the tools. Most of us have had bad bosses, co-workers or even friends."* And that is what we have to do with our children, show them how to cope with incompetence.

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