The Terrible Professor and You
One of my students asked me to write about the challenges of dealing with a terrible professor. That got me to think about all the professors I’ve had over the years. I’ve probably taken well over a hundred college courses. Out of all the college courses I’ve taken, I’ve only had two terrible professors. (Most ranged from good to fantastic.) Here’s what I learned from those experiences.
The first professor seemed to be just fine. I enjoyed his course, and I did well in it. It was an important prerequisite for physical therapy school, and I knew I needed to earn an A. I was confident that I had earned one, so I was shocked when I got my grade, and it was a B. I looked at all my grades for the course, and I was sure I had an A average. I decided to go to an administrator since I was unable to contact my professor.
I presented my grades and was told, “You aren’t the first person to come here with this issue. This professor was fired and, to cause problems, it seems that he gave many of his students a grade lower than they earned.” My grade was changed because I could prove my actual course average. So, keep track of your grades! It hardly ever happens, but once in a while a professor records the wrong one. It can be an honest mistake–it doesn’t have to be a situation as bad as the one I just described. But, certainly this was a terrible professor, because he deliberately did something that hurt his students.
The second terrible professor I had created a tremendous amount of stress. He gave us incorrect solutions on practice problems, he didn’t answer emails, many answers on test questions were wrong, and some test questions didn’t have anything to do with the material we studied. His lectures lasted about fifteen minutes, barely touching on a topic, and he seemed totally disinterested in his students. We felt like we just irritated him.
Once I was well into the course, I checked the comments about him on the site, Rate My Professors, and his reviews were terrible. As a professor myself, I have mixed feelings about this site. A disgruntled student can leave a nasty review, really hurting the reputation of a professor. However, if every single review is negative, that should be a warning to prospective students. Unfortunately he was the only professor who was teaching the course I needed, so I had to take him. If I had read his reviews prior to enrolling, though, I would have been more prepared for the experience.
I learned a few things that should help you if you ever find yourself in similar circumstances. First, get a “study buddy”–one who is serious about doing well. I made friends with a fellow student, and we helped each other cope. If I thought something was wrong with an answer in a solution set, I checked with my friend, and together we looked at it. If one of us thought an answer to a test question was incorrect, we discussed it before contacting the professor. We talked about difficult concepts until we understood them, and when we got discouraged, we kept each others’ spirits up.
I also learned that sometimes an administrator should hear how bad things are in a classroom. I didn’t complain about this professor, but some of the other students did, and the dean of the department got involved. The professor was forced to make some changes, and the course did improve quite a bit.
I learned, too, that sometimes you have to rely on the textbook instead of the professor. Since his lectures were so short, the textbook became the primary tool for learning the material, especially since his tests might cover anything in the textbook, even if he never mentioned the topic in a lecture. It certainly wasn’t an ideal situation, but I did learn a great deal in the course because it required so much effort.
So, keep track of your grades, avoid terrible professors if you can, find another serious student to work with, go to an administrator if necessary, and spend your energy on learning the material in alternative ways.
I hope that helps!
Copyright 2013, Holly Trimble, MS, LPT
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