How to Spot a Bad Professor
A bad professor is like a cancer on the major of every student who’s ever attended college. If you’re on the fence with a field of study, they can flat stamp out your will to go another semester.
Sadly, we all experience them. And while you can often see one coming from a mile away (or word-of-mouth), they’re not always so obvious. We’ve put together a handy-dandy list that should help you identify a bad professor when you see one (and when you don’t). Let class begin!
1. Demonstrates Favoritism
Favoritism towards others is always easy to spot. Favoritism towards yourself, not so much. Either kind is unacceptable if what you’re after is a quality professor.
That’s because favoritism demonstrates a professor who will easily give into their biases and compromise the integrity of their craft for personal preference. Just because you may benefit from the show of favoritism, that doesn’t mean you’ll benefit overall from the quality of instruction.
2. Keeps Petty Rules
Ever had a professor who docked you an abnormal amount of points for small errors or oversights? They’re usually compensating for a weakness in their ability to teach.
They think that by minoring in the majors, they’re being “tough” or have “high standards.” Neither of these ideas could be further from the truth. What they’re actually doing is establishing an artificial premise and teaching you to focus less on the things that matter and more on the things that don’t.
3. Demonstrates They Do Not Care
Ever walked into a professor’s class to find them not there? And in their place, some kind of message like: “Class cancelled. Gone to the racetrack.” I have. And while others’ professors may not have had that particular vice, they likely had instructors who cancelled for the dumbest reasons.
It can feel great to get a day off in such an unexpected manner. But this lackadaisical approach to teaching robs you of the education you’re paying good money to get. Be leery of “the cool teachers” who find any and every reason they can to check out.
Anyone can become a subject matter expert. But far fewer can effectively teach it to another individual. If your professor seems like he or she knows their stuff, but they make you zone out several times per class period and you’d rather literally watch paint dry than being in their class, it’s a sign they’re a bad professor.
How do professors become boring? By not innovating in their approach to the material. Perhaps that means they:
- Lecture a lot
- Give you tons of in-class assignments and busy-work
- Rely too heavily on you doing the reading
None of these instructional methods are bad in small doses. In fact, they’re quite necessary. But when it’s all the instructor ever does, they’re essentially coasting on their own laziness.
5. Shows Arrogance and Condescension
Does it seem like your professor has an inferiority complex? Is he constantly stroking his own ego or using lots of I/me/my/mine pronouns?
Perhaps he just loves to talk about his career or accomplishments. He may even force you to buy his own book.
While these qualities don’t necessarily mean they’re a bad professor if they come up every now and then, a constant appearance of ego will definitely get in the way of your ability to connect with what they’re saying. And a big part of his/her job is to make material accessible for their students.
6. Puts Out a Barebones Syllabus
A bare or nonexistent syllabus means the instructor has a problem with organizational thinking. And without that, it’s very difficult to reach all students.
Yes, many students may find the professor insightful. But that’s just because he/she so happens to teach to their learning style. Not everyone learns the same way, and professors who lack organizational abilities or drive will inevitably leave behind a large amount of students.
7. Lacks Clarity
Clarity is important when reaching every student. That means your professor should be striving to make everything clear from the beginning.
He should demonstrate an instructional routine that’s easy-to-follow. His requirements should be obvious to everyone on the class roll. And he should prepare you ahead of time with a list of all the resources and supplies you’ll need to do well on tests and homework.
If you find yourself asking, “When did he say that?” — and others are as well — it’s a warning sign. Pay close attention and talk with your peers about their understanding of what’s expected.
8. Gives Lots of Downtime in Class
Some professors have a difficult time filling out the full class period. It’s understandable if it happens from time to time — during the end of a semester, for example. But if you have a class every week that runs 10 or 20 minutes short on material, the professor is doing a poor job of planning and presenting his subject expertise.
A poor job of presenting will eventually (and maybe right away) put you behind the 8-ball. That means you’ll have to work that much harder to master the material necessary for advancing in your degree plan and profession.
9. Stumps Easily
Have you or your fellow classmates asked questions in class that he couldn’t answer right away? As with some of the others on this list, frequency is a teller of ability. If it happens a lot, there’s a problem.
That said, it’s okay — even good — if you trip up your professor occasionally. Shows you’re learning something! But in those instances, he should make a note of what you’re asking and be sure to address it the next class period. Inquiries that go unanswered reveal a bad professor at work.
10. Takes Dumps in Class
Forgive the gross imagery, we’re trying to have a little fun with this. By “dumps,” we don’t mean the gross kind. We mean the informational kind. Instead of finding new and interesting ways of presenting what he has to say — and in a way that reaches all students — he just spits information at you.
In other words, information dumps ;). You get a lot of facts and figures without any real way of internalizing them.
11. Stands on a Soapbox
A ton of professors are doing their students a disservice by preaching their political opinions instead of teaching students to think for themselves. While it’s a problem that often gets attributed to left-leaning professors — and with good reason — it’s not exclusive.
Bad professors get drunk on the power they have, and they use the classroom as a place to spread their personal ideals. No matter how much you may agree with those ideals, it’s not good teaching. And it’ll leave you with an inferior education as a result.
12. Asks for No Class Participation
This often happens because they’d rather hear themselves talk. (See “Arrogance and Condescension.”) It also could be because they fear free-thinkers and are afraid of looking foolish in front of a roomful of students. Either way, it’s weak sauce all the way! Avoid these people if you can.
13. Shows Zero Passion for the Material
It’s hard not to picture Ben Stein’s droning voice from The Wonder Years television show if you grew up in the ’80s on this one. Do you get a sense from listening to your professor that they think they picked the wrong profession?
Very few are capable of effectively teaching the material if they lack a passion for it. When this boredom is present, they’ll typically pass it along to you. And as we established above, it’s hard to learn anything when you are struggling to stay awake during class.
Why You Should Not Accept a Bad Professor
Students should not have to accept a bad professor. They’re paying good money to learn from the best as the skyrocketing rate of student loan debt will attest. It’s important to get out of college with valuable knowledge that’ll allow you to excel in your career field of choice.
Teachers who are bad at what they do undermine your ability to do this. And they can sour your will to learn a profession you’d be good for.
What You Can Do About It
You might feel helpless. But you actually have a few options here. You can:
- Complain to the administration
- Be brutally honest on those course evaluations
- Go directly to the professor and explain the problems you’re having
If going this route, don’t adopt a combative approach. Go there with the goal of resolving the conflict and leave blame at the door. Sometimes even a bad professor can do a good job if you force them to. Doesn’t change the fact they are what they are, though.
The bottom line is that no one should have to learn from a bad professor. Take real steps to get the education you deserve! Now it’s your turn. What are some qualities of bad professors that you’ve noticed? Share in the comments section below.
[Featured Image, the Harry Potter Films]