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Background

Due to a change in schedule, I recently had to swap one course section (with a supposedly outstanding instructor) for another (with a different instructor).

Problem

Based on a number of reliable sources, I have come to learn that my new professor is an extremely unreasonable, unapproachable, and severe human being. Numerous people who have had the pleasure to attend his class all commonly reflect on the fact that he is 1) a poor teacher who makes his expectations unclear (and refuses to explain students' mistakes to them) and 2) insists that only 25% of the class will pass. It might be of benefit to mention that this is a required course.

If there is one thing that bothers me in a classroom setting, it is when teachers are vague about what they want from students whilst grading them harshly for things that they never explicitly stated. This is especially worrisome in this circumstance, where the quality of a piece of work is, to some extent, subjective. In addition, I am NOT one who merely seeks to pass classes. I work hard, and I expect my grades to reflect such. Admittedly, I am a very persistent, determined, and bold and I tend to become riled up when I feel like an injustice has been done.

Class starts on Monday, and I would like to know if there is anything that I can do to minimize my heartache. I have heard too many stories about student-professor drama and I wish to avoid it entirely.

Obviously, I can't do anything right now. But would it be okay to approach the prof after the first day of class? If yes, what should I say? If not, do I just bite my tongue and risk my GPA to suffer due to nothing save a teacher's poor attitude?

For those who will tell me to wait until class starts before thinking about any of this, I see no purpose as this instructor has a very long track record and I wish to strategize.

  • 59
    Is the 25% passing rate a joke? I'm only asking because if it's true, something is very wrong. – Clay07g Aug 22 '18 at 18:23
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    Welcome to AC.SE. Please take a look at our help center. I removed your references to the fact that you are an undergraduate student since some of our users do not like questions about undergraduates. I think this makes your question a little more general and a slightly better fit for our community. – StrongBad Aug 22 '18 at 20:16
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    @3Dave In my country, in the past, it was not so uncommon to have exams with fail rates around 70-90% (I did it too). My late professor of Electronics almost 30 years ago was so severe to be brought to the attention of the TV news. He also used to yell and insult students who gave wrong answers at the oral exams. But, believe me, I've learnt the topic quite well ;-) I'm pretty sure there are still around professors like that, especially in the humanities. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 22 '18 at 22:31
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    @MassimoOrtolano Ouch. What I learned from my professors, and what I apply in my class, is basically this: If 90% of the students get an A, the test was too easy. If 90% get an F, then I have not properly taught (or there was a frat party the night before). I use the students' performance as a gauge of where we are as a team. And, if a professor actually yelled at me, I'd have walked out of the class. Even as a student, I was an adult, and I expect the guy at the front of the room to act like one, as well. A recurring theme here is "mutual respect." Glad you passed, though! – 3Dave Aug 22 '18 at 22:34
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    It's extremely well-known that community college students in the U.S. enter mostly unprepared for college work, and have high rates of failure. Nationwide, about 60% fail remedial elementary algebra. At our multi-campus university, fail rates in remedial English are also around 60% (rising regularly in recent years). I find it quite likely that an entering student would misinterpret information like this being communicated to them. – Daniel R. Collins Aug 22 '18 at 22:36

11 Answers 11

58

As a former college instructor myself, the number one thing that made me willing to work with students was a willingness on their part to form a mutual relationship of trust.

I was always much more willing and desirous to help a student out when they treated me respectfully and did not treat me like I was out to ruin their life.

Let me also add that it is always of benefit for the instructor to know who you are. This is especially true in a class that potentially could have 50+ students in it (like introductory English). Try to find a way to introduce yourself to the instructor by asking a meaningful and intelligent question after the first class. Even just introducing yourself can sometimes be of benefit.

In closing, may I also be generally blunt? College is an entirely different beast than high school. The standards are often much higher. The negative reviews of this teacher could be negative in part because he is handed a sloppy bunch of kids who just want an easy A. Not always is this the case, but it is sometimes the case.

  • 2
    Thank you for your insight and honesty. I will certainly introduce myself to him and make a conscious effort to remain respectful. – rainier Aug 22 '18 at 16:03
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    @rainier Also, sit as near to the front of the room as you can so the professor learns to recognize you, and pay attention in class. Finally, take notes on paper and not with an electronic device. You'll get better notes, and no one will wonder whether you're checking Instagram. – Bob Brown Aug 22 '18 at 19:54
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    @BobBrown Noted! Always have, always will. Partially for the reasons you state, also partially because of nearsightedness :) – rainier Aug 22 '18 at 20:19
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    Related: I am FAR more likely to help a student out who is having difficulties with the course if they actively participate, make an effort to attend office hours - go at least once, early on, even if it's just to introduce yourself - and ask early on when things are not clear, rather than just complaining about a grade with no real substantive issue. I'll help anyone who asks, but generating a positive impression never hurt. – 3Dave Aug 22 '18 at 22:07
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    @WGroleau I do not assume it to be the case, I just say it "could be...sometimes the case" that students are inaccurate in their depictions of college instructors. – Vladhagen Aug 23 '18 at 3:59
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Let me suggest that you wait just a bit and form an opinion about the instructor based on your actual relationship rather than rumor. You might form the same opinion as that which you heard, but, on the other hand, he or she might be just the person you need for this.

Going in with preconceptions isn't doing anyone any good.

FWIW, I had a reputation as a very demanding teacher. However, almost all my students (any who wanted to actually work at it) did very well and I was both liked and respected by students. The few times I was attacked for my methods, other students actually came in to the conversation and talked the complainer down. I never had to do that myself.

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    Thanks for your insight, I agree and will remain open-minded until I can formulate my own opinion. – rainier Aug 22 '18 at 17:28
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    And, by the way, @Buffy, being demanding and having high standards is never an issue. I highly value teachers who will highly value their students. The issue is failing to communicate those demands and blatantly refusing to help students do better, even when they ask for it and are very obviously trying to succeed. – rainier Aug 22 '18 at 17:30
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    I once had a prof that everyone I knew described as "a total [butt]." When I actually took his class, I found that he was straight up the kindest and most respectful instructor I'd ever had. I once asked him to repeat the last 5 minutes of a lecture because I hadn't understood a thing--he simply blinked and then did so. I once came to him and griped that the (departmental) curriculum was dumb. He asked me how I'd change it and then spent an hour talking with me about the finer points of undergrad curricula. No idea where the reputation came from, but it was utterly nutterly butterly wrong. – chipbuster Aug 23 '18 at 6:14
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    +1 For the suggestion to delay judgement. However, to form a sound opinion, OP would need to wait several weeks before doing anything about anything. – einpoklum Aug 25 '18 at 14:36
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As most of the answers are handling the case of the poor misunderstood professor assuming good faith I will take the case that the professor is in fact the bad apple.

Yes, they do exist and yes, they do exist in university, they are not just a school problem.

In this case it will be an uphill battle. Normally professors have a certain amount of trust and everything you charge against them will be first met with disbelief, even if they have a verifiable trace of serious teaching problems.

So the first action you must do is making a decision: Are you really ready to risk such a battle? Could you live with holding your tongue and holding out which is unfortunately often successful?

If you risk it, you need to have as much evidence as possible. Kindly ask if you can record the lesson on audio (I do not know how the situation in your country is, but in mine many hearing-impaired people used this for preparation at home). Find out the grading distribution of the former tests...it is a difference if someone says "Normally approximately 25% of the people pass the course" (and you see sth. like 32%, 19%, 10%, 42% and different distributions for other grades which is unsuspicious) or that the guy has exactly the same distributions for every year (!) which is a sure sign of academic misconduct.

If you failed the course you should at least try to contact the Dean afterwards to talk about it (and get evidence that you did it). I do not know the system works where are you educated, but it is important that you really try to exhaust the "normal" possibilities until you get serious.

ADDITION: Daniel R. Collins provided a link that more challenging courses (e.g. math) in community colleges (That the OP visits a community college was redacted in the question) have in fact a very low success rate which borders at the 20% level. So low pass-rates may be in fact not speaking against the professor.

  • 2
    How does this answer have such a low score? Since I encountered two at the university (one evil, one simply incompetent) and heard of others I would think that plenty of people here would have encountered one. – Loren Pechtel Aug 24 '18 at 1:18
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    @LorenPechtel academia.SE is full of professors and ends up with a rather understandable bias in favour of the teachers. Truly malicious teachers are a lot less common than (undergraduate) students often seem to claim, but they definitely do exist (sadly...) – mbrig Aug 24 '18 at 15:09
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    @LorenPechtel agreed. I especially like the point made here about passing distribution over a span of years. If, over 10 years, he consistently only passes 25±1% of the class, red flag. If it's much more varied (even 3-5% variation would be less suspicious) across the years and just averages to 25%, that seems much more reasonable. – Doktor J Aug 24 '18 at 15:17
  • -1 because much of this is not actionable advice for the OP. (1) It seems to suggest taking and failing the course intentionally, then protesting after the fact. (2) Test grade distributions are usually not available. (3) Constant distributions are not necessarily academic misconduct, in fact, some departments mandate precisely that. (4) It overlooks the blatant fact that many U.S. community college intro courses have very low passing rates such as these. – Daniel R. Collins Aug 25 '18 at 3:52
  • @DanielR.Collins (1) Only after you mentioned it I saw that it can be misinterpreted, so I adjusted that. No, you should not fail intentionally. (2) I am quite sure that this information is out there because the university need to document their grading. If they won't give it out, use the student yearbook of the passing students and contact them. (3) Apart from its controversial usage I am not aware of a "grading on a curve" with a failure rate of 75%. I would rule that out. (4) Source? Can someone else support or contradict this fact? – Thorsten S. Aug 25 '18 at 7:35
4

If your professor legitimately gets to the end of the semester and gives 75% of the students a failing grade, this answer may not apply. However, that figure strikes me (as clarified below) as a freshman tall tale or at worst a scare tactic.

I would encourage you to, first of all, do your homework (figuratively) and do know what the professor is known for. Tough grader? Lots of homework? Easy A's? Doesn't cover the textbook in class? These things are good to know.

However, take that information with a grain of salt. Every professor I've ever come across is pleased by a hard-working, honest, respectful student. As Vladhagen noted, some professors will get bad reviews per se from students fresh out of High School that didn't read the syllabus and want the least amount of work for an easy A. Although it's becoming more and more necessary for many professions to have a college degree, the real point of college is to come and learn, which is different from the "come and graduate" perspective of many High School students.

Harsh words/expectations

Sometimes a professor will say things like "only 25% of you will pass," to scare a group of students into working hard, when they don't actually mean it. Sometimes they'll be speaking from experience, in a harder class where many people drop out (my Calc 1 teacher did, and he was an awesome guy). Although I will say that, from my experience, 25% passing would have to include the people who drop out after realizing the class isn't for them. 25% at the end of the semester is very low.

Since your teacher seems to be known for unclear expectations, be especially careful in reading the syllabus at the beginning of the semester. A lot of high school students neglect to do this, and then complain about unclear expectations. In addition, if you have any questions, ask your professor. Try to be specific, and make it easy to respond: instead of saying, "what's the best way to insert quotations?" ask, "would it be better for me to say 'blablahbla (Author),' or 'as Author says, 'blablahbla.'"

Lack of (useful) feedback

My hope would be that you would at least get some feedback on your homework when graded -- whether that be marking categories (style: 2.7, length:6.3), or written critiques on the paper. It is possible that you'll have a professor that has one writing style that they like, and you'll need to cater to that for the class. If that's the case, it's possible you won't know until your first paper comes back marked down. In that situation, you'd use the critiques to understand what the professor does want from your papers, and improve on following ones. It's rare that a single paper will hurt your grade too much. Once you get that paper back, it doesn't hurt to go to the professor's office hours (nice to do anyway), and discuss how you could've made the paper better. This particular talk wouldn't be a time to come in and ask them to change your grade; instead, it shows them that you want to do high quality work, and it's a chance for you to learn what they want. Be respectful, as always, and come with specific questions (e.g., "Would [this] have been better?").

"Unreasonable, unapproachable, and severe."

Your professor seems to also have a reputation for being "unreasonable, unapproachable, and severe." Now I don't suggest that you ignore this reputation, but don't let it mar any potential interactions you may have. I don't know anyone that specifically wants to be any of these qualities, and I suspect that your professor does not either. (That doesn't mean of course that I don't know people who come across as these things, but it's not because they're Scrooge or Mr Grinch inside.)

In other words, don't treat them as if they're being unreasonable, unapproachable, or severe right off the bat, because that will give them a bad impression of you. Sometimes there will be professors that are tired of students coming up with questions that they already covered in class, and it will rub off into their interactions with other people as well. For my introductory chemistry teacher, that was the case. Her philosophy (as I could tell) was to be strict, and even make fun of people who asked questions in class if she'd already covered it, in hopes of people paying attention and not having to ask those questions. Now, I'm not saying that's the best strategy, but from her perspective it seemed to work: she got fewer "dumb" questions. (Side note: if you don't understand something, please just ask. Respectfully, of course, but don't be intimidated by someone like this. She didn't actually mind the questions (although I was scared to ask for the first month), and I actually liked her by the end of the semester :).)

Again, often the "unapproachable" reviews are from people who didn't try hard enough. Yes, it reflects badly on the professor; they should try to foster useful discussion and questions. However, often the "unapproachable" professor will be approachable with tact. As I've said multiple times, be respectful, and do your homework. In your standard Community College, those two things alone will already put you above the rest.

TL;DR:

(Since you can't change classes,) Give the professor the benefit of the doubt, do good work, ask questions, and be respectful.

  • "until your first paper comes back marked down" - this is incredibly optimistic. Often my papers didn't come back at all. Often (really). – Pedro A Aug 25 '18 at 0:50
  • If the failure rate in that professor's class is 75%, then there isn't much doubt that something is wrong. – einpoklum Aug 25 '18 at 14:38
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    @einpoklum We're acting as if the failure rate of 75% is sustained fact. It honestly sounds like a freshman horror story that turns out to be a tall tale. – Vladhagen Aug 25 '18 at 14:51
  • @Vladhagen: Ok, so qualify your answer and prepend it by saying "I'm assuming that the Professor does not actually consistently fail most of his students" or something to that effect. – einpoklum Aug 25 '18 at 15:16
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1. Verify (or dispel) the rumors

Some other answers have suggested this, but more vaguely. I'll be concrete:

1.1. Talk to the student union / council, and your faculty representatives in particular. Read concrete complaints or correspondence regarding this Professor.

1.2 Determine the fail/pass rate when this Professor gives an exam (in general or just for this course). Is it really 25%, or below 50%, who pass?

1.3 Skim your university's and departments' regulations / bylaws - to understand what a Professor can and cannot do with respect to setting pass/fail rates and with respect to responding to student queries in and out of class.

1.4 Wait until your first session with him, at least. At the session, write down (or record as audio and transcribe) statements which you believe contradict the Professors official obligations, and cases in which he outright refused a legitimate request to clarify a point he was making.

If the rumors have been too harsh then ignore the rest of this answer (perhaps not the next section though.) Otherwise, read on.

2. Schedule an appointment with him

In almost (?) all universities, students taking a class are able to arrange to visit the instructor in his/her office, to ask for advice, clarifications, repeated explanation of a point made in class etc. In many universities, there is even an official weekly reception hour which the instructor is required to keep free of other engagements and at which s/he must be present in their office.

2.1 Visit the Professor's office hours, or schedule an appointment in his office, the first time you feel he was being unclear in his requirements or in his actual teaching.

2.2 At the appointment, focus on individual, specific, points of inclarity first of all. Also, tell him that you want to make an effort to succeed in this class (perhaps butter him up with an explanation of how you recognize the academic importance of this subject).

2.3 If the appointment hasn't otherwise gone poorly, and if he has made a statement regarding the 25%, tell him that the statement has made you very concerned, since you've understood it to mean that even if you apply yourself, pay attention, do the homework, etc. you will still probably fail. See how he reacts, or how he explains this policy.

If even the specific points you've brought up cannot be clarified or addressed, or if he doubles-down on how most students deserve to fail his class, then you're in real trouble. If he has assuaged your concerns, however, consider doing the following as well

2.3 Carefully suggest that from speaking to your friends, you believe that several other students may have failed to understand what you have come to try to clarify. Don't suggest any concrete action - let him suggest something, if at all.

3. If things turn sour, consult others before escalating

If the Professor actually is unclear, refuses to explain things, makes inspecific/unclear requirements, is unresponsive at reception hours, seems to plan to fail most students, etc. - you should do something about it; but - not alone.

3.1 Talk to fellow students taking the course about this and try to act together in anything else you do.

3.2 Talk to the student union about this issue, providing them with concrete evidence of wrongdoing / failures. Try to have them act together with you (but don't let them just drop the ball).

3.3 Talk to the teaching assistants and/or to other Professors - again at reception hour or in an appointment, explaining you find the Professor difficult to approach and you are worried you will have trouble completing the course despite making an effort. You would be asking their advice, ostensibly, but the subtext is that there's a problem with the Professor and you need their help in getting him to realize it. If the TAs not too defensive of him, "escalate" the subtext and actually try to get to the point of saying that. On the other hand - this is a bit risky; if you can do this in a group of people.

3.4 Talk to us again - You can very well ask a followup question here on Academia.SX

2

I would talk to the other professors.

During my masters, I was warned about a particular professor by other professors. I did not heed their warning, and it was a terrible experience (e.g., I watched him insult and humiliate other students in the class). When I later spoke to the problem professor's own colleagues in his own department, they also had very negative things to say about him. I couldn't believe their candour with me: a student, unknown to them.

There are some professors who should not be teaching. For whatever reason, they hang around unwanted by everyone. I suggest you find out from professors what kind of situation you're walking into. If they have positive things to say about him, then try to get the most you can out of the class. If this probably a bad situation, you should just avoid it. You will have very little power to fix things if they go wrong.

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    Did they warn you to NOT take the class with that professor? Ouch. I have no choice but to take him this semester. I am also unsure as to how talking to other profs would be of any direct benefit, especially if I am already aware of his track record. – rainier Aug 23 '18 at 14:38
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First of all, hello from another student who had a similar experience.

The currently most upvoted answers tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the teacher. As someone said in comments, Academia.SE is mostly made of teachers - and I shall add - good teachers. I don't know any of them, obviously, but I have absolutely no doubt that every teacher participating in Academia.SE is immensely above average and most certainly minimally decent teachers.

Indeed, evil teachers are almost inexistent, I believe. But everyone is overlooking that incompetent teachers are all over the place. Including teachers that think they are excellent but oversee their own absurdity. Also, it should be noted that there are many countries in the world, with many cultures and many problems. Not everyone studies in the best universities, with the best teachers.

Now, to the answer. I will make very pessimistic assumptions, so if in your case it's not that bad, great!

What you can do about the teacher

It's a good thing to fight for a fair an better class/environment. For this, I suggest @einpoklum's answer, which has detailed steps on what to attempt that I agree with.

What you can do about yourself

Assuming the unfortunate situation in which the above didn't work, I will provide some suggestions on what you can do about yourself, the main goal being to make your semester less painful to you (preventing you from going crazy) while still keeping in mind that you must pass.

Be ready for lower grades than usual

Accept that your grades will take a hit. If you're like me, and don't like to just get 60 and pass (instead, you want to learn everything which usually automatically leads to 90+), convince yourself that this is simply not doable when the evaluation system used by the teacher is unpredictable, random, illogical and unknown. You will still learn as much as you can, as always, but since grading is absurd, you won't be graded accordingly.

Obtain as much information as possible

Make super specific questions about his grading system in order to gain as much information as possible, in a way that makes it almost impossible for him to deny it later. Ask things like:

  • Professor, that report you mentioned, at what date exactly is it to be delivered? How many points is it worth? Is there a model to be followed? Must it be handwritten? Do you expect an specific formatting? Approximately what size do you expect?

Once I delivered a single-page text about a certain topic and got a bad grade. After asking why, he said that "it should have been separated in topics instead of paragraphs".

Pay attention

If he is bad at transmitting information, i.e., teaching, try your best to pay attention anyway so that you can at least figure out what is the topic of each lecture so that you can study by yourself later.

Show interest

Let him notice that you're interested in learning. There is a good chance that this will happen naturally since you're interested in learning since the beginning. In the end of a class, if you have a question, ask it, even if you don't expect to learn anything from his answer. As I said, chances are that he is simply incompetent, and not evil. This way, being friendly won't hurt and will probably be beneficial.

Don't show anger/impatience

Feel free to express confusion and show that you're looking for help, but do not show anger or impatience. Try at your best to consider that he is not doing what he is doing because he is evil.

Do it his way

If you manage to find out what he wants, do the things the way he wants. Even if it's a bad way. For example, if you find out that he likes reports divided in 4 chapters with certain specific titles, do that even if objectively there is a much better way to do it. Recall that since his grading is absurd, unfortunately you shouldn't do the best, but instead you should do what he believes to be the best (of course all of this is only doable if you figure out what's best for him in the first place).

Keep in mind that the teacher is a part of the challenge

Usually, if you're like me, the challenge is to "learn something", and the high grades simply come as a consequence. This time, there are two challenges. The first is to learn something, as usual. I'm sure you will do well on that. The second is to get good grades. Accept that, this time, they won't be correlated as usual. You'll have to make specific efforts for this second challenge. Keeping this in mind since the beginning will help you.

  • Despite some good advice - -1 for claiming "you can't do much" and suggesting no resistance even if it is merited. – einpoklum Aug 25 '18 at 14:40
  • @einpoklum Thanks for the comment. In fact, you're absolutely right. I will edit my answer. – Pedro A Aug 25 '18 at 14:47
  • @einpoklum I've edited my answer. Thanks for your feedback, that was indeed poorly written. Hopefully it's enough to revert your downvote. If not, let me know what else isn't good and I'll take a look :) – Pedro A Aug 25 '18 at 14:52
  • "Don't complain" -> "Don't complain to his face" (which I would still disagree with but would still not merit a downvote). Also, OP should not accept his/her grades taking a hit for arbitrary reason, such as a decision that 75% of students should not pass - and I'm keeping the -1 for now on that point. – einpoklum Aug 25 '18 at 15:15
  • @einpoklum I've made further edits, please take a look and let me know, thanks! – Pedro A Aug 25 '18 at 16:05
1
  1. Listen very carefully to instructions.

  2. If something is unclear, ask politely and concisely after the class.

  3. Find out what you need to get into that top 25%. Top 1%? From the professor, not from peers. They might play a competitive game on you.

  4. Be very polite and humble. Acknowledge the professor's absolute authority and don't threaten him in any way.

Obviously something is wrong there (with the professor, with students, or with university?), but unless you are feeling absolutely heroic, tread lightly until you figure it out.

  • This is a good way to get good grades, but a bad habit for the rest of your life. – Neil G Aug 25 '18 at 13:10
  • @NeilG How does that story go: dropouts become founders, D's become politicians, C's become CEOs, B's work for C's, and A's drive taxis. – Arthur Tarasov Aug 25 '18 at 23:22
  • Lol yeah exactly. I just find acknowledging the professor's "absolute authority" really distasteful. – Neil G Aug 25 '18 at 23:24
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I always worry when I read such posts. It implies the instructor is malicious, which is very very very rare. Most of the times the outcome of the course is as described, but the students have an incorrect opinion of the instructor.

I have taught classes where the success rate is very low, and I know of colleagues who have taught classes where the success rate is extremely low. Such classes are rare and this kind of situation usually happens because students are poorly prepared (most often through no fault of their own) for the material presented, poorly organized (i.e. they overload on courses, commit to too much off-campus work etc), simply expect the instructor to provide them with detailed instructions on how to memorize every solution rather than reason out from first principles or - to be frank - delusion on the part of students as to what constitutes hard work.

In the latter case, this is often due to a difference in academic culture: chemistry students taking a required physics course, or physics students required to take a chemistry course, or engineering students taking a math course, or math students taking a more applied topic. The difference becomes evident when comparing performances between students of the home unit and students from a different unit. In my experience instructors are well aware of such differences, and I have yet to met someone who sets out to be rude and unhelpful to students.

I would suggest you reach out to the instructor as soon as you are in trouble, as for specific complementary textbooks or resources, and be careful about time management.

  • @inéquation I love it! – ZeroTheHero Aug 24 '18 at 13:15
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    I respectfully disagree. It does not necessarily imply the instructor is malicious. Another possibility is that he/she is simply incredibly incompetent and unaware of his own absurdity. I had multiple of these teachers, unfortunately. – Pedro A Aug 25 '18 at 0:54
  • @PedroA Sir: I have yet to encounter truly incompetent instructors. In N.A. at least, they get flushed out of the system rapidly, irrespective of their talents at other tasks. If one is not doing well in a specific class, a simple reassignment in teaching duties usually solves the problem. Finally, there is no reason to believe that less competent instructors would systematically have low success rates. Unfortunately, students often claim that instructors are incompetent when in fact it's a matter of incompatibility in the teaching style of the instructor and study habits of the students. – ZeroTheHero Aug 25 '18 at 14:25
  • @ZeroTheHero I see :) Well, you are lucky then. N.A. is lucky that they get flushed out rapidly then... In my country, incompetent instructors staying forever is not unheard of at all. Especially terrible instructors that are good researchers. Also, I agree that students often complain too much, but not always. I am coming to the conclusion that this is simply very different depending on the country. – Pedro A Aug 25 '18 at 14:36
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Assuming this professor is in fact a bad apple taking this section of this course is gambling with your tuition and your GPA. I'd consider the following points for the goal of minimizing your chance for heartache.

  1. Attempt to transfer to another section of the class - depending on the specific academic calendar for your school this may still be possible
  2. Drop this class and pick up another required course - depending on your program flexibility and prerequisites this may be trivial or quite difficult
  3. Drop this class and take a less than full load - depending on your current progress in your program this may mess up your long run graduation plans or may be trivial
  4. Give them a try but be aware of cut off dates for dropping classes with respect to finances and grades

Nothing out there says you have to gamble your GPA and tuition on this professor. If they legitimately take pride in failing students it's a bad move to become one of their students.

  • 1
    The suggestion to evade a (supposed) social problem - affecting hundreds of people, if not more - is inappropriate. We should encourage students to act (wisely, moderately, without taking excessive risk perhaps) to address such issues. -1. – einpoklum Aug 26 '18 at 13:17
  • @einpoklum "Without taking excessive risk" is the key here. It's not the student's responsibility to fix academia or take one for the team. Given the price of education, taking a class that you have disproportionate risk of failing is a substantial financial risk. – Myles Aug 28 '18 at 15:58
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(I came here in the course of searching for something to help me learn the Python computer language so I can set some "interesting" assignment to my class .. but thanks!)

There are some assumptions here: 1) The "reputation" of the instructor. From where? Fraternities? Alums of schools that graduated people regardless of accomplishment? I am yet to find a good source for "Teacher's Reputation" that actually makes sense. If your gasoline pump operator used that to measure how much gas you bought, you would have them arrested. So why are universities so bad at this fundamental metric? Their alums' record of success in being happy 20 years down the line would be good, but how can one get that? 2) The Teacher is a boss who sets out Expectations for grades rather than a Teacher of what one comes there to learn.

I know of a teacher whose grading was almost "bi-modal". A or F. Well, not quite, but he would indeed fail most of the class if they did not solve the problems on the test. Yes, that sometimes hit 75% or more. But never 100%, but only because a few WOULD get it right. Which is a very scary thought because of the nature of the field. Would you like to have your appendix taken out by a doctor who, well.. could get that right 53% of the time? 23.55% of the time? 3) "Communicate Expectations". That term is the real Red Flag about #rainier's initial post. Teachers are not supposed to be programming robots, we are supposed to be educating the minds of intelligent, thoughtful, enthusiastic humans. When you are given a set of notes to learn, (and yes, you are Expected to go find some old tests, let me tell you that), what part of that Expectation is unclear? Why should you expect reward for incomplete/sloppy work (not that many teachesr won't give you that)? Yes, I see that rainier says the subject is "subjective", and that does make it harder. Experience is the way out, dear rainier and the best way I know to get experience is to work hard at it. (As a Senior in grad school told me: Ya gotta sit in this chair until yore backside has the shape of the chair!) Would you understand the Expectations until you had learned enough to understand the questions? How can you understand the question if you haven't thought enough about the subject? Isn't that the real problem here?

As a teacher, my "Expectation" is that you solve 90 percent of the problem(s) set to you to get an A, 80% to get a B etc, and at least 55% to get a D. That should be evident to any student from the syllabus, which I do communicate, but if you are in college and don't yet know that, there is something a bit wrong with your college and high school and middle school. If the scheme is far different from that (like, Only One A or None At All Will Be Given, a system under which I have studied..), OK, you need to be informed. Usually the "Communicate Expectations" term means: "Did not write on the board the questions and the answers for the upcoming test so that I could copy them down, memorize them, get them on my "cheat sheet" and copy them down onto the test because that's all I had to do in my high school where the teachers were terrified of my parents".

How many bosses in any interesting profession "convey expectations" beyond a very general level, I wonder? If they have to tell their employees how to draw every line or type every key, then why hire them, over my graduates who will know how to do their own thinking, and figure out what is the best way to do what makes sense? Why pay for college grads at all? The best compliments I have heard are (from the employer): "We are thinking of retiring because your alum has taken over everything we do!" NOT "your alum needs to be told EXACTLY what to do every day, every hour".

Oh, and by the way, if you haven't figured it out yet. I am a Very Bad Teacher. Most of the 5% to 10% of my class who, despite my very best efforts to wake them up, don't even drop the course, and manage to fail, would agree with that - and they do very loudly and shrilly on the Internet. I am "disorganized" though I put out a clear Syllabus before the semester begins, and do everything mostly better than any other teacher. The 50% (or so, it varies) who EARN their As in my classes are too busy to be sitting on the Internet commenting on the teacher, but in the past (xx >>10) years I have encountered many after they became productive alumni, and at least, they still grin at me. What they are thinking then is a different question :) (my own evil grin). What I DO know is how ANGRY they are when they graduate, seeing how in many classes, their own very hard work gets exactly the same degree certificate as the poor, sloppy and clueless work of others who hardly did any work, because the Instructor emphasized his/her own popularity at their expense of integrity.

They thank me for doing my job honestly.

Come to think of it, that is the *ONLY** Expectation that MY bosses have ever conveyed to me in all these decades (yeah, there have been a few slimy attempts to get me to change Fs to Ws, but always couched in weasel words best ignored):

"Ya gotta be OBJECTIVE! If you ever lose that, you have NOTHING!" Still rings in my ear. It was the lunchtime answer (the Boss nearly knocked his tray over as he snapped that) to my question as a rookie not-even-academic-faculty teacher: "The Major is not doing his homework, and wants me to give him a C and not bother him. He is heading for an F. Should I do anything about it?" The Boss then marched off, summoned The Major to his office .... and The Major did get a C, because he shaped up and did all his homework, including catching up on the ones he had skipped. Because I was Objective but also sympathetic. I was too terrified to be anything else. I still am.

I will die happy, though maybe poor, that I have given them all my best and excellent education that they paid and trusted me to give them, however little of that the administration may have passed on to me.

But no, I am not going to Convey My Expectations this semester beyond what I already did. I have other uses for the time, and I promised myself many years ago that I will not allow the flunkies to dominate my life, I would spend my time helping the interested, smart students who are 90% of those I am privileged to teach, as long as my health and Bosses will allow me.

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    This would be better if it was condensed down to a more focused answer rather than a piece of venting or narrative. That said, I agree with the spirit of several points you make – Yemon Choi Aug 25 '18 at 14:12

protected by Alexandros Aug 25 '18 at 16:33

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