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I'm hoping you can help. My background is that I became a parent at an early age, and chose at the time to prioritized raising and feeding my child over going to college. Doing both really wasn't an option. I've done well, and I've been doing community college courses part-time since my youngest is pretty independent and is finishing high school. I work full-time, standard US office hours.

I have a professor who's causing me a bit of tension. I have to be highly organized with my time, for obvious reasons. This very knowledgeable gentleman has poor time management skills, and I think it's far less of an issue for my young classmates who don't have the same level of other responsibilities in life. He's an adjunct. He rambles for long periods of time, takes water breaks (gets up, leaves, and comes back) while on camera, and actually spends about half the class time preparing the materials he wants to present to us. Early on, I spent three days trying to get an add-code to register because he doesn't read his email -- finding his home phone number via a Google search was the only way to reach him.

He has shown up on camera wrapped in a blanket (We live in sunny southern California, not Iceland!), or wearing clothing that he'd probably be counseled about if he showed up wearing it on campus. He's late starting class (online) about 75% of the time, across two classes that I have with him four mornings a week.

The nature of the homework is very detailed (it's a music theory class). I'm finding that the written instructions don't convey the outcome he's expecting (some other instructor in the department created the worksheets). I also find that I'm the only one who's asking for such clarification. With the haphazard way he communicates expectations, it gives us the least amount of time before it's due (usually three days), and it's a lot of work!

This class got moved online very suddenly at the start of the semester, and I don't see anything in our learning management system where he offers "office hours". He's mentioned using two virtual tutors that are available to us, but this approach feels really counterintuitive to me, and is obviously more time consuming. The lack of in-person opportunities makes the communication really challenging.

Do you have any tips for managing around such a messy situation?

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    Why is taking a water break on camera making your list? Taking a break for water is a pretty normal thing for someone who has been speaking to do.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 20:47
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    @BryanKrause Echoing this comment---I intentionally take water breaks in class, typically just after I ask a question. This is a trick I learned for ensuring that I am providing my students with enough "wait time" before demanding answers. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 20:48
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    @BryanKrause Reasonable water break = grab a bottle or glass that's sitting within reach, take a swig, and carry on. Unreasonable water break = get out of one's seat, stand up, go off camera, walk to one's kitchen, and talk to students from afar for several minutes while opening the refrigerator.
    – Xavier J
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 21:36
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    @XavierJ Got it; I think that seems to me like a personal opinion about video etiquette, which I think is something still fairly new to people and where the rules about what one does and doesn't do is still in flux and is different for different audiences. That sounds like a more casual approach than I'm used to, but I'm not sure it should be grouped with the other complaints.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 22:36
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    @BryanKrause Agreed - I would even say there are two larger groups of complaints here: etiquette issues (something being perceived as unprofessional but some leeway may be given with things like clothing or water breaks) and things that are inexcusable - such as overall sloppiness, lack of preparation, constantly being late...
    – Lodinn
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 2:28

3 Answers 3

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This sounds like a complaint to the head would be appropriate. And dropping the course at this time if that is feasible and the head can't find a solution.

Given the COVID disruption you probably need to expect some issues to arise, but this seems like an ill-prepared and sloppy instructor. And, it is just possible that an unprepared instructor was the last gasp option of the department faced with illness or resignation or ...

Some people can handle such situations studying on their own, but that isn't, and shouldn't be the expectation. Of course, you need to play this off against how important it is to take this course at this time and what blowback might occur from a complaint, but it seems warranted.

And, if you can manage it, a complaint from a group of students, rather than an individual is more likely to be taken seriously.

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Firstly, I'm very glad you prioritised feeding your child; that is a good priority to have. ; )

As to dealing with your problem, I think this is a case where student feedback needs to occur. All/most of the problems you list are things that reflect bad teaching practice and detract substantially from course quality. In particular, the lack of punctuality and proper preparation for classes sounds like it is wasting a lot of time. Universities typically have a mechanism for formal student feedback on courses at the end of each course, but in addition to this, students can give feedback on course quality or problems at any time during their courses. You can give named feedback directly to your lecturer if you wish (e.g., via email) or you can give anonymous feedback by putting a note in their office pigeon-hole. (Note that in your present circumstance the anonymity might fail; your lecturer might be able to guess who the feedback is from.) In extreme cases where you feel it is warranted, you can also give feedback directly to the university (e.g., to the undergraduate coordinator, Head of School, etc.). This sounds to me like a situation where the problems are bad enough to warrant that.

One thing to bear in mind in present circumstances is that universities are giving some latitude to lecturers due to the difficulties of transferring courses online due to COVID-19. Expectations may be dropping a little bit, but the problems you have raised are still well below the expected standard of teaching even in a difficult circumstance.

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Excellent job prioritizing; I dare say that the "real-life experience" you got has helped you significantly, and you should be commended for that. It's my guess that you are one of the students who is a joy to teach.

All of your concerns are valid. My first suggestion is if you can drop the course, do it, and do it now. Take whatever penalty (if there is one) that comes with it - dropping this will be better for you in the long run.

If dropping the course isn't an option, then you have a decision to make. If the professor is a decent person (your call), then you could try to make an appointment with them. This would normally be during their office hours, but from what it sounds like, they've given up on that. Therefore, I would counsel you to take option B: contact the department chair. If you are periodically on campus, make an appointment to meet with him/her; in-person meetings are always better for things like this. If you are never on campus (for whatever reason) or the chair isn't, then a clear, polite, and succinct email is 100% appropriate. Make sure you keep a copy of the email (don't copy yourself though; just make sure you either have a copy in your "sent" mailbox or you printed a copy or something).

Hope and pray that the chair does something. Remember, however, that hope and prayer do not constitute a strategy. Be prepared to go to the dean if need be (which is why you always, ALWAYS keep copies of ALL emails).

Yes, COVID. Yes, circumstances. That doesn't mean that you get to show up in boxer shorts (or whatever) - you still have to do your job well like a professional. There are (or at least there should be) limits to the "latitude" people are given. I'm 100% sure they wouldn't appreciate it if the situation were reversed.

Best of luck to you. I used to tell my students that they should remember and use the good things from every teacher they have, implementing them however they can. Similarly, they should also remember all of the bad examples they saw and make sure they don't repeat any of those. Here's an excellent "negative example" for you to keep in your hip pocket.

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  • I agree with you, but "He has shown up on camera wrapped in a blanket (We live in sunny southern California, not Iceland!), or wearing clothing [...] He's late starting class (online) about 75% of the time, across two classes that I have with him four mornings a week." I recommend OP to drop the first things about appearances and focus on schedule (really a serious thing, if the delays are repeated and >1 minute). Because OP is suggesting that boxer would be ok, since they are in sunny California, "latitude" is highly debatable (shaving beard is an offense to some people, for example ... )
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 11:08
  • I think we agree; however, regardless of the weather (or COVID), people should dress "professionally." After all, they represent the department, the college, and the university, not to mention the people who study that field. I would not want a student to walk away saying, "Do all mathematicians (or whomever) dress like THAT?!?" That said, I agree that the other issues are far more serious than "just" appearance. Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 15:20

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