She's not exactly a terrible teacher, but she doesn't relate to students well, and the way she teaches in class discourages us from participating. For example, when asking someone to translate a sentence, after someone spoke out and tried to translate, she interrupted the student saying words to the effect of "No, that's wrong, you've forgot about this." Obviously a valid point, but her tone and the way she cut across was rude, and when she asked the next question, none of us really wanted to give an answer. I could find other examples, but I don't think it's relevant: the point is, the way she teaches - not the content itself - is problematic because it creates a bad environment in class.

The first question is: is it a bad idea to approach her directly to talk about it? Should I bring it up with the department office, or the department head, instead? I figured it would be better to talk to her in person, rather than flag it up with the department, as it's not technically their business, and maybe it could get her into trouble. But I'd appreciate advice on this all the same.

The second question is: if I do talk to her about her teaching style, what's the best way to go about it? I was considering visiting during her office hours with 2 or 3 other students, and trying to explain why we're having issues with her teaching style. Again, if you think there's a better way, or would strongly advise against this, please let me know.


4 Answers 4


I disagree that you should instantly resort to official channels. As an adult, in any environment, when you disagree with someone, or someone's methods or attitude, it is only fair to first allow the person you take exception with to know what they might be doing which upsets or discourages others.

As your teacher keeps asking questions, she is clearly interested in an interactive class, and probably wonders why feedback dies down. If you tell her courteously during office hours that some are intimidated by the way she formulates her corrections, she quite possibly appreciates that you let her know. Tell her to give feedback with a smile, to thank people for chiming in, and to maybe help the person when answering by letting them discover their error themselves ("You said X; but in this context, what about Y?" or such). If she doesn't change anything after meeting her, or it is clear she resents you for bringing this up, you can always escalate up the ladder.

Concern is mentioned that this could lead to retaliation after you politely make constructive suggestions.
As said above, I doubt that; and if she would retaliate, this is against all sort of regulations. This would endanger her standing at the university. You can never exclude the possibility, but if you don't stand up for yourself, and your classmates, now, when will you learn to? You will face similar disagreements throughout your career, and want to be prepared for it.

This applies particularly when your teacher is still working on tenure. Those many years are fairly brutal even under good circumstances. There is no need to have her summoned to her department head for something she isn't even aware of,

  • 4
    One way to minimise the chance of offending this teacher is, instead of criticising what she does, ask for what you'd like to happen instead. In this case, instead of asking the teacher not to interrupt students when they try to answer a question, the OP might say "I'm trying to get better at catching my own mistakes. To help me with that, when I answer a question and you notice I'm making a mistake, could you wait a few seconds to see if I spot the mistake myself?"
    – mhwombat
    Oct 15, 2015 at 17:21
  • @mhwombat: There are lots of good suggestions you could make - yours is certainly one. My main point is that making them is constructive, and probably helpful; just complaining anonymously not. :) Oct 15, 2015 at 17:24

I have been teaching for fifty years, and have always appreciated it if a student approached me in a friendly manner with a problem about some teaching method. It was really useful when the student was specific and described the effect on him or her-- e.g. "I would really like to contribute, but you very seldom call on me." In this case, it turned out that her seat was behind a big guy and I never saw her hand. Sometimes I simply said no: "I miss a lot of class. Could you put your lectures on E-campus?" I told her she was welcome to ask a friend to tape them, but no. It all depends on the student's attitude. And no one wants students to go to the dept. head first, including the dept. head. A good head is likely to say, "Have you discussed the matter with the instructor?"


I would say it is not necessarily a bad idea to speak to her yourself, but it is probably easier to bring it up through official channels. You shouldn't worry about "getting her into trouble". As a paying student you are entitled to good quality teaching. If you are the first to complain they may speak to her officially, or offer her training in teaching techniques, she would not be fired just because one student complained about her. If this has been an issue for some time then she really should face disciplinary action as she is not being a good teacher, therefore not doing her job.

At university level you should have some sort of system for feedback on your courses. This may only be taken formally at the end of a course, but you could find out who is in charge of this and try to speak to them about it.

At my university (in the UK) we have Student Representatives, an elected student from each year who has responsibility for communicating the concerns of students to the department, so I would bring it up with them first if you have one. We also have a member of academic staff who is appointed Head of Undergraduate Teaching (or Postgrad teaching, depending what level you are) who would be another point of contact for this kind of thing.

The advantage of going through these channels instead of speaking to the lecturer yourself is that she may be upset by negative feedback and by going through the department it will be anonymous, whereas she may take a personal dislike to you if you speak to her directly (this would be totally inappropriate of course, and she should not let it affect her professionally, but sometimes it is hard to control our emotions, hence why other channels are put in place).

  • "At my university (in the UK) we have Student Representatives" Huh. I am a student representative for my department; it's funny that this fact didn't remotely occur to me. I'll resolve to bring it up in the next meeting. I hadn't thought about the anonymity thing either.
    – Lou
    Oct 15, 2015 at 14:22
  • 6
    Not everyone is a "paying" student. The argument about money is irrelevant. Even in EU countries where undergraduate studies are free, these are still paid by taxes etc.. So, either someone deserves a proper education (regardless of him paying or not) or he does not. Limiting this right to paying students (those with scholarships should not complain?) is wrong.
    – Alexandros
    Oct 15, 2015 at 15:03
  • @Alexandros Sorry if that came across wrong, I didn't mean in terms of paying personally, but that the lecturer is employed by the university to teach, so if she is inadequate at her job that is an issue. Many lecturers consider teaching to be a burden and something they will spend as little time as possible on while their research is their "real" job, but this should not be the case because their wages are paid for by the fees paid by (or for) students.
    – FJC
    Oct 16, 2015 at 11:02
  • It's difficult to say, but generally, coming through a formal/escalational route has a good chance of making the class unpleasant. A lecturer that gets some "official"-style reprimand/comment/remark, or where an official route is even just implied will likely adopt a strictly formal attitude if they have a good lawyer. You may get - formally - acceptable interaction, but very little beyond that. Unless there is clear evidence that the lecturer is going be ignorative or antagonistic to it, a friendly request of a change in interaction style is the way adult humans should initially interact. Feb 24, 2016 at 21:37

First, decide whether you think this professor is hopeless, or if this professor could be gently coaxed into making some improvements that would make the class more worthwhile for you.

If the latter, here's what I would suggest. Start with a course evaluation form. If the department doesn't have one, or if you don't like the one they have, make one. Collaborate with a couple of other students to make it.

You might need to move up the course evaluation date, or create an opportunity for a course evaluation. That's where your department administration comes in, if you are fairly confident they'll support you, and not just get defensive. If not, just discreetly hand it out to all the students as they are leaving the classroom one day.

I would give them the opportunity to either fill it in by hand or online (e.g. Google Form). Include a question "Would you like to volunteer to help process the results? If so, please email such-and-so address." Now you have some allies.

Make sure the evaluation form has several different places where students can mention positives (e.g. What do you like best about this course?), and places where constructive suggestions can be made; these areas of the form need to leave LOTS of space for writing.

When you present the results to the professor, include a cover letter explaining that this is a useful tool for all instructors to get better acquainted with what works best for this semester's particular students. Maybe you could cite some research about the usefulness of guiding one's pedagogy with student feedback. Also perhaps: "We really like this course, and we want to like it even more."

If you're uncomfortable with the professor knowing the identity of the questionnaire organizers, you can email her the results, from a throwaway email address.

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