With every new school year, we come up with the same complaints in regards to being a college student. We complain about the constant tuition hikes, we complain about how much the food sucks and perhaps most of all, we complain about our professors.
Whether it’s the grades we receive on assignments or how long an essay is, college students do not run out of criticism about their professors. Most of the time the grievances are minor at best and at worst are simply the grumbling of discontent college students. For the older students, it merely makes us roll our eyes.
However, there are times where a professor can act out of line in some way or another, such as swearing at a student or acting like a student asking for help is such a grievous burden to be placed on them. For the professors who act this way or even worse in class, there’s something I’d like to say. You may work for the university, but we students are the ones who attend your classes, listen to your self-serving rhetoric and ultimately, pay your wages through our tuition. As educators, it is your duty to help any student who asks for the assistance and to create an environment where knowledge can be passed onto students. The social contract between students and teachers is a simple one. You provide us with the knowledge and skills to learn what is necessary for us to succeed outside of the walls of this institution, and we’ll return the favor by learning and giving you a good review at the end of the class.
One of the toughest parts of deciding whether or not a complaint should be filed is in determining if the professor was acting out of line or not. If it happened one time and it wasn’t too bad of an incident, then it might be better to just let it go. Hard as it is to believe, professors are real people, and sometimes they have a bad day like anyone else. Another difficulty is that the rules of conduct for professors are purposefully left vague in order for the university to assess each case on an individual basis and not restrict a professors teaching style. If, however you feel that a professor was seriously out of line or the problem is a habitual one then you can’t stay silent, as a student you owe it to yourself to speak up. An example of prohibited behavior would be a professor insulting a student during his/her class, as it doesn’t promote a healthy learning environment.
To be fair, most of the time if a student has an issue with a teacher, it can often be solved by talking to them. Often times, the teacher may not be aware of what they are doing is upsetting you. As Assistant Provost Kurt Hackemer once told me in an interview,“Unless you speak up, we won’t know what the problem is.” However, if for one reason or another you feel you can’t talk to a professor then the next person for you to talk to would be the head of that professor’s department, and if this fails, go to one of the deans. There is a chain of command in our institution, and you can always go to someone if you have a complaint to file, no matter how high up the college pecking order the person you’re complaining about is. Most of the times these issues are one’s of miscommunication and can be solved by talking, and without disciplinary action.
Before I sign off here are a few tips I can give to professors in order to not only avoid these kinds of situations, but also improve their abilities as teachers. Number one, make sure your students know it is okay to come to you with a grievance. As an authority figure you sometimes intimidate us students, and we may not always wish to address your conduct or teaching style because of this. By letting us know that it’s okay to discuss things with you, it avoids us having to go to the administration. We’d rather handle it one on one.
Number two, please treat us with the same level of respect in the classroom that you would expect us to treat you with. This one should be a no brainer. If a student is texting in class or doing something counterproductive, as long as he/she is not disrupting the flow of learning don’t call them out and embarrass them in front of everyone. Just call them asides afterwards and talk to them as one adult to another. Calling us out is both an insult and a challenge, one many students will secretly accept if you do this. And your conduct towards that student affects the rest of us as well, and not in a good way either. Students may not always like each other, but when a professor messes with one of us, they risk paying the price. It’s akin to kicking a beehive, except instead of getting stung to death you’ll find your performance reviews going down the toilet.
Number three, if at all possible, please refrain from doing things that just piss us off for no reason. As professors, you have to hold exams and assign essays, we students get that. But do you have to assign an essay over Thanksgiving, or hold a test two days after spring break? No, in most cases you don’t have to, and when you were students, I bet it angered you when professors did that to you. So, be a better professor than the ones you had, pick a date that won’t cause your class to collectively groan upon announcing it. We students would appreciate it and your evaluations would reflect this.
In essence, what I’m trying to say comes down to two things. Fellow students, don’t be afraid to speak up and more importantly do speak up if you have a problem with a professor. If you don’t, then you need to stop complaining because frankly, it’s annoying. As for the professors, please do your best to treat us students with a modicum of courtesy and respect, if not for the person then at least the student/professor relationship. After all, your job might be dependent on it.
Reach columnist Steven Campbell at Steven.Campbell@coyotes.usd.edu.