Ask a Professor: What to Do if You Have a Bad Professor
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- Most college students will run into a professor they disagree with or dislike.
- You can raise certain disagreements during class discussions.
- School policies offer guidance when you have a dispute with a professor.
- Learning how to handle a bad professor can benefit you in the long term.
During my first semester as a history professor, I could tell one of my students didn't care for my class — and she didn't have a very high opinion of me as a professor.
One day, the student approached me after class. She complained that it wasn't fair that undergrads had to take five classes but I only had to teach two. As I scrambled to write multiple new lectures each week and stay on top of grading, I disagreed.
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But in hindsight, I can understand her perspective. I was a brand-new professor teaching my first lecture class. My teaching improved over the years, but even as an experienced professor I certainly had students who disagreed with me or disliked my teaching.
Many students eventually run into a professor that they simply dislike. So what should you do if you dislike or disagree with your professor?
What to Do if You Dislike Your Professor
Maybe your professor thrives on randomly calling on students, which spikes your anxiety. Or maybe their lectures wander so widely you get lost. For whatever reason, sometimes professors aren't a good fit for your learning needs or preferences.
It's happened to every student at some point. But what should you do if you dislike your professor?
Consider Changing Classes
It's the first day of the term, and you can already tell you're going to fall asleep in lectures because the professor is so boring. Or maybe the professor spends the first day telling you about their research but forgets to even hand out a syllabus.
If it's early in the term, you should seriously consider changing classes. A different professor might be a better match for you, and that's OK.
Focus on Course Material
If you find lectures unbearably dull or your professor's boasting is getting old, shift your attention to the course material. Remember that you're supposed to spend around two hours studying outside class for every hour in class.
Spend most of your energy doing the reading, exploring the subject, and completing class requirements when you're not in class. By focusing on the material, you might find yourself more engaged in the class. And it'll almost certainly boost your grade.
Don't skip class because you dislike the professor — rather, consider limiting your interactions with them. Instead of going to the professor's office hours, meet with your teaching assistant. Similarly, you might prefer to send an email rather than talking after class.
At most, you'll spend a few hours a week with the professor for one term. Limit your interactions and focus on getting through the class.
How to Disagree With Your Professor
Sometimes you'll disagree with your professor. Whether you disagree with a grade or their stance on a particular issue, you'll need to think carefully about how to approach the situation.
In some cases, you can raise disagreements in class. In others, it's smarter to keep your discussion one-on-one with the professor. But what's the difference?
If you're debating course material, current events, or anything related to the class topic, you can generally raise the issue in class. If you disagree about a grade or course policy, it's better to raise it privately with your professor.
Speak Up During Class Discussions
Many professors welcome and even encourage debate in class. And most professors understand that discussing different views in class helps students learn.
Sometimes you'll disagree with your professor's interpretation of the material. Raise your perspective in class. If there's a factual dispute, bring evidence to support your assertions.
However, keep in mind that your professor brings many more years of training in the field than you do — after all, most professors hold a doctorate. So raise your disagreements in a professional way.
Visit Office Hours
When your disagreement is more personal — for example, if you disagree with a grade or class policy — it's generally a better plan to raise it with the professor outside class during office hours.
Let's say you disagree about a grade. Reach out to your professor and ask if you can meet to discuss the grade. Bring the assignment and raise your concerns. Remember that professors can make mistakes!
If you can't reach an agreement with the professor, consider filing a grade appeal.
Contact the Department Chair
In some cases, you might need to go over your professor's head, particularly if they're violating school policies.
Your first step should be to contact the department chair. Provide examples of the issues you've had with your professor, and consider bringing other students with you if it's an issue that affects the class. You can also reach out to the dean of students or student services.
You might worry about retaliation if you go over your professor's head. But if you're reporting serious concerns about the professor, your school's policies will likely protect you from retaliation.
How to Handle a Bad Professor
During your time in college, you'll likely run into a bad professor. Some professors have checked out from teaching and put no effort into instructing students. Others are poor public speakers or might be stretched thin from a high course load.
If you're stuck with a bad professor, here are some tips to get through the semester.
Raise Your Issues
There's not much you can do about a boring or checked-out professor. But in other cases, you can raise specific issues with the professor.
For example, if you've got a disorganized instructor who never handed out a syllabus, bring it up in class. If the professor never provided a grading scale, ask for one.
If raising the issue doesn't work, consider contacting the department chair.
Focus on Finishing
Sometimes there's not much you can do about a bad professor. In that case, focus on finishing the term and avoiding classes with that professor in the future.
In one particularly dull class in college, I caught a classmate checking off each minute of lecture until the class ended. Do what it takes to get through the term and then move on.
If your professor seems like the type who barely glances at student exams and randomly assigns final grades, keep records. Put together a file with your graded assignments — and if your professor never hands back graded work, document it.
In some cases, a bad professor crosses the line into violations of school policies or even illegal behavior. Contact the department chair or report the professor to the school. In these situations, it's also a good idea to keep records and document what's happening in class.
Keeping Bad Professors in Perspective
A boring or disorganized professor can make your semester harder. And a checked-out professor might impact what you learn in the class. In these situations, remind yourself that each term you'll have multiple professors. Some will be engaging and inspiring, while others might put you to sleep.
Learning how to deal with professors you dislike can actually help you in the long run. After graduation, you'll almost certainly run into difficult co-workers, demanding clients, or challenging bosses. And several of the same approaches — such as limiting your interactions and considering other options — work in professional settings, too.
But if a professor crosses professional lines, take steps to report them. Colleges have procedures to report faculty misconduct. Reach out to an academic advisor or a trusted faculty member if you have questions about the process.