What to Do If You Have a Bad College Professor

The professor can really make or break a class experience, and, alas, not all professors are created equal. Some may have outrageous opinions which bother you in every conceivable way; others may mumble or go off on long, irrelevant tangents which bore you to tears. Some may be sweet as an angel but largely incompetent; others may be incredibly smart but needlessly harsh or punitive. Whatever the case, you're in a class with a professor who simply isn't good at their job. What should you do?

Know the Deadlines for Schedule Changes

Often, the cure for a bad professor is simply switching classes. Find out from your registrar when the deadline for switching classes is, and if there are any other professors teaching the same class. Switching a class is a relatively painless process, but if you miss the deadline, you're out of luck!

If you can't switch classes, you can drop the class and take it another semester (assuming that a different professor will be teaching it then).

For large lecture classes, there are often several different professors teaching at different times each semester. If you can't switch or drop the class, you may be able to attend a different professor's lecture section and still remain in your original seminar/discussion section. More often than not, the textbook, assignments, and syllabus are identical. This is a great way to "sample" the teaching styles of several different professors, and see which one best matches your personal learning style.

Team Up with Your Peers

If your professor really is doing a bad job, then you won't be the only one having a hard time. Talk to some of your classmates, and see if you can work together to overcome some of the challenges you're facing. You could organize a weekly study group, for example, or peer edit each other's papers. With enough peer support, you might just ace the class despite the inept professor.

Find a Tutor

Often, a professor is "bad" simply because he or she doesn't explain things well. You may leave an hour-long lecture without understanding a single concept, and be totally unprepared for the test. You don't want your professor's lack of skill to cost you precious GPA points, do you?

Tutors are abundant on college campuses, and can make a world of difference to your final grades. Go check out the tutoring center, or ask around your dorms or department. Before long, you'll have someone who can fill in all those gaps from that incomprehensible lecture, and help you nail that exam.

Careful, though! You should find a tutor as soon as you realize there's a problem with your professor. If you procrastinate too long, your tutor--no matter how wonderful they may be--simply won't be able to catch you up in time. Don't be embarrassed! Act now!

What's Really Going On?

The phrase "bad professor" is pretty vague. More often than not, these professors are just ineffective, or at worst irritating. If, however, there is something more serious going on--if the professor is treating certain students unfairly, for instance, or making inappropriate or offensive comments--you should talk to someone right away. Talk to your RA, or a trusted faculty member. They'll help you decide the best way to handle the situation.

Look in the Mirror, and Don't Be Hasty

Take a good look at the role you're playing in this situation, and don't be too quick to raise a stink. All too often, students complain about their professors because they simply don't like them, or they disagree with their opinions. Remember: a professor's job is to stimulate thought and discourse between several different viewpoints or perspectives. Just because your professor is offering opinions that you disagree with doesn't necessarily make him a "bad" professor. You came to college to expand your awareness and learn new things, and maybe your professor is challenging you in a way that you need to be challenged.

Maybe you do disagree with your professor's views and opinions. Perfect! Use your disagreement as motivation to excellence. Put your own thoughts and opinions into a well-researched paper for your next assignment. Do some extra research, so you can confidently and intelligently disagree with your professor in a class discussion. Even opinionated professors--if they're not actually incompetent--will recognize your intellectual growth and respect it, even if you both still disagree. That way, you can turn your irritation at your professor into something positive, and take personal responsibility for your own education.

In Summary

There are a huge number of variables in this situation, and only you can really say what's going on. Know you have options, first of all. Be aware of your deadlines for schedule changes, and don't be afraid to reach out for help--to your peers, to a tutor, or to your school's administration. Try to accurately assess if your professor is actually bad, or if he's just challenging your preconceptions and opinions. If your professor actually IS doing something wrong, take action, and do whatever you can to make the situation better for yourself.

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