How to Find the Perfect Professor

How to Find the Perfect Professor

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”. ~Albert Einstein

College professors tend to be a bit underrated and taken for granted. Students choose a class, sit in the class, absorb the information, rinse and repeat.

This is fine.

But consider the role of the professor in this cycle. From the professor is where it all begins.

Understand, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts and will continue to reiterate, the role of the professor is to ingrain the concepts of the course into the student. Sure, every professor in some way is doing that. But the question is: how well are they doing that?

What defines a good professor and a bad professor?

Can you spot the difference?

Believe it or not, the quality of your professor has a tremendous impact on your college career and even your life afterward. They are an integral part of your life! Like I said, the college professor can sometimes be underrated (especially when it comes to their overall impact on an individual).

An excellent professor will inspire you to do learn inside and outside of the classroom. Your aspirations will involve a unquenchable hunger for more knowledge.

On the other hand, a bad teacher does the opposite. A lackluster professor diminishes that same hunger. Knowledge becomes stale and rotten. Anything consumed in the classroom is done so with disdain. But understand, a big part of success (at least from what I’ve heard and read from many successful people) is an extreme willingness to learn and consequently grow. Chances are, if you’re currently in college you desire success on some level.

Back in my early days of college, I had a math teacher that was simply awful at teaching. Most students did poorly and whenever we tried to receive help after class he’d somewhat dismiss us or tell us to do more questions. Needless to say, my enthusiasm for math quickly plummeted.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I recently had a professor during my senior year that jolted my love of learning (and that’s saying a lot because I love learning new things in general). He challenged the class and forced us to think outside the box. He didn’t allow people to simply accept what he taught and he encouraged students to dig deeper and question him and his research. Even once the course was done, he reached out to us to wish us a good break and inquire about any further questions we might’ve had. Of course, I’d consider him an excellent teacher.

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A good professor should encourage you to learn more. It’s not enough to simply teach. Fostering critical thinking for each student is also crucial.

So, as you can tell, seeking a great teacher is the goal. But how does one find a great teacher? Well, continue reading and you’ll quickly find out. Below are several key traits to look out for when choosing your professor.

My overall recommendation: use that first week to mentally critique the hell out of your professor. Use the list below and see if he/she has any specific qualities. If they have too many negative traits then I’d suggest dropping the course during the first week and finding a different course with a better professor immediately.

Before I get into the list, keep in mind: Bad professor is a somewhat subjective term. Sure, there are some professors that are just plain awful. However, keep in mind that in this case, I’m referring to a bad professor relative to you and your teaching style. Don’t think that you can simply claim that a professor is bad simply because you aren’t doing well.

In any case, here are questions to ask yourself during your first encounters with your professor:

Does the teacher fit your learning style?

This might be the most important question to ask yourself! Remember, a bad professor is subjective to the individual. Some professors use tons of videos, others only lecture, and others might take more of a study-at-home approach. None of these methods are inherently bad and different students will respond differently to these strategies. For me, personally, I find myself to do best in classes when the professors allow room for open discussions and mixes in a solid balance of videos.

That’s what works best for me. Simply reading the book gets redundant for me (in classes where I must attend class) and professors that only lecture or focus primarily on lecture tend to bore me into cognitive submission. You’ll need to really take some time to explore what you like (between auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning) and what truly benefits you. Afterward, pick the professor that best fits this style. Typically, the professors will tell you what kind of class they have and what forms of medium they use (and if they don’t, consider that a bonus red-flag).

Is the teacher interesting and enjoyable?

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A professor should be engaging and encourage their students to learn more inside and outside of the classroom

Refer back to what I said earlier. A good professor is meant to inspire and encourage learning inside and outside of the classroom. Do you like the class? Do you find yourself intrigued by the end of class? Is the professor’s personality just super relatable and cool? If you answered yes to these then you’re on the right track. This professor’s a keeper! If you answered no, you might want to seek out a different class.

Does the teacher care if the student is learning?

This may come as a surprise but not every professor really cares if the students are learning. Some are just going through the grind and simply showing up (similar to any job). If the professor just seems really unenthusiastic or unreceptive to you your classmates’ concerns or issues, take this is an absolute confirmation to bail on the class. You (or your bank/parents/whoever) are paying too much money to waste your time on an uncaring professor. Remember, your future is at stake.

Does the course seem excessively easy/excessively hard?

Truth be told, there are some professors that are pure masochists. They love causing other students pain by making their class far too difficult. Then, there are professors that are super uncaring (see the previous point) to the degree that the course is too easy because they don’t want to create too much work for themselves. Now, I know what you’re thinking. But easier classes are great! I don’t have to put in a lot of effort, I’ll have more time, and my GPA will be great! To that, I’ll respond by saying that you’re partially correct.

Yeah, you’re GPA will probably look way better (especially in a 4-credit course). But think about it. You’re in college to learn. The skills and concepts you obtain in your classes are meant to be applicable to your future career. If your professor doesn’t teach you, that means you’ll have no skills. And if you have no skills….well, you can do the math (or maybe not if your professor didn’t bother to teach you how).

Does the professor present a good syllabus?

You’ve heard it once. You’ve heard it twice. You’ll hear it a thousand times more. I cannot stress how useful the syllabus is. If your professor doesn’t provide a quality syllabus, take the advice of the excellent movie by Jordan Peele and GET OUT! This is where you can instantly judge a professor. The syllabus doesn’t need to be perfect (although the closer to perfect the better). However, the amount of effort a professor puts into the syllabus is typically a good indication of how their work ethic is and how the class will be by extension. A bad syllabus equals GET OUT!

Does the professor understand the course material?

Yes, you read that correctly. There have been times in my college career when the professor didn’t really understand the course material himself/herself (at least that’s how it appeared). Constant fumbling, an inability to answer questions, and frequently referring back to the book are telltale signs that the professor might not understand the material that well. Now, it’s important to note that not every professor will know everything about their field so some questions might require a later answer. That’s fine. They’re human and no one knows everything (even extremely distinguished experts can’t know 100% of the material for anything at every moment). However, if a student is able to debate a professor and win constantly then you might need to look for a replacement class.

Does the professor stick to book notes?

Consider this a bit of a piggy-back off of the previous point. If your professor has difficulty extrapolating on the material or cannot properly explain the concepts, you have an issue. It’s certainly fine for a professor to use the text as a guide or as a means of supplementary teaching (especially if the professor wrote the book), however if the professor can only explain what’s written in the book and has difficulty teaching with various examples, consider that a great indicator that the professor is lacking in quality.

Does the professor engage the students?

Now, this one is a bit tricky. As I mentioned earlier, some teachers solely lecture. And for many people this is okay. But does the teacher lecture in a manner that’s engaging and interesting? Are you thinking about the topics? Engaging the students doesn’t necessarily refer to discussions within the classroom. An engaged mind is a mind that’s actively thinking and questioning the material. If you’re simply in a mindset to just take in whatever the professor is saying in order to memorize and regurgitate it during your exams, you’re not being engaged.

Is the professor never available?

A great professor is always available (within reason) by email, during the class sessions, or through office hours. If you discover that your professor is never willing to answer your questions and refuses to make time for any problems that you may have, make the earliest effort to leave that class and find a new teacher.

Have you been warned by previous students

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Steer clear of terrible professors. It only takes one to diminish your hunger for knowledge

This is basically the clearest sign you’ll get. If several students have taken the class and warn you to stay away, heed their advice. Typically, your fellow classmate isn’t out to get you. Sure, there may be some students that might have slacked off or perhaps had some trouble due to personal reasons but don’t automatically discount their suggestion. If you find that many students have bad opinions of the professor, consider that the ultimate indicator. If you don’t know many students that have taken the same class with your professor, be sure to visit www.ratemyprofessor.com. Do your research! You can’t afford to do otherwise!

Sometimes, these signs are difficult to catch (damn those tricky professors). There might be times when you miss the early drop deadline and you can’t simply transfer from one class to another. Fear not! Hope is not all lost. Below are several solutions to consider if you find yourself stuck in this situation.

Get a Tutor

When your professor can’t pick up the slack, find a tutor. Sometimes the course work will be a bit complicated and require a bit of abstract thinking. This might be especially true for classes like mathematics and some sciences. If you find it difficult to get a solid grasp on the material by yourself, go find yourself a tutor. There are plenty of facilities on (and even off) campus that offer free, high-quality tutoring. These guys are paid to help you understand the material in the easiest way possible. As a double-positive, a student tutor can more easily see things from your perspective and help you conceptualize the material a bit easier.

Seek previous students for a strategy

Find the students that previously took this professor’s course. Whether they hated it or not, they may have still done well. Perhaps they have some strategies that you can utilize to get the grade.

Talk to an Advisor

This is pretty straight-forward but you’d be surprised how many students underutilize their advisors (including myself once upon a time). If you find yourself stuck in a class with a less than an optimal professor, talk to your advisor and see if they can present a solution perhaps in the form of a late transfer or something along those lines. They understand the school’s policies better than anyone else and can give you the best insight possible in the shortest amount of time.

Drop the Course

If all else fails and you just don’t want to risk a poor grade or a negative experience, drop the course. Simple as that. Depending on your university’s policies, you may have to forfeit some late credits but this sacrifice might be more beneficial than taking a bad hit to your GPA that could’ve been otherwise avoided.

In any case, trust your gut. Your instincts will certainly let you know what you need to do. Also, keep your eyes open during the first week of classes. That’s game time and that first week is highly important. Don’t slack off! It’s okay to party a bit and take it somewhat easy (for those of you that celebrate sylly-week), but remember to maintain a sense of balance. A single bad professor can ruin your motivation which can affect your future courses. Unlike in High School, you can choose your professors and it’s crucial to choose wisely. Life is about choices. College is the first step in making your own choices.

Hopefully, this article served you well. If you enjoyed the article and you think someone else could benefit from the information, be sure to smack one of the share buttons above on the left-hand side of the page. As usual, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me an email. Thanks for reading! I always appreciate it! And remember, stay positive!