6 Ways to Deal With a Bad Professor

Students should handle the situation, but parents can help.

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We want you to talk in interviews, but be concise. -- 21 Things Hiring Managers Wish You Knew

A good professor can make a college class worthwhile. And a bad one can easily ruin it. How should a college student avoid a bad professor or handle the situation if he or she ends up with one? And what can or should a parent do to help?

JULIE:

College students today have many more resources available than their parents did for gathering information about professors. That doesn’t mean that all is smooth sailing, however. Here are some things we’ve learned about helping your child deal with a bad professor or one who is simply a bad fit.

1. Lend a sympathetic ear: Many times, students just need to vent about an unreasonable or ineffective professor. Listening is sometimes the best way you can help.

If venting turns unproductive, ask your child specific questions that will help him or her get to the root of the real problem so it can be dealt with.

[Find out why parents shouldn't contact college professors.]

2. Share wisdom: All parents have dealt with bad professors, demanding bosses, or difficult coworkers. If your child is open to suggestions, share what you know about getting through these situations.

But avoid lecturing. It's better to tell a story that will relate a similar situation you went through and how it worked out (or didn’t).

3. Avoid helicopter syndrome: Your child is an adult and needs to deal with most situations, including this one, on his or her own. Avoid stepping in to manage the situation yourself, even if your student is only a freshman. These are good life lessons for your student.

[Read about the perks and perils of being a helicopter parent.]

LINDSEY:

This summer, I am working New Student Orientation at the University of Kansas, so I see students stressing over professors every day. Students often want to know which professors are easiest or nicest, which is an impossible question to answer.

Each student has a different learning style, but if you encounter a professor with whom your style doesn’t match up, here are some things you can do to make that semester more bearable.

1. Stick it out for a while: When you first encounter a professor you don’t like, it’s tempting to drop that class immediately. This is often not the best option, however, especially if this is a specific class you need for your major.

There’s also no guarantee you’ll get a better professor next semester. Talk to your adviser before dropping or switching out of a class solely because of the professor.

2. Talk to your professor outside of class: Believe it or not, many professors are reasonable when it comes to their teaching styles, and they may be able to do something to meet your needs.

In my experience, very few students visit professors during their office hours, so if you voice your concerns during that time, your professor may be more likely to work with you.

3. Know when you’ve hit an impasse: If, after sticking it out a week or two and talking to your professor, you still find them impossible to work with, that is the time to consider dropping that class or talking to your adviser about a different instructor.

Advisers and department heads aren’t usually receptive to the “I just don’t like him/her” excuse for switching teachers, but if you’ve made a true effort with this person and find them unresponsive, don’t hesitate to speak with someone about transferring into a different section of the course.