Five Professors Who Drove You Batty in College
Now that I’m teaching college students, I often think back to some of my favorite professors and their teaching styles and try to incorporate them into my own teaching. I’d like to think there’s a lot to be learned from educators you admire. On the flip side of that, I can think of at least five professor-types I’ve been hostage to in my academic career that I don’t want to emulate, ever. You know the types: Everyone has at least one professor horror story.
Here are five of the professor personality types that drove me (and probably you, too) crazy in college:
1-The Personal Philosopher. And it’s not even a philosophy class. You know this guy. He seems to wander off into random thoughts, but aloud. He’s giving a linguistics lecture about Greek prefixes in the English language that turns into a deep one-way conversation about the root word “mono.” He offers the word “monogamy” as an example, then goes off on a tangent about its definition and whether or not this is the natural state of the human condition. “Is it ethically and biologically possible,” he asks aloud, “For human beings to truly commit to one person for an unforeseen lifetime, given unforseen circumstances and challenges? Who knows what lies ahead of any of us!” (The room goes deadly quiet. Clearly, there are some personal issues here and it’s getting kinda uncomfortable.)
2-The Crusher. His whole mission in life is to mess with you and crush your GPA. It doesn’t matter if you’ve mastered the content, this professor is your transcript’s Alpha Dog, and he won’t let you forget it. He’s smarter than you because he controls the test, your grade, your future. His mind-blowing multiple choice exams consist of the usual “a,” “b,” “c” and “d” answers, with a few more zingers thrown in like “a and c,” “a, b and c” and finally “Not enough information provided to answer.” When you study, it feels like the facts are playing ping-pong in your brain. Your head explodes. That’s what he wants. He’s a firm believer in the Bell Curve, so if you manage to score a high grade on one of his waste-of-time “assessments,” he’ll bust you down to a C — “because most students are average.”
3-The Professor who Slips in and out of His/Her Native Language, and It Isn’t Yours. This prof’s first language is not English, and that is fine. Diversity of culture and experience is an asset to one’s education. The problem here is a major language barrier that is impassable to every student in the room. This is the professor whose accent makes it difficult to understand what she’s saying, and yet, it’s a far cry from the confusion that results when she slips completely back into her native tongue, a little-known language that you can’t figure out. At that point, even recording the lecture is pointless. You’d find and pay a translator if you could figure out what language this professor is speaking.
4-The Super Intellectual. Ok, professors are supposed to be highly intelligent and focused on one academic area. We get that. But this one can be heard discussing advanced microeconomic theory at Parents’ Weekend receptions. When asked what she does in her spare time, she discloses, with a wink, that her favorite crossword answer is “endoplasmic reticulum.” Who even does crosswords with answers like that? Directions to a local restaurant turn into a dissertation on the oppression of the proletariat. You try not to run into this professor outside of class, because it’s at least 30 minutes of your life you’ll never get back. You sit through her lectures not sure what to write down because you don’t have a clue as to what she’s talking about. Requests for explanation only result in more confusion. A teacher mentor once told me, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” No doubt the super-intellectual professor understands it, but she can’t explain it simply. It’s just not in her Deoxyribonucleic Acid.
5-The Quirky Professor. We’ve all known at least one of these. It’s the professor who defines “eccentric.” If your professor insists that you spell words like “licence” and “criticise” the way they are spelled Across the Pond — though she’s never lived in the UK, or when he shows up to class everyday with an empty tuna fish can that he uses as an ashtray (Yes, kids, back in the day, professors smoked in class), that is quirky. I once had a quirky professor who spent the entire Pre-Civil War American History course obsessed with every detail of the Salem Witch Trials “because the fungus that grew on the population’s wheat had simliar properties to mind-altering drugs.” This guy talked about almost nothing else for four months. We students had a theory that this professor was smoking something that didn’t require the use of a tuna can.
Those are my scary recollections. Know any I may have left out?