How to Have "The Talk" With Your Professor
“This is easily the most ridiculous class I have taken. Not only did I learn nothing, but the grading criteria was purely based off of transition words and semicolons. Oh, and he only reads the first two pages of your essay... Lectures are existential rants about problems in his life and I learned nothing about writing. Do not take this class. Awful” - A recent RateMyProfessors.com review, giving the professor a 1 for quality.
“The prompts for the papers were the hardest I've had in three years of college. They're broad, boring, and hard to tackle which is the opposite of the writing most science majors have to do. Also doesn't help that all the material is on evolutionary psych which only one guy in the class knew anything about. Great teacher though. Easy grader and fun” -RateMyProfessors.com review of the same professor written two years earlier, giving him a 5 for quality.
The above RateMyProfessors reviews did nothing to help the students who wrote them. Whether you like a professor or think they suck or feel somewhere in between, addressing problems with them early in the quarter means there’s a chance you get to benefit from the solution. On the other hand, waiting until the end of a quarter to provide feedback with RateMyProfessors or the school’s own teacher evaluations does nothing to help you personally.
Boring lectures, bad learning materials, excessively difficult tests... every student has at least a handful of stories about classes they hate because their professor seemed determined to make them fail.
Check out a list of some funny (if often tongue-in-cheek) RateMyProfessor reviews of those classes here.
However, many students fail to acknowledge that professors can’t improve without some help: constructive criticism from their students is necessary for change. Although talking to teachers can be scary, most are not beyond saving. There are a few simple strategies you can use to communicate directly or discreetly.
- Use available technologies. Classes that incorporate EdTech products like Nectir make it easy to send a message to your Professor, and even those that don’t use these technologies allow you to send messages through your school’s education platform.
- Contact the department. If professors don’t respond to communications or reject suggestions, your department will hear your concerns and share them anonymously. This is normally a strategy best used after method one has not been successful.
- Have a face-to-face conversation. Did you know the average professor receives dozens of students emails a week? Sometimes, around test-taking times, it can be dozens a day. Communicating in person with professors can often be intimidating, but it is also the most effective method for breaking through the noise and making sure your advice is heard.
You can make a difference in your own learning experience by sharing honest feedback with your professor from the first day of class. Maybe they are new to lecturing and need help, or had a bad day so they don’t perform well, or—god forbid—they have a reason you do not understand for running a classroom the way they do.
Whatever problems students may have with a teacher, they will likely respond thoughtfully to an issue you present thoughtfully. At the very least, they won’t get any worse from getting polite feedback. Give teachers whom you perceive as bad a chance to improve by communicating with them directly about whatever issues you may have.