HELP! I HAVE A TERRIBLE PROFESSOR

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By JEFFREY L. SEGLIN

Q: Let’s say I’m taking a college course and I think the professor is just awful. Not a good teacher. Not covering the material. Not engaging. If I say something to the professor or the dean, it could affect my grade or how the professor treats me. Should I say something? — S.L. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 

A: Teachers are a bit like a box of chocolates — not every professor is what every student hopes to get. I once had a student tell me that I placed too much pressure on the class by saying I expected that their assignments would be “brilliant.” (A different student wrote on a course-evaluation sheet that my sweater vests were distracting, but I took that and another student’s suggestion that I experiment with teaching while standing on my head as flights of fancy.)

First find out if there’s simply a clash between the professor’s teaching style and your learning style. Are you the only one in class who thinks he (or she) is a dud? Or are the students in wide agreement that the professor simply lacks the teaching gene?

If you’re alone in your view, try to figure out what others are getting from the professor that you’re not. But if everyone agrees that the teacher stinks, the right thing is to let him know what you believe is needed to help you and your classmates learn the material.

You don’t need to tell the professor he’s terrible. Try asking questions in class to help clarify the lectures. Or meet with him during office hours to talk one-on-one about readings you’re finding difficult to connect to class discussions. In other words, try being as engaged as possible to get the professor more engaged.

Of course, “saying something” might not be the only option. Most colleges offer student course evaluations at the end of every semester. Often they’re not required, so students sometimes skip them. But if you truly want to get the message across, take the time to fill out the evaluation as thoughtfully and thoroughly as possible. Who knows? Maybe you’ll save the next group of students from a semester of misery.

Do you have questions about the right thing to do? Send them to: rightthing.ac@gmail.com.

(Jeffrey L. Seglin is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, he covers ethical issues in his blog: www.jeffreyseglin.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin.)