Let’s talk professors

[I’m just going to refer to all of these professors in the male pronoun to avoid the tedium of using he/she, him/her, etc.]

I was just reading for a class i hate, and it occurred to me why i hate this class and the professor that teaches it so much.  Then i started thinking back to all the different types of professors i’ve had over the past four years:

1.  The unintelligent professor

This professor just holds you back and there is absolutely no point in taking a class with him, unless you’re the kind of student who’s into taking advantage of this type’s lack of intelligence and getting an easy A out of the course.  Sometimes you sympathize with him when all the students talk shit about him behind his back or corner him or even belittle him in class discussions.  But in the end, you wonder why you’re paying to learn nothing, and if you’re smart, you drop the course while you can.

2.  The smart professor who can’t teach

A smart guy, just not an effective professor.  Most of us have had him.  In many cases, he’s the kind of person who’d make a great conversationalist or a friend, but just can’t teach.  You sympathize with him and wish your classmates would give him more credit.  Or maybe you’re mean and just criticize him to no end, dismissing the class as a waste of your time.

3.  The smart professor who can teach

The perfect professor, you might say.  But there’s more to being a great professor than being smart and knowing how to teach, as we shall see later on.

4.  The smart professor who seemingly can teach but doesn’t know what teaching is really about

He’s clearly smart and he succeeds at getting ideas across, while maybe even engaging his students, but he’s not what a good professor should be:  someone who uses his smarts for good.  So yes, i think this type uses his smarts for evil.  He uses his class to show how smart he is instead of discovering how smart his students also are and learning from them, too, which is an essential part of teaching.  If this type also happens to be arrogant (which they often tend to be), he thinks his students are all dumb, but if he isn’t arrogant, he just doesn’t know what it means to be a teacher.  You might forgive him if he’s a Ph.D. student or a professor early in his career, but if you’re an idealistic student, it can be very hard.

5.  The smart professor who can teach but borders on genius that he’s stuck inside his own mind and forgets that there are students in front of him

This type is quite amusing to observe.  He stares steadily at the back wall and very rarely makes eye contact with his students (most of the time failing to notice raised hands) while he lectures eloquently on the subject at hand, which is obviously what drives his very being.  He can be quite inspiring but you regret that he fails to notice you and cater to your needs as a student.  Going to his office hours can be an adventure.  He could either redeem himself by finally paying attention to you, or if he really is a genius, he could fail miserably at social interaction and talking to him in private could turn out to be a lost cause.

6.  The professor who’s so smart that he scares you

He’s not necessarily threatening, but is certainly intimidating, and he just doesn’t understand why you can’t keep up with him and the massive amounts of laborious readings he assigns.  If he’s a nice guy, you could learn a lot from him by having a casual conversation with him, but in class, he’s so scary that you just freeze up and your mind goes blank.

7.  The professor who’s like a friend

And when he’s smart, too, going to his class (and perhaps even hanging out with him outside of it) makes your day.  This is the one you get your recommendations from.

8.  The “cool” professor

He just “gets it” and gets you, and class is always a blast with him.  But you don’t necessarily learn much, or as much as you’d like, because sometimes this type knows he’s cool and thinks he can get away with winning his students’ affection (and attention) that way and not really doing his job.  It’s rare, but it happens.  But if he happens to be a hybrid with #3, it certainly is possible that you learn in his class.  Even so, he’s the type that usually gets more credit than he deserves.  The funny professor is a subtype of the cool professor.

9.  The rebel professor, or the real cool professor

He subverts the institutional workings of the school and starts off the first lecture by saying that he doesn’t and will not have a syllabus for you.  “It’s all about you,” he says, and tells you to structure the class and curriculum as you see fit.  He refuses to grade you; instead, he tells you to write a self-reflection at the end of the semester in which you grade yourself and provide a reasoning for your self-evaluation.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t care whether you learn; he cares very much and is always ready to step in and guide the class when he feels that it would benefit you.  If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t qualify as “really cool.”  He only gives his students this kind of power because he knows that they will take it upon themselves to learn.

10.  The professor who doesn’t give a shit

He cancels class a lot and doesn’t do much on the days he does show up.  The students rightly have no respect for him.

11.  The professor who doesn’t give a shit but understands and is okay with the fact that his students also don’t give a shit

He cancels class a lot but also doesn’t expect much from you, not because he thinks you’re stupid but because he realizes that you don’t give a shit either, and what’s refreshing about him is that he’s perfectly fine with that, since, after all, he himself doesn’t give a shit!  The favorite among those who want an easy ride, but still not very respectable.

12.  The lazy professor

The one you’re always reminding that you still haven’t gotten back the paper you submitted four weeks ago.  If he’s a hybrid with #3 and very clearly not with #10, you’re understanding of his shortcomings.

13.  The professor who takes his job seriously and teaches well but is unapproachable

His lectures illuminate, but his office hours intimidate.

14.  The professor whose lectures take the form of storytelling (either related or unrelated to the class material) and who hopes you learn lessons from them

He’s like the grandfather you see in movies or read about in books (or if you’re lucky, have or have had in real life).  Depending on the student, life lessons (and sometimes life-changing ones) can be gleaned from this kind of professor.  He’s the professor you never forget.  Take a class with him if you can; there aren’t many of this type around.

15.  The perfect professor, the shining ideal

He’s brilliant, engaging, kind, friendly, and most of all, he knows what it means to be a teacher, which is to cultivate knowledge and understand that teaching and learning go hand-in-hand, and that both the students and the professor naturally engage in both.  When there’s something he doesn’t understand or finds problematic in a text, he lets you know and asks you to help him make sense of those problems.  He not only shows that he could learn from you; he believes it.  He’s approachable and tries his best to answer your questions, promising to think about them if he can’t provide an answer right away.  This type of professor really distinguishes himself in big lectures (let’s say, 90+ students).  Sometimes he impresses you by remembering the question you asked last time and referring back to it in lecture, or possibly even keeping good on his promise and giving you the answer he couldn’t give last time.  And if he doesn’t know your name because the class is so big but he notices you ask questions a lot, he makes sure to get your name.  If you show up to his office hours, he writes it down and even gets your e-mail address so he can follow up on your conversation.  He never intimidates and always remembers to ask you to have a seat.  He ends conversations with, “It was good talking with you,” and means it.  He’s the perfect professor, and all less worthy professors could learn a thing or two from him.

If you go to NYU and want to know the real-life examples of the good types of professors described here, shoot me an e-mail (contact info can be found on the “contact + legalese” page) and i’ll tell you.  Whether you go to NYU or not, leave types of professors i may have left out in the comments.  And share your stories!

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