Most first-year freshmen eagerly register for their undergraduate courses as soon as fall registration opens for new students. Having little knowledge of the school or its faculty, they usually register for classes based upon how interesting the subject matter is. However, as any seasoned sophomore will attest, how much or little you enjoy a class largely depends not on the subject matter, but who teaches the course.
You will encounter a wide variety of professors during your collegiate career. Many will leave no impression on you, and within a few years you may no longer even remember anything about them, despite spending 3 or more hours a week with them for an entire semester (minus the classes you slept through, of course). However, you will encounter a few select professors who will have a lasting impact on your life and intellectual development, for better or worse. Please say hello to the five professors you will meet in college.
The Eccentric Professor Who Probably Did a Bit Too Much Experimentation During His or Her Own College Years
If you have friends or siblings who have already attended college, you have doubtless heard stories about this professor. Perhaps your brother told you about a chemistry professor at his state school who once got so excited about fatty acids that he jumped on a table, where he lectured for the rest of class. Alternatively, maybe your friend informed you that at her community college there is an adjunct humanities professor who once confiscated and then wore his students' “bling” to show them how stupid they looked when they walked into class. According to your friend, he spent the next 10 minutes performing a 60 year-old white man's impression of a rap. A few of the students are still in therapy. This is the professor who will enlighten you with such insights as “nobody lives in Idaho” and “a gallon is roughly two yards wide.” When you are a freshman, you will firmly believe that this professor is a lunatic. However, as time passes, you will increasingly begin to think that he or she made a lot of sense—and that will scare you.
The Self-Absorbed Professor Who Will Unfairly Berate Your Personal Beliefs to Make Himself More Secure in His Own
One of the most valuable aspects of college is the opportunity to encounter and engage people with opposing worldviews. Whether you attend a public university whose student population exceeds 40,000 or you opt for a small, Christian college, you will encounter people who have radically different beliefs from your own. Growing up, you most likely associated primarily with people from a similar belief system, so you have never had to actually interact with people who have opposing viewpoints on political, economical, religious, and philosophical issues. Consequently, you probably do not have an accurate understanding of what those people truly believe. It is easy to “disprove” these ideas when they do not have someone to advocate for them, but once you actually get into an intellectual argument with someone who believes them you will realize that their arguments are a lot more coherent than you have previously believed. This will force you to reevaluate your own beliefs, which will either strengthen your current ideas or compel you to adopt alternative ones which are more intellectually consistent. This process will happen as you interact with other students, and good professors will encourage your intellectual development by consistently challenging your positions and helping you to spot potential holes in your thinking or arguments.
However, the second Professor You Meet in College is not one of these professors. Instead, he uses his platform as a professor to berate your own beliefs, likely because he is not secure enough in his own. Because he is not comfortable enough in his own views to answer honest questions, he views any contradiction to his ideological diatribes as a personal and unfair assault. You can recognize this professor because he will often “win” arguments by referencing his numerous professional accolades and educational degrees, which more often than not are from prestigious, Ivy League schools. How this professor even got into those schools, you will never quite figure out, but you will hear about them every time you ask him a question that forces him a little too close to a philosophical corner from which he cannot fight his way back out. Luckily, student-performed class evaluations often ensure that this professor does not last long at a particular university. If you have the misfortune of falling into this professor’s grasp, take care to take detailed notes whenever he crosses an ethical line, and list those instances in your post-class evaluation.
The Professor Who Still Has a Passion for His or Her Subject and is Young Enough to Relate to You
Many professors have been in academia for many years--the second professor we met is often one of those professors himself. At first, these professors likely entered the field with an incredible passion for their subject, and a desire to transmit that passion to their students. Unfortunately, quite a few professors become cynical as the years progress. The academic profession is a very competitive one, and most professors are severely underpaid in relation to their level of expertise. Moreover, one of the most frustrating parts of teaching is experiencing an inability to instill a desire to learn in students who are just in the class because they have to be there. Is it any wonder that the mindset of their students begins to dampen their educational flame after 20, 30, even 40 years in the profession?
Luckily for those students who truly have a desire to learn (and I hope you are one of those students), there are professors out there who have not been around long enough to lose their spark. This professor is easy to spot; she is the one whose classes fill up within 5 minutes of open registration. She always shows up to class with a ridiculously large grin on her face, and she often comes up with fun activities to do in class. She even somehow finds a way to make writing research papers fun, which she accomplishes by choosing fun topics, such as writing about the historical accuracy of a movie. Once in a while, she may even use an illustration that alludes to a pop culture reference that you actually understand. If you have the opportunity to take this professor’s classes, do so in a heartbeat—even if it means using a precious elective credit that your friends are using to get an “easy A.” Alas, if your school has tiered registration—in which upperclassmen get first pick each semester—then forget about getting to take one of this professor’s classes until you are least a junior.
The Professor Who Will Wreck Your GPA but Will Improve Your Writing Ability
Every humanities major thinks that they are God’s gift to the English language. You always got A’s on research papers in high school, and samples of your writing were probably published in anthologies or even a local newspaper. Even if you do not consciously admit it, you secretly think that college will be no different—that when your professors read our research appears for the first time they will scream “Hallelujah!” and rush to send your paper to as many academic journals as they can. After submitting your first paper, you check your school’s gradebook almost hourly, anticipating that A+. Nothing appears for several days—maybe even a week or two. You start to get antsy. Finally, one of your classmates texts you to tell you that the grades are up. You drop what you are doing and rush home to your computer. Right as you are ¾ of the way through mentally writing your Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech, you finally see your grade. You start to hyperventilate, because you were not prepared for this. Of course, you know your alphabet, but the only letter you have ever seen beside your name is A. However, for the first time you have been paired with a B, or maybe even a high C! As you open your paper and look for comments, you may halfway believe that the professor accidentally uploaded someone else’s paper into your profile, but alas, it is indeed your paper which looks like it has been through a sort of literary open-heart surgery.
At first, you will feel indignant about the way that she has eviscerated your paper, but after a couple of assignment submissions you will begin to see that she does not have it out to get you—she just wants you to improve as a writer. As you implement the changes she suggests, it may dishearten you to find that she does not praise you for your improvements but instead highlights more flaws in your writing, and it can be frustrating to feel as though you cannot get an A no matter how hard you try. Other professors will notice, however, and her criticism will result in improvements in your other classes. She may keep you from a precious 4.0, but in the end you will forgive her for foiling your plans to graduate with honors, because she taught you humility and the ability to accept constructive criticism, which are much rarer and more valuable commodities than a diploma with fancy Latin words on it.
The Aging, Unappreciated Professor Who Has Forgotten More Knowledge than You Have Ever Learned
Of all the professors you meet in college, the Aging, Unappreciated Professor Who Has Forgotten More Knowledge Than You Have Ever Learned is the easiest one to not appreciate. Indeed, it seems as though no one fully appreciates them. His classes never fill up, he never quite makes tenure, and the university has assigned him what seems like the smallest and most remote office on campus. His classes are never incredibly interesting, and you never understand his pop culture references, which include such mystifying topics as “Howdy Doody” and “Roy Rogers.” However, he is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge on a seemingly numerous number of topics. When it comes to assignments, he is not the most difficult grader, but you will find that his classes are a lot of work, mostly because you cannot get away with doing less than your best. He can spot subpar effort from a mile away, and he will make you pay for it. On the converse, as long as you give maximum effort, you will succeed. As you sit in class and listen to him talk, you can almost feel your IQ creep steadily upwards. Though this professor’s classes may not strike you as transformational at the time, you will find that his words stick with you long after you graduate.
Throughout your collegiate career, you will encounter a myriad of different professors, each with different personalities and teaching styles. However, some professors will stick out more than others, some because they made a positive impression on you--such as the Professor Who Still Has a Passion for His or Her Subject and is Young Enough to Relate to You, the Aging, Unappreciated Professor Who Has Forgotten More Knowledge than You Have Ever Learned, and the Professor Who Will Wreck Your GPA but Will Improve Your Writing Ability. Others, unfortunately, may be forever ingrained into your memory for the opposite reason, including the The Self-Absorbed Professor Who Will Unfairly Berate Your Personal Beliefs to Make Himself More Secure in His Own. The Eccentric Professor Who Probably Did a Bit Too Much Experimentation During His or Her Own College Years will also be a teacher you will never forget, although he is so unpredictable it is difficult to say whether or not you will remember him positively or negatively.
In any case, your classroom experience will be vastly different depending on who is teaching it. If you want to ensure you can have as many positive experiences as possible, consider contacting current students at your college and ask them who the best and worst professors are, or look at websites such as Rate My Professors, which lets students rate their current and former professors and give feedback on their classes. If you are an incoming college freshman, what are your biggest hopes and fears when it comes to professors? If you have already been through college, which of these professors did you encounter? Did you encounter any other professor stereotypes?
Jimmy Gent from California on March 29, 2014:
Too funny! I definitely have had a few experiences with professors that fit the definitions outlined above. I would say, however, and despite grades received, the professors I enjoyed most were the ones who improved my writing skills. Although, at the time I couldn't stand them for obvious reasons. ; )
Josh Wilmoth (author) from North Carolina on March 27, 2014:
Thanks for the comments guys! GlimmerTwinFan, those are good stereotypes too! There were definitely 1 or 2 of those at my school also:P
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on March 26, 2014:
Yep, have met all of these at some point or another in my academic studies. Too funny! However, actually my teacher who would wreck your GPA was in high school. I STILL remember what I learned. Thanks for the chuckles!
Claudia Porter on March 26, 2014:
This made me chuckle since I had all of them and this was about 30 years ago! What about the underpaid grad student who cannot teach a class to save his life or the handsome professor who hit on every female in the class? I had one of each of those too.
Judy Specht from California on March 26, 2014:
These sound like some high school teachers I have worked with too.
Nice evaluation of Professors.
Rate my professor is a great website. Students have way more power these days over professors and I think that is a good thing.