A) What are some of the frequently asked questions with regards to how I rate my professors?
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B) Who are the contributors to this post?
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The day a professor chastised me in front of the entire 70 person class, announcing that my posture “bored him,” I was done. Done with him, done with the class, (well, metaphorically, as it was too late to drop out of the class without it reflecting poorly on my transcript), just done. How dare he calls me out for having my arms crossed! I told myself no decent teacher who cared about his students would ever treat them like that.
If you’re a college student, chances are you can think back to a time just like this in your educational career–whether you were the student publicly denounced or a witness to the berating. You’ve likely encountered your fair share of ineffective (and hopefully, plenty of effective) teachers during your journey from grade to grade. But no matter your experiences, the shift to post-secondary learning likely feels drastic.
College hits, and everything seems to change. You’re supposed to find a balance between reveling in freedom and tending to responsibilities, walking the line between youth and adulthood. In reality, adulthood and the decisions that come with it, a mortgage, kids, and securing life insurance sooner than later, are all right around the corner. Each struggle and triumph during your college career gets you closer to these and other goals.
And your success is mostly determined by you, right? While, yes, your success is built upon your hard work (and maybe a dash of luck), but there’s an influential, often overlooked external authority who plays a role in just how successful you’ll be in your college courses: your professors.
How much power do the instructors of a class truly wield over your learning and success, and can you choose one who will enhance your experience? Know what to look for in a great professor and how to build a strong rapport with them, and you may find yourself holding one of the most important keys to success during your college career.
Does My Professor Really Matter?
Does the man or woman who stands at the front of the classroom leading instruction really have that much of an impact? The short answer is yes. When considering your courses, you undoubtedly consider the title, the scope of the course, and whether or not the class will help you meet your major or minor requirements. But how much weight do you put into who is teaching the course?
This is because studies have shown time and time again that the effectiveness of the teacher does, in fact, affect the learning of the student. So even if you have exceptional study habits and drive, the instructor leading the class still influences your overall achievement. This makes sense–if you feel held captive by a professor’s negativity or overbearance several times a week, enjoying your learning will be quite difficult. If, however, he or she has a welcoming, positive attitude, even a subject you would normally find intimidating can be transformed into a fun challenge.
Knowing the impact a professor has on your learning and achievement can inform important decisions you make regarding your college experience. You’ll likely see the great importance of attending classes, giving your full effort, and importantly, establishing a positive rapport with the instructor.
How and Why to Build Rapport with a Professor
The burden of paying for college education weighs more on some students than others, but even with tuition-affordable university options for students who need it most, the cost of post-secondary education today is sobering. If one of the main purposes of continuing your education is to secure a career, then a favorable recommendation from a college professor who had you in class is invaluable.
But with thousands of students a semester, glowing recommendations aren’t just being handed out; you’ll have to make a great impression with your busy instructor. Learning increases when relationships are established, when you value the instructor and vice versa, so the time and money you are investing in your college education will be better spent if you develop a strong rapport with the teacher. Here are some of the best ways to build a positive relationship:
A) Participate. It can be easy to melt into the crowd, especially in a large lecture hall, but don’t come to class merely to be a fly on the wall. Participate in discussions. This doesn’t mean you have to be the person who’s waving their hand in the air wildly, nearly jumping out of their seat with the excitement of answering a question. It does mean approaching each class as an opportunity for conversation.
B) Have a good attitude. Though in today’s world cynicism seems to be the norm, negativity has a huge impact on our psyche, and it isn’t productive. Having a bad attitude about your collegiate responsibilities won’t magically make them disappear. So with each class that you attend and each new professor that you meet, try to see the challenges as opportunities to excel as a student and individual. Ask yourself before or during each trying situation, how could this challenge help me grow? How will I be better for having tried my hardest through this? Growth mindset thinking is contagious; others around you, including your instructor, will take notice.
C) Show interest beyond the bare minimum. Of course, as someone who cares about their education, you will be attentive and complete the assigned work, but stopping there means you are missing out on growth opportunities. Take your learning out into the real world and apply it. Then come back to the classroom and your instructor with findings and realizations unique to you and your experience. This type of interactive application will not only boost your professor’s opinion of you, but it will also help the learned material be more relevant and stick with you long after the course ends.
There are countless factors that influence student success academically and beyond, so take control over the ones you can in the classroom, and then watch your potential for further achievement soar.
What Makes a Great Professor Great?
No matter which part of the country you ask, student surveys repeatedly reveal the same particular qualities of effective instructors. That’s great news because it indicates that many of us have similar hopes and needs when it comes to our education, but it also means the laundry list of ideal qualifications is pretty specific and could be hard to fulfill. These instructors are out there though, and here are some of the most important professor characteristics you should be looking for:
This is the baseline from which all other qualities are built upon. In other words, if the instructor doesn’t have this, the other qualities don’t matter. It’s not enough for college professors to have once done extensive learning, and to inspire a love of learning within students. A good instructor should be a lifelong learner. This keeps them at the top of their game, so to speak, and up with current developments. If by some chance you find yourself in a class where the instructor can’t answer basic questions about the content or seems lost in his lecture, drop the class fast.
2) Passionate about Content
After being knowledgeable, being passionate is imperative. A professor can know everything there is to know about a topic, but if she doesn’t care, if it doesn’t light a fire within, then there will be no intrinsic motivation to share the knowledge in a way others can absorb. If your instructor is passionate about what he is teaching, he will make every effort to make the content relevant to you and the “real world.”
A word of caution, however: don’t confuse passion for drama. Yes, sometimes in the world of teaching, a professor will do crazy antics, incorporating wild surprises and showstopping stunts. But if you’re an introvert, you know those aren’t the only ways to show you are excited about a topic. Observe your teacher’s level of passion by noting whether or not he’s eager to teach and well-prepared (sometimes off the cuff is good, but when you’ve got an audience who has paid big bucks to learn, spontaneity shouldn’t be a professor’s go-to mode).
3) Cares about Students
At many universities today, an incredible emphasis is put on professors to conduct research and produce publications (more of each means more recognition and notoriety for the college). But the job title isn’t “researcher.” A great professor must care about those he’s teaching. Take this educator, for example:
What motivated this educator? His compassion for his students. He knew that his student’s learning was dependant upon her ability to concentrate, and he took action in an unlikely, yet clearly tenderhearted way. Such an example may seem extreme, but compassion for students can take many forms. Look for an instructor who sees students as individuals and engages them in a dialogue, as opposed to the “sage on the stage” who talks at students without affording them the opportunity to interact.
4) Has High Expectations
Research continually shows teachers that expectations directly influence student performance. With a truly great professor, it won’t be enough for you to just show up. The teacher will want your best work and complete effort because the teacher knows mediocrity will never do. Teachers go into their careers to help students achieve their greatest potential, and once you get to the college level, that aspiration shouldn’t change.
5) Gives Feedback
If you’ve ever waited anxiously for test scores or a returned essay, you know how maddening it can be to get the assignment back only to see a grade at the top but no additional comments. With no indication for how to specifically improve, quizzes or tests become annoyances instead of the learning opportunities they are meant to be. While a great instructor might not grade at supersonic speed, he will recognize and use feedback as a tool for your growth.
If you receive a graded assignment with constructive criticism, take note. For classes without teacher’s assistants, the task of giving each student feedback is time-consuming, yet important enough that your teacher saw it got done. And if on the other hand an assignment is returned with no specific remarks for improvement, take the initiative to speak with your instructor after class. You’ll have pointed advice for next time, and you’ll definitely be making a good impression.
What Shouldn’t Factor into Your Judgment?
Some things are either out of any professor’s control or aren’t truly factors that should weigh into your consideration when judging whether or not you’ve found a truly great instructor.
These days, teachers in and outside of higher learning feel like they have to compete for their students’ attention. With the advent of streaming video, multiplayer games, and virtual reality, sometimes a lecture can feel dull. And while jazzing it up and going beyond notes and recall can be an indication of good teaching, don’t be fooled into thinking the dog and pony show is a direct correlation.
Some of the best courses I took during my graduate work featured a professor whose main method of instruction was speaking and showing occasional video clips. The difference between this method and the aforementioned “sage on the stage” was that he didn’t think he had all the answers. The forward progress of our class depended upon us, the students, and our engagement in discussion with him and classmates.
B) Scope of the class
If you’re wishing your American Revolution course covered more about the factors which led up to the war, you might not want to blame the professor. The scope of the course is often set out by the department; the instructor might not have much say at all about such matters. A quick way to find out the scope of the course is to simply ask on day one.
C) Late or incomplete policies
Don’t shoot the messenger. If your professor won’t let you hand in an assignment late, as with the above, these standards are most likely set by the larger department which oversees the class. Often, individual instructors have no say over letting a missed assignment slide or giving you a retake on a quiz.
How to Identify Great Professors before Enrolling in the Class
Knowing all of the qualities which make a great professor doesn’t do you much good if you don’t know how to find these types and enroll in their courses. Sites such as Rate My Professors offer some potentially helpful opinions. However, when using these sites, you’ll want to keep in mind the source of the rating.
The ratings are only a small piece of a much bigger puzzle, and some detractors might say the ratings are more of an indication of how well-liked the professor is, not how good they are at their job. The ratings you are reading come from students with myriad backgrounds and their write-ups represent their personal experiences.
In other words, take it all with a grain of salt. These ratings are biased by nature, and you’ll see opinions from students who, for example, never turned in work and consequently flunked the course, and conversely, students who have an exceptional aptitude for the subject matter and found the class to be “an easy A.” If you see patterns emerging in the ratings, then take note, but don’t forget to allow your personal experience to carry the most weight.
What to Do If You Find Yourself in a Class with a “Bad” Professor
A) Check yourself. Are you being unfairly targeted? Is it the subject matter or the person teaching it that you don’t like? As individuals, we are only in control of ourselves, so is there anything you could do differently in this situation which would dramatically affect your experience in the class? Ask yourself whether you’re showing up with a positive attitude, giving 100% effort, and doing everything you can to get the most out of the course. If the answer to all of these questions is yes, move on to step two.
B) Identify the specific problem. Are you combating one of these common college frustrations? You can’t set out to solve the issue until you know exactly what’s bothering you, so give yourself some time for honest reflection. Think about when you feel most frustrated with the teacher or most helpless in the course.
C) Engage in a dialogue. So many of the world’s problems can be solved through good communication, and professor/student issues are no different. Approaching the instructor in an honest yet respectful manner could clear up misunderstandings and save you the headache of dropping a course and finding something else to fulfill graduation requirements.
D) See your advisor as soon as possible. The longer you wait to act, the less likely you’ll be able to drop the course or find a creative solution to your problem.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do you still have questions about a professor’s influence or how to choose a great one or the variables associated with rating your professor? Then here are some other frequently asked questions about this important chapter of your education.
A) How Can I Tell if a Professor is Well-liked?
Ask around, both students and academic advisors (some of whom may be more tight-lipped than others, but it never hurts to ask). Those who have personally, and importantly, recently taken a course from the instructor can likely give you specific examples of what to expect, from teaching to grading style. There are also websites you can use to find out how well-liked a professor is. Try Rate My Professors or the professor rating section of Uloop for starters.
B) How Can I Tell if I’m the Problem?
Kudos to you if you’re introspective enough to even wonder. Think back: have you had numerous teachers who were simply unbearable? It might be a hard pill to swallow, but if there’s a chance the problem isn’t with who’s teaching the course, but with who’s taking it, it’s better to level with yourself sooner than later. See if you can pick up on a pattern. For instance, each time you run up against a difficult course, do you bristle? If this is the case, it won’t matter if the world’s greatest instructor comes to teach your class.
C) What if You’re in a Class with a Professor You Hate or Who Hates You?
Most importantly, do what you can to give the professor and course a fair shot, but be cognizant of the course drop deadline. If you miss this date and a situation arises later in the semester, you may have to just buckle down and get through it to salvage a good grade. If ever there is a question of the instructor’s integrity or something happens that feels truly unjust, see your academic advisor or dean immediately.
D) How and why should I build rapport with a professor?
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E) What makes a great professor great?
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F) What shouldn’t factor into my judgment when rating a professor?
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G) How can I identify great professors before enrolling in a class
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H) What can I do if I find myself in a class with a “bad” professor?
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Reflecting for Success
I still think about that professor who called me out in the middle of the class. Was that the best way he could’ve handled his frustration with my perceived negative attitude? Probably not. But was I giving him 100% of my attention and effort? No, probably not either. Perhaps his harsh reaction was more a testament to the potential he saw in me and not his overbearing personality. I’ll never know for sure, but luckily I did realize my grade depended upon me regrouping and moving on, not holding a grudge.
In the end, academic success is up to the individual alone to seize, but only a fool would underscore the effect the professor carries in the equation. Whether you love your professors or have more of a love-hate relationship, oftentimes building a strong rapport with great instructors is key to your education, how much you enjoy it, and how far it takes you.
Well, these are just my opinions on the rate my professor topic. And now, here is what these 8 diverse people, including students and academic stakeholders, have to say on the topic, especially with regards to the rate my professor platforms.
1) Dr. Andrew Selepak
Years ago, sites like rate my professor were one of the only ways for students to get an insight about professors. But the problem was that only two types of students would contribute to these sites: those that liked a professor and those that did not like a professor.
So even if a professor had a score and comments, which many do not, or may only have one or two, the scores and comments are often skewed wildly from extremely positive to extremely negative, and often the negative scores were based more on the grade the student earned than the quality of the instructor.
The other issue was that most professors will teach more than one class, and their reviews could be from a different class than the one a student might be thinking about taking. So it was possible that a student would have had a bad experience in one class, but the professor might teach multiple other classes where students enjoyed it.
One of the reasons why sites like rate my professor have become less popular recently is because schools are making it easier to find instructor evaluation scores online. No longer are students left to deciding on a class or professor based on one or two comments and scores on websites like rate my professor, but they now can see how entire classes rated a professor across multiple metrics and semesters to get a much more accurate idea about that professor and class.
And while the comments left at the end of the semester evaluations are not made public, those short answer responses can lack context or explanation. If a student wants to know about a professor’s personality, they should look them up on social media and see what they post and what they post about. Social media is the best example of a public persona that a professor is going to bring into a classroom, so rather than using rate my professor, check out Twitter and find out what a professor is really like.
2) William Chin
I attended multiple universities in Canada and every year, I would always do some research on the specific professor who taught that course. University can be expensive, and you don’t want to necessarily spend your money on courses that have lackluster instructors. Therefore, every professor I attended was run through www.ratemyprofessors.com, which is the one that everyone goes to. I don’t necessarily trust the rate my professors’ platform, but I used it as a tiebreaker on whether I was going to stay in the course or not.
The reason I don’t trust it is, students are somewhat fickle and will take to posting/trashing instructors due to receiving a low grade or not grasping the content. These are not objective reviews, but extremely subjective.
When using the website, the one piece of advice I would give to anyone is, before reading all of the reviews and creating your persona of the professor based on reviews, audit the class in person and see for yourself what this professor is like. Remember, instructors are people as well – they have bad days and one bad day could have created 5 negative reviews (thereby giving the instructor a low rating).
The site used to have a serious gender bias due to the hotness rating, but they got rid of it a year back or so. Now, the reviews and content are geared towards student’s experience and the atmosphere in the class (which in my opinion gives a better representation).
3) Lindsey Marx
I just graduated in June of 2019 and used rate my professor at Brigham Young University (BYU) every semester to help me in picking classes and professors and wanted to send over my thoughts.
I truly love rate my professor, I think it helps students make an educated choice when picking their classes and professors. I trust it, but only after I spend time researching it. For example, I was trying to decide which professor to take for an economics and strategy class, one professor had many reviews, most of which were pretty good, but some not so good, and the other professor had 3 great reviews with one “bad” review. In this case, I read through all of the reviews for each professor.
I also keep in mind what I look for when I am on rate my professor. To me, I want to know how much work is expected, how hard the tests are, and what is required effort-wise to get an A. Many students will write reviews on rate my professor that say how boring the professor was, how bad test reviews are, and how many tangents the professor goes on.
In the end, I believe it is important to read through ALL reviews. And keep in mind that other students have different “criteria” in which they will rate the professor. I also keep in mind that unless the professor was truly amazing or horrible, many students won’t go on and write about them. As with all research, I also ask around to see who took from the specific professors and weigh those opinions against the rate my professor. I only use ratemyprofessor.com.
As a student, I did trust the rate my professor platforms pretty strongly. The idea of hearing testimony from fellow students who were also concerned about the quality of their professors was reassuring. I feel it is easier to trust a review of a professor from your peers than it would be from a member of the faculty or career guidance counselor, etc. On some of the rate my professor platforms/sites, you can even filter feedback by the exact course that the professor was teaching, which helps provide insight into the class as well.
Now, I did take some of the professor ratings on such sites with a grain of salt, as sometimes I felt that they could be overly critical. Sometimes, when I had no other choice but to take a course taught by a low-scoring professor (according to these platforms), I thought that the professor actually should have been ranked higher.
I think a major reason why people choose to use these rate my professor platforms is because being taught by a great or terrible professor can make or break a class. When I was signing up for courses that were taught by professors my friends had never had, rate my professor platforms were a great tool to glean something before committing to a section. This is why I think they are useful to so many people.
A good example of a rate my professor platform and the one I used most frequently is simply named Rate My Professors, and can be found here: www.ratemyprofessors.com.
There are faculties whose teachings are no good, and we all know it but we can’t tell the students that directly – it’d be unprofessional. But the rate my professor platforms help the students crowdsource that sort of information and figure it out themselves.
So many professors just teach the same class every year for 20 years without updating the content. It’s boring old stuff that students shouldn’t have to put up with.
Rate my professor style platforms helped me build my reputation with students and most importantly helped the students avoid the classes that genuinely are not worth the money.
6) Jonathan Mendoza
As a recent graduate, I am very familiar with the Rate My Professors website. I used the site heavily in college because I wanted to ensure that I would get the most out of the classes that I was paying for.
I trusted the platform because students were typically honest and the reviews were typically spot on. Sure, some reviews are outliers because students may not have received the grade they wanted so they lash out. But overall, the ratings and reviews were spot-on.
I was an Orientation Leader in college and incoming students often asked about the platform. My honest answer was that I would look at reviews and ratings but take them with a grain of salt and choose my classes based on reviews online as well as firsthand experience from other students who took the course with a specific professor.
7) Stacy Caprio
I used the rate my professor platforms a few times as a student and I fully trusted them. You can tell students are telling the truth by how they write their reviews, and I never felt anyone was misleading or telling anything other than what they perceived the truth to be.
It’s helpful to use a professor rating platform especially in instances where you don’t have any friends who have taken the professor’s class before or ever heard of them and want to make sure you’re making a good decision before signing up for their class.
I think the rate my professor platforms are great in that they give insights into the professors teaching style, what type of workload to expect, and kind of the vibe of a class.
That said, most people, with any business, or any review system are more likely to leave a negative review than a positive review so I take them with a grain of salt. Also, a professor who caters to someone else’s learning style may not be a good fit for mine.
I also tend to find that many people rate the class or topic of the class more so than the actual professor. So if you hate math, you are going to rate a class negatively even though the professor may be a great professor.
As far as particular websites I typically just google and review whatever site I stumble upon, there’s no particular one that I use, though I do think ratemyprofessor.com seems to be the one I wind up on most of the time using. Most colleges also have some Facebook groups, particularly about their college.
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