Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ranting about Profs

I occasionally check a discussion board from an on-line community I used to be part of, mostly to see the old names and what folks are up to. Most of these folks are younger than I, and right now there's quite a rant up from one member about a horrid college prof s/he has. Of course, a couple people then responded by adding their own horror stories.

Some of these stories sound really bad; others sound like a prof said something a bit uninformed, and the student knows better, and now thinks the prof is an idiot. I know I've done that. (What the heck was the 30 years war really about? How did it start?) (And, to be honest, don't a fair number of 18 year olds think older women are idiots anyway, just for existing and not doing their laundry?)

But when I think back, I can think of maybe two or three profs I had who were sort of bad, but no horror stories. I had a prof for Fortran who basically read off overheads for every lecture; our text was a photocopy set of all the overhead slides. Not great, but I did manage to learn some Fortran. Then I had a genetics class for which the profs (one of whom is very famous) basically lectured from their textbook, complete with slides taken from their textbook, in a large, darkened lecture hall at 1pm. It wasn't that they were awful or uninteresting, but everything combined to make it hard to stay awake. (You know these folks are all doing the same thing in powerpoint now, right?)

I had a couple others who were boring, or worse, got off topic and went on for a bit about other stuff. (I avoided enrolling in a class where the prof was reputed to spend 45 minutes trying to take roll.)

But true horror stories? Nothing I can think of that would qualify. But maybe time has whitewashed my memory?

I feel sorry for the folks on that board if their profs really are that bad. And I know one poor prof can stand out even though most are pretty good.


  1. True story: my worst prof ever was also a CS professor--he taught C++, but he didn't know C++. At all. I didn't learn a thing. Turns out that he left my grad institution in Charm City and moved to New York to start a company. Fast forward 9 years, and now my husband works for his company in New York, totally unrelated to the fact that I took his undergrad C++ class as a grad student. The world is weird.

  2. You know, I'm not sure that 'a fair number of 18 year olds think older women are idiots.' Then again, I could be looking in the wrong places.

    But, not being an older woman, I probably wouldn't really know.

    18 year olds are weird.

  3. Anonymous6:21 PM

    I've heard students complain about profs having an accent, and I usually don't take that very seriously. People used to say that about my hs spanish teacher but it was clearly about blaming their poor grades on her accent. Anyway, I don't usually take it seriously except that one time I went to class with my husband and oh my good lord, there's having a non-american accent and there's wait is that guy actually speaking english?? because I can't tell.

    the class was way out of my area, so I said to my husband (then boyfriend), wow...I guess you can follow him because you know something about the material? And maybe you're used to his accent? He said, no, I have no idea what he's talking about but he takes roll, so I show up. I just try to get it out of the book. That doesn't seem so good.

    I certainly had better and worse professors but nothing like that and nothing I would call truly horrible.

  4. My statistical analysis professor was a catastrophe -- he read from the textbook and we learned nothing in class. If we asked questions, we obviously threw him off of his focus and we got no explanations, just fumbling until he could go back to copying the textbook.

    And my art history prof, bless his soul, tried to be exciting. But in a darkened auditorium it's hard to keep the interest going no matter how cool your slides and stories are!

  5. You know, I'd love to hear what a real prof horror story would be. My imagination is running toward sexual harassment.

    I had a bona fide schizophrenic creative writing teacher (for three semesters in a row!) who often didn't take his medication. Even when he was muttering to himself in a corner, he was still one of the smartest professors I ever had. I learned EVERYTHING I know about grammar and mechanics from him. And he seemed to like my short stories too. But he was a certified nut case (with tenure). By the end of his career, he was wearing diapers, which he frequently forgot to switch out. Smelly. But an unforgettable experience, and I learned a TON.

  6. I have a fiction writing (white, older, male) prof refuse to give female students As.

    My first-year comp teacher told us on day one that no one gets higher than a C in freshman comp and that half of us would fail. And that's what happened.

  7. I mean I "had" a fiction prof...that was about ten years ago.

  8. I had a professor who was petrified of female students. (This was when I was much younger, before I was a feminist.) I was BFF with two other women in the class, and we studied together, and we sat down at the end of the seminar table, and made very nearly every smart, insightful comment that got made in the class, since we were the only ones in the class doing the work (there were five or six guys in the class, and three or four other women, and no one else was doing the work.)

    We terrified the poor guy, I can see in retrospect; but he expressed it by being just vicious to us, all three of us. It's not like we were being inappropriate. We were making comments about the material of the class, responding to his questions, asking questions about the texts being read -- but he attacked us, eventually, daily, called us the Three Harpies, accused us of being "too close," and gave two of us a B for the class, and me an A-.

    Utterly unjustified B's and so was that minus, I might add, but none of us challenged the grades. I can't think why. Well, I know why. It was the 80s and good girls didn't. We were all very good girls. That's why we were studying so hard. If we just worked harder, obviously, we could make him stop.

    I ran into him recently. Greeted him by name, reminded him of the class. He had no idea who I was.

  9. I had a professor for a poetry class who used to use our readings of W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney as the excuse to go off on long shouty rants about 20thC Irish politics. He also sometimes turned up to afternoon lectures visibly drunk.

  10. I had a professor my first year in grad school who had a serious drinking problem. For the last 6 weeks of the semester, he didn't show up to about a third of the class meetings. When he did show up, he was as likely to spend the entire class period talking about Navajo silversmithing, his favorite hobby, as we was to talk about the subject of the class. It was truly a waste of time--everything I learned from that class I read for myself. I should have taken the hint when only three other students were enrolled in the class on the first day...