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The 4 Worst Professors You’ll Have in College (& How to Handle Them)

Having a terrible professor in college seems almost like a rite of passage. In many cases, you can see bad professors coming a mile away, whether it’s from their 12-page syllabi or their pompous attitudes during the first week of class. While many students might choose to drop the class the minute they sense their professor will be a dud, some of us aren’t so lucky — sometimes we wait past the drop/add period, and other times the professor is teaching a required course and we just can’t avoid them.

For those who find themselves in this unfortunate situation, here are the four different kinds of terrible professors you can have, and how to deal with them.

First thing’s first: Is your professor a bad teacher, or just hard?

It’s pretty easy to hate the professor who teaches our least favorite class or is critical of our essays, but does that mean that they’re really terrible at teaching? Before you start hating a professor, determine if you’re having a tough time with the material, or if they’re truly terrible at teaching. 

Good professors who teach tough material tend to make themselves openly available during office hours, hold question-and-answer sessions when reviewing homework, and give thorough explanations when you get an answer wrong.

However, your professor might really be a dud. See if he or she falls into any of these categories:

1. The Bad Explainer

If you’re sitting in a class you think you should understand but find your head spinning, you might be falling victim to The Bad Explainer. Bad explainers usually use roundabout methods of explaining the solution to a problem, have disorganized lectures, and don’t highlight key terms.

“I once had a stats professor who would go off on horrible tangents in class, and it was impossible to follow her reasoning,” says Iris, a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Nobody ever understood anything she was saying.”

Professors who stink at explaining things might also be too smart for their own good. They think that if they understand the material, their students are bound to understand it as well. Bad explainers are usually oblivious to the teaching sins they commit, which is exactly why they’re so tough to deal with. So how do we get a grip on the material?

How to handle this professor

Office hours, office hours, office hours!

When you meet for the professor’s office hours, make sure you have specific questions, so your professor knows exactly what you need to know.

Does your professor regularly ditch scheduled office hours? Be proactive. Email them or respectfully approach them at the end of class to schedule a time when you both can discuss the issues you’re having in the class. This way you can hold the professor accountable for making themselves available.

If your head is still spinning even after meeting with your professor, try visiting a tutor. It’s always helpful to hear someone else explain the material and try to make it click in a different way.

Many colleges have students who work on campus as tutors: Students who have already taken certain classes tutor others in them. Try to get a tutor who has had the same professor as you so you can ask them for tips on how to survive the class. If the tutor was successful in the class you’re struggling with, they are the perfect resource to help you make it through the class with your GPA still intact.

2. The Busywork Assigner

The Busywork Assigner is exactly what they sound like: A professor who gives a lot of repetitive and/or stupid work rather than a few very meaningful projects. Do you find yourself doing a different version of the same assignment every week? Do you continue to do work and receive no feedback? Does the work you do seem below the difficulty level of the class? If so, you might be a victim of The Busywork Assigner.

“Last semester, I had a bio professor who gave the dumbest assignments and canceled class all the time,” says Rachel*, a sophomore at the University of Connecticut. “People would laugh at me for complaining about that, but honestly, it was such a waste of my money, and I really needed to learn about the subject for future bio classes.”

How to handle this professor

Busywork professors are tough because they require you to have a certain amount of the “grin and bear it” mentality. While it gets tremendously frustrating to feel like you’re completing all sorts of assignments and not learning anything, remember: As dumb as the assignments seem, they still count toward your grade. Don’t sabotage yourself by neglecting them or giving anything less than 100 percent!

If you’re nervous that you’ll be a beat behind after having this dud professor, reach out to other professors in the department to hear about what they think is important for you to know.

“I visited all the time with other bio professors I knew,” Rachel says. “I asked them what I will need to know and remember for future classes, and asked them how I could master them.”

Especially if this class is a prerequisite for other classes, it’s important to make sure you’re up to speed by checking in with other professors in the department, or with campus tutors.

3. The Unfair Grader

After spending hours writing that paper and handing it in with all the confidence in the world, you must’ve gotten a great grade, right? Not with The Unfair Grader.

Unfair graders are usually found in classes where a lot of essays and subjective work are assigned (it’s hard to grade problems with a black-and-white answer unfairly, right?). They can dock your grade down because they didn’t like your writing style, your way of explaining a certain concept or even the sources you used throughout the paper.

Although unfair graders are most common in more subjective classes, they still exist in math and science classes!

“I had a super bad grader in one of my math classes, actually,” says Chelsea, a sophomore at Salem State University. “It wasn’t so much that he wasn’t fair in determining if my answer was right or wrong, but he consistently added up my score wrong to give me a worse grade than I earned.”

Beware of these! Careless and unfair professors should be the last reason why you get a bad grade.

How to handle this professor

Be proactive with the unfair grader and (respectfully) stand up for yourself. Take a look at the professor’s comments on a paper you got a less-than-stellar grade on and see if they make any sense. You might have been graded unfairly if the professor doesn’t provide an explanation for your grade, leaves contradictory comments throughout the essay or exam or shows that he simply disagrees with your opinion rather than thinks you wrote a bad paper.

If you still think you deserved a better grade, respectfully approach the professor with your problems. This doesn’t mean you have to be a grade grub, but if you genuinely think you wrote an A paper and you got a C-, you need to do something about it. Point out the highlights of your paper and ask the professor to clarify why exactly you got the grade you did.

If you’re nervous about approaching a professor about a grade, try doing it gently at first. Simply telling a professor that you’d like to discuss the paper you just got back or saying, “Hi, professor; I had a quick question about this comment you made on my essay,” are easy, non-threatening ways to get into a discussion about your grade. If you enter the conversation in a relaxed and friendly manner, the professor is way more likely to listen to what you say. From there you can subtly begin to make your case for a higher grade by telling the professor that you think you did a great job of presenting a certain argument or explaining your thought process in organizing your essay.

If the professor doesn’t budge on the grade, ask him for a definitive list of things to improve on that will help you in getting a better grade next time. Holding the professor accountable for your improvement will make him look more critically and fairly at your next assignments.

If you have a professor who is really inefficient at grading (adds up the points wrong, marks correct answers as incorrect), you have to take the responsibility to stay on your toes.

“After the first time I caught a mistake, I added up my score on every single exam I took,” Maggie says. “I caught at least two other mistakes throughout the rest of the semester.”

Keep your own grade book in a spreadsheet so you can keep track of how you are doing in the class; you don’t want your professor to make a mistake in calculating your final grade, either, and this is a step you can take to prevent that from happening. Keep your syllabus to reference back to different grade values. Make sure your professor is weighing different assignments properly; you want to make sure that midterm you knocked out of the park is counting for that full 30 percent of your grade!

Hang onto all of your graded assignments, too. If you do end up having to contest a grade by taking it to a department head or an academic dean, you want to make sure you have all of your assignments in order to prove that you deserve the grade that you’re arguing for. Don’t let a professor get away with mistakes because you didn’t keep all of your materials!

4. The Rude Professor

A Rude Professor is the one who might be teaching you all the right material and in the right way, but when it comes to being a good person, they fall short. They tend to be disinterested in the subject or say inappropriate things to the class.

“I had a horrible professor one year who never seemed to want to be teaching us,” says Ashley, a junior at Wake Forest University. “She always seemed distracted and would interrupt class to make personal calls or answer personal emails, which was frustrating because as students, we aren’t allowed to do that.”

Other professors make it seem like it’s their job to make you feel bad for not knowing everything in their discipline. “I once had this history professor who was so smart it was unreal,” says Kelly, a junior at Fitchburg State University. “He’d always make a face when you were answering a question wrong or [would] almost seem mad at you if you said something that wasn’t right.”

Rude professors are hard to deal with but sometimes harder to avoid, so what’s a girl to do?

How to handle this professor

If a professor ever says anything crossing a certain line (such as making a personal attack or a politically incorrect comment), report them to the school’s administration immediately. Taking issues like this to a department’s chairperson or dean is the best way to make sure these kinds of negative situations never happen again. Although you’re a student, you’re still a person who deserves respect.

If a professor’s rudeness is more like a thorn in your side, turn the other cheek. This “turn the other cheek” method isn’t the most immediately gratifying, we know — when your professor rolls her eyes at one of your comments during a discussion, all you want to do is talk back to her. However, when you encounter a rude professor, you shouldn’t go out of your way to be equally as rude in return. Even if a professor’s tendency to answer personal calls during class irritates you, remember that she does have authority over you and controls your grade.

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When all else fails, fill out teacher evaluations.

The best method of dealing with a bad prof is filling out completely honest teacher evaluations. The best part? This method works for any kind of bad professor.

“When I had that terrible history professor, I was absolutely brutal in their teacher evaluation,” Kelly says. “Even though I know this professor was tenured, I hope that my evaluation caused the department head to speak to her about what students thought.”

Just like turning the other cheek, simply filling out a teacher evaluation isn’t the most immediately gratifying thing to do to a crappy professor. Despite this, it’s probably the most effective thing you can do to make sure the professor changes in the future. Whether the professor reads the evaluations themselves or a review board does to determine a faculty member’s tenure, these evaluations are going somewhere, and if enough students speak their minds, eventually a positive change will happen.

It’s almost as if everyone has to deal with a bad professor to make their college careers complete, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make things easier for yourself.

*Name has been changed.

Sara (no 'h') Heath is a senior history major at the itty bitty Assumption College located in Worcester, Massachusetts. A New England native/supremacist, Sara enjoys fall foliage, mountains, cold ocean water, cheering for a myriad of elite professional sports teams (go Pats!), and Dunkin' Donuts. In her spare time, you can find her reading/writing poetry, discussing WWII, watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, debating the use of the Oxford Comma, or watching and subsequently quoting Friends. Sara started writing for Her Campus in the summer of 2014 and works as the assistant editor-in-chief to Assumption's student-run newspaper Le Provocateur. If you like what she has to say, follow her on Twitter @stuffsarasays32 and check out her blog mynameisnotsarah.wordpress.com