How To Deal With A Mean Professor

Happy second semester! By this time, you have probably become accustomed to your new schedule and gotten the hang of your classes and have no recollection of the first semester. You also might realize that you have a mean, intimidating professor in one (or more) of your classes. Don’t worry though, we have all either had one or will have one and you have come to the right place to figure out how to deal with a scary professor and still have that amazing, productive semester you imagined over winter break!

We’ve heard, and even experienced for ourselves, that an instructor really changes how you appreciate and learn a subject and affects your attitude about the coursework. I have a bunch of friends who, for example, were great at learning French but got to the point of absolutely despising not only the class but the language itself because of the teacher. Regardless, we are (hopefully) in our college classes to learn and actively comprehend the material to #ace the exams and class. To do that, we will, at one point or another, have to ask questions from the professors. However, professors can be snobby, rude or dismissive to the point that you are too intimidated or humiliated to asking questions. Every time you raise your hand, they might sigh and proceed to not call on you or respond to your questions and comments with sarcastic, essentially useless information that makes you feel like you are missing something obvious. You might in the future then, be itching to ask a question as you know that it will help you on an assignment but really do not want to hear a belittling response, in front of 50 other students. Mean is mean and you wish you could ask your questions in peace. So you email your questions to your professor after class… and they respond sarcastically and again, you feel like you stupidly missed where the question was clarified and are too embarrassed to email for further clarification, both in fear of more sarcasm and feeling dumb again. At this point, you’d rather get bad grades than have to humiliate yourself and feel genuinely hurt.

Maybe your professor is nice to you but is straight mean to other students. Playing favorites is a huge red flag on the professor’s part. Even though they might be kind, polite, and helpful to you, you cannot stand to see them belittle a classmate, friend or stranger and you’re disgusted by their actions and are constantly worried that they might turn on you; you’ve seen how mean they can be and if it were directed at you, you don’t know what you’d do. Essentially, you dread going to class, and now you dislike the subject by association and because of that, it is hard to put effort into it to get good grades. Here’s how to help yourself not to be intimidated by a professor and continue to keep your goals in mind and achieve them.

1. Remember that you are paying (a lot) to take this class and have every right to ask questions

The first step is to know you are entitled to ask as many questions as you’d like as a student: there’s literally no law against it and there are laws protecting your speech and right to education. Even if you do not look at it from a legal standpoint, you are there to learn and your professor’s literal job is to teach. If they’re giving cryptic, sarcastic answers in a belittling way, through any platform, feel free to keep on pushing and saying you need clarification. Remind them that you’re trying to learn and do well and they are not helping… but politely. Even though you might reaaaalllly want to and they definitely deserve to be spoken to aggressively and be exposed, you should always keep civil and word things as to not blame them. For example, try avoiding saying that they are not being clear. Chances are, if they’re a prick on purpose, their ego will be crushed if you place the (probably obvious) blame on them, and they’ll get more angry and resentful. You don’t need that unnecessary negativity. But also don’t place the blame on yourself and belittle yourself. Try not to make it seem that it’s you who needs clarification, they might take that feeling of subservience and lack of knowledge against you, directly and indirectly, in the future. If you lower yourself, they’ll accept it and probably do it as well. Instead, use the class. For example, you could say, “I think it would be beneficial for the class to have this clarification,” or you could take any person or persons out of your sentence and simply say, “to do well on this exam/assignment/project/reading, it would be beneficial for clarification.” As I say this, however, I am not implying that you should be the bigger person because you are a woman and not being aggressive is assumed of you. Nor am I suggesting to take the civil route because you owe it to anyone. You still have the right, as a woman, to be aggressive and up-front. The only reason I advise to avoid blaming the professor is that there is an obvious problem with this professor that they choose to be so mean, and you don’t need to deal with their already blown out of proportion ego imploding on itself. Remember that you can still be assertive without blaming anyone. Though, if you think, that it would be more effective to call them out, go ahead! More power to you, girl!

2. Confront your professor

If your professor just does not call on you and ignores your raised hand or if the above statements did not work, talk to them after class in person (if you’re brave enough). They can’t reject you when there's no excuse of “using up class time.” It is also harder to blatantly ignore someone and be mean to their faces, looking into their eyes. If you can, try to even have a few people as an audience. If you're backed up and have witnesses, your professor has to be civil and answer your questions. If you do not like in-person confrontation, that’s fine, try emailing them. In that email, you could even point out that due to class time, there was not enough time to answer the above questions, thus justifying a detailed and inquisitive email, and subtly suggesting a detailed one in response. In reality, however, your questions might not have been answered because your professor refused to call on you. This is following the same strategy above, where no blame is placed. Also coming across as neutral to the obvious rudeness the professor is throwing your way, in a sense, reduces their power over you. If you don’t acknowledge their rudeness or act affected by it, they might stop. In that email (or in person) try scheduling office hours. The purpose of office hours is literally to answer questions and discuss the curriculum. Also, it’s harder to avoid direct answers for a half hour and you’re bound to receive clear answers to your questions so make sure to take notes!

3. Ask an advisor or a previous student

If your professor is denying you office hours (for some reason) and still being difficult or you feel more comfortable with the help of an adult adult, feel free to contact your advisor and ask for help in the situation. They can give you advice on how to word your questions to get a response or how to navigate professors like this further. You can even reach out to students who have had this professor, to meet up or virtually chat with them. If you do, tell them the exact situation and listen to responses about how to maybe deal with this professor, from someone who has had them for a whole semester in the past. Make sure to talk to a real person in real time and not depend on something like Rate My Professor because platforms like that will not be specific to your problem. There are several Facebook groups where you can reach out to Mason students in all grade levels. After that, you can privately message the person or meet up on campus.

4. Tell someone in a higher position

This is a worst-case scenario and I really hope it does not come to this, but if your professor is denying your rights to ask questions or you suspect there are racist and discriminatory aspects at play, tell your advisor as soon as possible and let them know that you wish to tell administrator in the field or school the professor works in. Side note, do not think that your assumptions of discrimination might not be serious. Remember, your advisor’s job is to hear your concerns as well, so do not shy away from them, especially if you think something serious, like prejudice, is going on. Your advisor can refer you to deans or whoever has power over the professor, who you can ask to look into that professor and even discipline them. Remember, you can always email your advisor and not have to wait for an in-person appointment.

It is never your fault if your professor is rude to you. You are still foremost a student and if you have not done anything disrespectful to the professor, then the fault is with the professor. Do not fear calling them out for obvious rudeness or letting someone a higher position know. If anything, it'll show your professor that you are not subservient. In fact, if you stand up to them and show that you will not deal with their, excuse my French, bullshit, they might respect you and stop their obnoxious act.

Remember, tuition is expensive, even if that’s your driving force. You are paying for this degree to do something great with it, so don’t let one person stand in the way of your future, collegiettes.