How The Pandemic Made Great Professors Better and Bad Professors Worse

When I first pitched this article, it was supposed to be a happy, heart-felt piece about how we need to cut our professors some slack because they’re trying their best to teach us during this tough time.

But then I got frustrated.

Between the time I pitched and wrote this article, bad experiences with online classes seemed to snowball, accumulating one after the other. I know we’re in an unprecedented time. I know we’re all out here bumbling in the dark, doing the best we can because we’ve never experienced a global pandemic before. But the way professors are handling the transition to online classes has drawn a distinct line between the great and the not-so-great.

 

The Not-So-Great

The Professor Who Acts Like Nothing is Happening

Despite the major historical event we are all living through, some professors are acting as if nothing had happened, plowing ahead with the same workload and strict deadlines as usual. A friend of mine in the Tippie School of Business has professors who have not revised the syllabus since the beginning of the semester. As a result, she was stuck trying to complete a project that required her to do things that aren't possible during the pandemic, like becoming an active member of a student org or competing in a since-canceled competition.

I also experienced problems with projects that weren’t adjusted for the pandemic. Many classes at the university require specific software that aren’t accessible anywhere other than a school computer lab. An obvious thing you’d have to revise based on the computer labs being inaccessible right now, right? Wrong. We were assigned a project in my computer science class that used software only accessible on a Windows computer. The professor had a Windows computer and hadn’t considered that the software may not work on Macs. Call me crazy, but if students are still expected to do the work, then professors should at least revise the requirements to include things that are doable given the current situation.  

 

The Professor Who Doesn’t Respect Your Time

I know that so much of the world is on pause during this pandemic. I know that millions of people – including college students – lost their jobs. Yet for some people, life got more hectic (and certainly more stressful) during the pandemic. Some people’s jobs (including mine) actually got busier. Some people picked up jobs as essential workers, putting themselves at risk on the front line to help the rest of us have access to the necessities. Yet some professors are operating (incorrectly) under the assumption that since we’re doing classes online, students must have all the time in the world.

It’s not that a professor has ever overtly said this out loud during class (at least not to me). It’s the subtle things, like the extra hours of busy work suddenly inserted into the syllabus. It’s the lectures being twice as long now that they’re pre-recorded, not live. It’s professors scheduling Zoom meetings and quizzes outside of normal class time, as if the fact that your class doesn’t meet in person anymore means they have the liberty to require your attention/presence whenever they want. I know for many adults (including professors) the stereotype of a college student is someone who is lazy, puts in minimal effort, and procrastinates to the ultimate degree, slipping things in just on time. But that’s not the reality for many students, especially not now.

 

The Great

The Professor Who Cares

The title says it all. These professors are genuinely empathetic, supportive, and understanding. They acknowledge this is a stressful time for everyone, students included. They understand it may be hard to focus on school right now given everything that’s going on. They adjusted due dates and project requirements to fit this new normal we’re all enduring. These are the professors who understand you have so much more going on in your life than school that they couldn’t possibly know about, and therefore are willing to cut you some slack.

Take my sociology professor, for example. Even though the class was online before the pandemic started, she revised the entire syllabus after the rest of the university moved online. Rather than trying to cram everything we had missed during the two-week spring break into the remainder of the semester, she moved deadlines and cut some of the lengthier projects, including a paper and the final. She chose to focus on the quality of what we were learning rather than the quantity. She’s easily getting a five-star review from me in course evals.

Mac laptop with a You Got This sign

The Professor Who Is Trying Their Best

What makes this professor great isn’t necessarily that they’re great – it’s that they’re trying.  I know it may be frustrating to watch them struggle to minimize a browser window or unmute themselves in a Zoom class. But many of these professors weren’t tech savvy before the pandemic and are now having to learn how to operate all of this technology in a time crunch. They aren’t inserting more work or plowing ahead like usual, pandemic be damned. They’re genuinely trying to do their best to continue teaching and giving us our tuition money’s worth, and they deserve our respect and patience as they learn to navigate this new teaching environment.  

 

I want to end this with an important disclaimer: I understand professors are human. I understand they may be distracted from work, just as many of us students distracted from school right now by the extreme stressor that is this pandemic. I understand being so consumed by worry that you can’t think straight, let alone focus on work. But if we students are expected to continue to do our schoolwork, then professors should be expected to continue to do their jobs and do them well enough to allow students to succeed, even in this crazy new virtual-learning environment we’ve all been thrown into.