During a college career it is probable to have some really great professors but, unfortunately, it is just as likely to end up having some horrible instructors too. Ideally, students want to register for classes with all fabulous professors, but sometimes they are stuck wondering just how to do this and if it's even possible.

College professor
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Sometimes getting a good college professor is the luck of the draw, but other times you can work to find one that is a good fit for your learning style.

The good ones are available, interactive, fair, proactive and enthused. The not-so-great ones tend to be aloof, vague, and unapproachable; these instructors also exhibit levels of disinterest. In other words, not unlike other professions, they are often simply there to collect a paycheck and have lost interest in engaging the interests of their students. There are some ways that can help tell a good professor from a bad one.

A Good Professor Will Generally . . .

1. Be Accessible

Good quality professors are accessible to their students and encourage contact when needed. Even with their busy schedules, good professors will generally make time to speak or meet with students to address any concerns, answer questions and offer help.They'll keep an open door policy for students to approach them with any concerns or questions that come up. Open door meaning email accessibility and/or posted office hours when students know they can reach out. If the professor's schedule is really full and does not permit help, he or she will offer direction where tutoring and extra assistance can be found.

Professor and student
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2. Show Some Passion

Have enthusiasm and be interactive during class. A good professor will consider it important to engage students' interest and want them to derive valuable learning from their lessons. They are also usually passionate about their subject.

3.  Encourage Interaction

Good professors are clear and encourage questions, for students to speak up and generally prefer active participation. These professors lecture in a clear and engaging way and create a forum of sharing among the class.

Student at blackboard
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Many students gain a lot more out of a course when it is interactive and engaging.

4. Are Always Fair

High-quality instructors may be firm, but they are fair. If a student is graded down for a specific reason, they'll make sure the student knows why and will offer tips on how to succeed in class.

A Bad Professor Will  Generally . . .

1. Keep at a Distance

Professors who remain aloof and detached usually are not often enthused or interested in teaching. In my experience, as both a student and in an administrative capacity at a college, these professors appear to perhaps have taught too long and/or are burnt out. Or maybe are strictly working in higher education for the money.

2. Lecture Without Being Engaging

Sure, most students have had the professors which stand at the front of the room and read from a textbook, but this doesn't mean they are "bad" per se. What makes them "bad" is when they read from the book until the end of class and then dismiss everyone without looking up or blinking an eye. Part of teaching is books, but the other part is engaging in discussion or answering questions to make sure students understand the material. 

3. Appear Disinterested

Does the instructor show a clear and open enthusiasm or does it sound as if he or she is reading off the ingredients of a bland cereal box?  If its the latter, it is often hard for students to be engaged in the topic and, as a result, have difficulty.

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College entails a lot of self-study, however, it can be difficult for some students if that's the primary source of information with little classroom interaction.

4. Be Unfair

Professors who lack high quality teaching skills may be lazy in grading and don't explain why grades are marked down or don't care. The worst professor I ever had didn't answer questions, he graded tests accordingly over the semester, but for the final grade everyone got was a "B". Obviously, the "A" students were upset, and there were a couple of "D and F" students who were grateful for the grade, but still left the class feeling they didn't earn the "B".

How to Tell a Good Professor from a Bad One?

The big question is how do you decide which professors are good and bad?

  • Talk to other students and get their input.
  • During registration, ask the person registering you if he or she has heard anything about the professor. You'd be surprised at how much college employees hear and what they know about the instructors. This is more difficult these days since most schools encourage online registration, but if there is a staff member you feel you can reach out to, it can't hurt to ask.
  • Talk to a trusted advisor or your academic counselor. Professors and counselors who work closely with students will usually have a good idea whether or not a specific professor matches your learning style and would be a good fit. Often they'll be happy to recommend specific courses or professors for you to be on the lookout for.
  • Check out websites that rate professors (which may or may not prove to be helpful, but can't hurt to look).

Students are elated when they have good professors and disappointed when stuck with one that isn't so great. But the most important thing to do is to give each class your best and make the most of it, even if it isn’t the ideal situation. Taking an active role in one's own learning makes a tremendous amount of difference, so even with a bad professor, a good experience can be gotten.

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College courses can be tough enough under the best of circumstances, but it makes a better experience if you can find professors that are enthusiastic about their subjects. Either way, you'll get out of any given course what you put in.

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