Warning: This post includes a brief mention of threats of violence.
College educators are valuable professionals whose work can, at times, be totally misunderstood by students. Now, it’s time to let professors clarify common misconceptions.
I recently asked college professors to share the things that students don’t recognize about their work. Here are some insightful responses we received.
“Being nice to faculty can get you far. It’s not that faculty play favorites, but when you are friendly and polite, you establish a reputation with not only that professor, but with the others; just like students share their thoughts on professors, we talk, too.
“If the assignment was a 15-page paper and it was due at 11:59 last night and there are 60 of you, then no, I won’t have your grades ready by the time your 8:45 class starts this morning.
“I do my best to make sure the material can be understood at a novice level, but I’ve been studying this stuff in depth for over a decade. So, my baseline is definitely skewed. If you have questions, don’t understand, or need the material simplified a bit more, please ask!
“It is an unrealistic expectation that if you email faculty past normal business hours or on the weekend, we will receive and respond to your email immediately. We are humans with lives outside our jobs, and we are not ‘on call’ 24/7. I, too, enjoy having a weekend, cooking dinner, and going to sleep at a reasonable hour. No one is purposefully ignoring you, but we also aren’t obligated to write back at midnight or on a Sunday morning.”
“I’m not that much older than you, I know when you come to class high, and I know what bars your fake ID worked at. I don’t care if you partake in either, as long as you are not disruptive in class and try your hardest.”
“Professors really want you to ask questions and engage during the lecture. It is really tough to talk for an hour, and part of your mind is wondering, ‘Are they understanding this?’ or ‘Should I focus on this a little longer?’ When you ask questions or ask us to slow down, it really helps us and helps your learning as well. Please don’t be scared to ask, because we are there in that moment to teach and help.
“If there is something happening in your life that will affect your course performance, please let me know as soon as you know. I have no problem working with students to change deadlines for assignments or tests but need some communication on their end in order to help. I can’t do much about it if you tell me a month later when you’ve already missed deadlines.”
“Adjuncts and lecturers are some of the most underpaid and under-appreciated people in the whole higher education system. They don’t get paid time off, health insurance, and often can’t afford either on adjunct wages. They often have to work at multiple schools to make a living, and it is really difficult to go from one of these positions to a full-time or tenure-track position.
“An online class doesn’t mean I can have infinite students.
“I have responsibilities for hundreds of students, some of whom have very urgent needs. I’m a university lecturer in nursing, and I absolutely did not ever expect to be dealing with as many serious safeguarding issues as I do. The level of entitlement in the past couple of years has made it absolutely horrific to be perfectly frank, and I cannot wait to escape higher education.”
“The misconception that your tuition dollars pay our salary; grant money (that we have to apply for and win) and the college endowment (of which tuition is a small fraction) pays our salary. Thus, going ‘over the head’ of your professor to the chair, dean, or provost to complain about your grade will usually not work in your favor (except in the rare case where a professor is violating university policies).
“There is a very good chance that you’ll want a letter of recommendation from a professor at some point. Talk to professors; get to know at least a couple. LORs from people who don’t know you are vague and not that useful.
“I do not work for you, the student; i.e., this is not a service industry. I am employed by the university and as teaching is but a small portion of my job responsibilities, this is not some ‘customer is always right’ scenario. You have paid for the opportunity to learn from me, an expert in this field. That’s it. I don’t owe you a specific grade or immediate responses to 3:00 a.m. emails, or to tell you that your incorrect information is right in order to spare your feelings.
“Read the freaking syllabus. Before you send me an email, read the syllabus. 95% of the time, the answer is in the syllabus.
“You would be amazed how much easier many of your classes would be if you just showed up and paid attention. The number of students who come and sit and play around on their computer — 1) I know what you’re doing; 2) why bother coming?! (I don’t take attendance.)
“If you would just show up and pay attention, that is, like, 80% of the battle in many classes. You’d be shocked at how much easier things would be, I promise.”
“I work at the same college where I got my degree. It’s a science university, so all the teachers have to do research, and all the scientists have to teach. As a student, my professors always complained about having to do research, how all they wanted to do was teach, and they hated being obliged to produce research. Now, I’m working on a research project, and the scientists absolutely hate teaching. They are so stressed, and it takes them away from their work.”
“Book publishers have a lot of resources out there, and I know some professors will just take their slides and use it. I do not, and it is very clear that I’m developing my own materials (notes, homework, exams, check-ins, etc.). I’ve spent far longer than I probably should have trying to find a real world dataset that has the properties I want it to have. My notes routinely take several hours of work.
“I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve had students who just disappear from class or stop turning in work. I hate failing students, but if they just disappear on me, I have no other choice. Please tell me what’s going on; I’ll work with you.”
“A lot of us are struggling to deal with our elderly parents and our own children while teaching you. If we’re frazzled, late, or out of sorts, it may be because we’ve just gotten off a phone call with a parent with dementia. You may not know we’re going through a divorce or a cancer scare. Grad student TAs and young faculty may be dealing with fertility problems or pregnancy-related discrimination. Foreign profs may be worried about the political situation in their home country. It’s hard to teach when your country is being invaded. Professors and TAs have all sorts of stuff going on in our lives, just like students do.”
“Read your syllabus. Professors work really hard on those, and they list all the important dates, assignments, policies, etc. It’ll also tell you the best way to get ahold of your professor if you need to — some only use email, some only use Canvas/Blackboard, etc. So many miscommunications can be solved by reading the syllabus.”
“1) For most professors in permanent positions, teaching is only a portion of their job and is not typically a large part of their job evaluation and promotions. They have many other responsibilities and deadlines for grants, articles, project management, and supervising grad students. Take a look at one of your professor’s CVs sometime.
“I’m new to teaching college students this semester, and my class is all freshmen. There’s this idea that high school teachers push that professors are super tough and demanding and strict…and while that may be true to an extent, we’re also really approachable and willing to help when students need support.
“My parents were college professors all through my growing up. We had to leave town for the weekend on more than one occasion because one of them had received a credible death threat from a disgruntled student. This is my roundabout way of reminding all students that professors have families and lives outside of their jobs.”
“Professors are insanely busy; teaching is just a very small part of what they do, and their schedule is in general not very flexible. I’ve seen all these posts calling out professors for not being flexible with deadlines and other things in response to personal needs, but here’s the thing: They often cannot be, not as much as they’d have liked.
Note: Some answers have been lightly edited for length and/or clarity.
What other misconceptions about working as a professor have you noticed that students tend to believe? Let us know in the comments below!