Ten signs you have a lousy class - Macleans.ca

Ten signs you have a lousy class

A good class isn’t just about who teaches it.


Recently our friends over at US News and World Report posted a list of the Ten Warning Signs of A Bad Professor. So in the spirit of turnabout and fair play and all that, I offer the following modest addendum.

Ten Warning Signs of a Bad Class

1. They don’t read. Now, I must confess that when I was an undergraduate, I did not read every single thing that was assigned. But I read most of it, and I always made sure I read enough to know what I was talking about on the exam and to make an informed comment once in a while in class. But first-year students, especially, really seem to hate reading. Once, on the first day of class, a first-year student of mine looked at the syllabus and noticed that they would have to read a novel for the third week of the semester. “But,” she cried aghast, “I can’t read a whole book!”

2. They don’t ask questions. I don’t think I’m a particularly scary fellow: I don’t yell at students; I make jokes now and again. But for some reasons, many students hate to ask questions. Whenever I talk about citation style, for instance, I always stop to see if there are questions — because it can be tricky (plus, it gets me out of the bad books of US News and World Report). No one asks questions. But they must have questions because when it comes time to use the citation styles in their papers, they don’t do it. If they didn’t get it when I explained it (and put it on the web), why didn’t they ask?

3. They try to hide the fact that they are texting in class behind a big book or clip board. My university does not permit the use of electronic devices in class unless specifically okayed by the instructor. Still, students try to get away with it. On the other hand, maybe I’m being too tough about this. Maybe the texts are things like, “OMG this prf is soooooo ahsum. Shake –> is cul. Malvolio and Olivia? Epic fail!”  Yeah. That must be it.

4. They don’t hand anything in. I’ve often wondered why students enroll in a course and then hand in no assignments at all. Or do only the first one and ignore the others. Maybe they get overwhelmed by all the work of university and sort of shut down. I can see that. But then, why not drop the course?

5. They are studying for another class in your class. Admittedly, there is something admirable about a student who is working so hard she doesn’t have time to study one thing at a time. But how can she be getting anything out of my class when she is studying her psychology notes? And how the hell does she have psych notes anyway? Isn’t she reading for English during that class?

6. They don’t take notes. Then of course, there are students who don’t take notes at all. Why not? Maybe the thought that they could ever forget anything I said just doesn’t occur to them. Yeah. That’s probably it.

7. They don’t bring their books to class. It’s English. You need to have the book in front of you. Is it too heavy? No. You’re eighteen. The whole Oxford English Dictionary is not too heavy. Look beside you. See the sixty-five year old retiree sitting next to you? He has his book.

8. At review time, they show no signs of having been in the class at all. The strangest experience I ever had in class was during a review period. I gave them a quotation from Donne’s “Valediction Forbidding Mourning” and asked the class to identify it. No one could. Well, okay, fair enough. Donne is tricky. But then I told them it was by Donne (we only did one poem by Donne). Blank looks all around. So I told them the name of the poem and they looked at me like I had two heads. “We did this poem,” I said. “Most of you were here. I remember. It was, like, five weeks ago.” Nothing. Didn’t even ring a big metaphysical bell.

9. They ask if you’re a hard marker. I can understand why students ask this question, but I never know how to answer it. Once, I half-jokingly replied that I was the second-hardest marker in the university. Then about half the class dropped the course. At least they didn’t stay in and not turn in any assignments. Maybe the book was too heavy.

10. They ask, “What do I have to do to pass this course? By the time a student is at the point where they have to ask this question, it’s probably too late. It’s also the question where I really have to bite my tongue.

Student says: What do I have to do to pass this course?

What I say is: Well, at this stage it’s going to be tough. Let’s look at the spreadsheet.

What I would like to say is: Have you by any chance invented a time machine?

Now before the two or three of you who read this get all upset by what a heartless instructor I am, please let me be clear: I’m not saying all students are like this. Or even most. And certainly, one bad student does not spoil the whole class. But there is a critical balance in any class and once you reach that point at which the no-book-no-assignment-no-memory students outweigh the others, the whole room gets dragged down.

So the next time you are in a bad class, consider this: what are you doing to make it better?

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Ten signs you have a lousy class

  1. This is quite good. Most of it I agree with. Especially the texting. That irritates me. Especially when someone is texting while giving a presentation to the class. Unless someone is dead or dying….nothing can be that important that you can’t wait until you’ve finished presenting to text. However, number 5 has a slight hole in it. As an undergrad I HATED organic chemistry. Loathed it. But I used to do my o-chem assignments during my humanities class (the few I went to). It was incredibly rude and I’m sure the professor wanted to throw me out the door. However, I did it because I was incredibly bored. The class began in the same way each time….with the professor spending 40 minutes figuring out how the overhead projector worked. The class was only an hour and a half and for the remainder of the time we talked about nothing that could even broadly be described as covering the course objectives. I honestly felt my time was better spent attempting to grasp o-chem theory then the mechanics of an overhead projector. Point being….studying for psychology in English class is not always indicative of a poor student. Sometimes it’s an indicator they aren’t engaged for some reason (other then motivation).It might be worth inquiring into…..rather then settling for a poor class. Had this professor actually asked why I thought o-chem was more important than what he had to say I probably would have suggested he get the overhead projector set up PRIOR to class. Food for thought.

  2. @Jessi – I agree that you can have some wretchedly awful professors. However, if you’re going to do the work for another class, why not just skip and do the work in the library? Why show up for a class that you’re not going to pay attention in? Doing work for another class is disrespectful to the professor AND the other students in the same way that texting is.

  3. art of thought….I agree it is disrespectful. If you’ll notice, I didn’t deny that in the entry. In fact I made a point of saying it was disrespectful. I did however, skip most of the classes and do just what you suggested. But in an effort to have some idea of what was discussed (and subsequently might show up on my final, I did attend some classes). Secondly, respect works both ways. If you’re going to teach a class then teach the course objectives and come prepared. Had that professor not spent 40 minutes of time I PAID for figuring out how to use an overhead projector or other technology he planned to use during each class, I would have been considerably more willing to respectfully listen. Furthermore, since the course objectives actually interested me, I once again would have listened. Unfortunately, they did not. As for being disrespectful to other students…..well I doubt most were interested in learning the mechanics of overhead projectors and street grids…but if they were…they have my sincere apologies.

  4. One novel the whole term? Why take english if you don’t expect to be reading?

    Last semester we were assigned one novel a week, one of which was “Pamela.” Good times. But guess what? My brain didn’t leak out my ears, and I actually learned something about 18th Century British literature that term.

  5. Robertson Davies. They missed out if they didn’t read that.

  6. “They don’t take notes.”

    To be fair, some students do find it difficult to write and focus on what the instructor is saying at the same time.

  7. “To be fair, some students do find it difficult to write and focus on what the instructor is saying at the same time.”

    My history prof from last semester was pretty good about giving brief pauses in his lectures so we could finish jotting down some dense ideas, but still every so often I’d find myself missing bits of lecture while writing a note.

    The best solution I could think of was point form. Fill in the details afterwards and keep most of the focus on the lecture.

  8. Professor Pettigrew, you are right on the money. And you have a sense of humour. And you teach Donne. Where do I sign up for your course?
    Oh, and finally, are you married?

  9. PS And Jessi, you make my Middle School and High School students look like geniuses.

  10. Carol Halligan- I do believe the point of an intellectual conversation AND a university education is to train you to consider other individuals points of view. In fact it is (and has) been argued that the mark of a truly intelligent person lies in their ability to be open to many points of view, consider them, and respectfully disagree. Adolescent put-down’s are generally reserved for the playground and frowned upon in academia.

  11. Carol: first, thanks for the kind comments. Second, straight women and gay men who read The Hour Hand will be saddened to know that I am engaged to marry a lovely, brilliant, and otherwise splendid young woman this fall. Finally, Jessi is a frequent contributor to this blog and I have always found her comments thoughtful and interesting. So calm down and remember that The Hour Hand is not like the rest of the Internet. We have standards, here.

  12. Hear, hear! (and thanks for the lovely adjectives)