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Mediocre professors or mediocre students?

  1. Mar 12, 2010 #1
    It seems to me many professors or teachers that are labeled as "bad" or "mediocre" may have been labeled as such because their students were the ones who were actually the mediocre ones.

    I came to this conclusion after an interesting incident in my Intro to Chemistry class, where the professor was asked to explain a volume exercise he had already explained and that the book explained as well. He denied the request and a heated argument between the professor and a small group of students ensued.

    Long story short, the professor did not re-explain the exercise and about 4 to 5 students stormed off to report him to the department chair. The exercise in question gave the students the length, height, and width of an object and asked for the volume. Easy exercise yet these people couldn't bother to help themselves.

    Incidentally, I was "advised" to avoid this particular professor because he is "bad." The man knows his stuff but I actually dislike his teaching method but only because he makes tests too easy for us.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2010 #2
    It's natural to expect
    2+2 = 5


    to produce
    and have it recognized it as


    I think that kind of problem is everywhere (beyond students/professors). Personally, I believe only intelligent/humble people would have the answer right (4).

    For your case:
    Intelligent professors know how to avoid these unnecessary issues.
  4. Mar 12, 2010 #3


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    Hmm.. I could go on a rant about how dumb most college students are, but what the hey we've all been there. Intro classes are filled with Homo retardius, they either evolve or dropout. I don't know how you professors out there put up with this crap. It must be hard work, but then again being a high school teacher must be tenfold harder.

    And for that matter, whatever happened to Moore's teaching method..
  5. Mar 13, 2010 #4
    Most people don't have the analytical ability to handle a college level physics or chemistry course. College is best left to those with triple digit IQ's.
  6. Mar 13, 2010 #5
    Is not exactly a college-level chemistry class but the introduction to the college-level chemistry class, I think. One is required to take this Intro class if one fails a chemistry placement test or one is irresponsible and forgets to take the placement test. (:redface:)

    The class is a remedial class, if you will. Even then, one of the prerequisites to take it is to be familiar with intermediary algebra. What bothers me is that it seems about 60% of the class is carrying the remaining 40% and even worse, a very small number of students are or were able to "hijack" the class by asking questions that they should have known weeks ago.

    The worst part might be that it looks like this class is taken by people who wish to become nurses and pharmacologists. This past Monday, I heard a fellow student make a comment about how the Nursing dept. will now begin dropping students out of the nursing program if they get a C or lower in any of their classes. The student found this idea "moronic" and I didn't bother to comment why they would want their nursing students to be well prepared.
  7. Mar 13, 2010 #6


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    You could almost say it's a combination of both, except you're talking about an Intro class. In your intro classes, and even the first few 'real' classes, it really doesn't pay to cater to the weaknesses of the students. If they're chasing a major that they just don't have the ability to complete, it's better to find out sooner than later - before they've invested thousands of dollars into a program.

    I loved my General Chemisry class. It had a lot of nursing students that had no business pursuing a nursing degree. When a third of the class is literally crying when they get their test results back, it gives you more of a feeling of accomplishment to have done well on it.

    Our first real circuits class was fun, too. We started with 24 students and, one day towards the end of the class, I looked back and realized all the students in the back of the class had disappeared. It made me nervous because I was worried that maybe a sniper was picking students off one by one starting from the back. There were only 7 students left by the end of the class and 6 of us passed. It was the third time taking the class for one of the students that passed, so he immediately changed majors after finally barely passing the class.

    Once you've weeded out the folks that don't belong, the professor should show a little more patience towards the students, but, then, they're probably not coming to him with as many dumb problems, either.
  8. Mar 13, 2010 #7


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    When I used to teach intro physics, at the end of the semester, the students get to evaluate you. They not only rate you on various questions on a scale of 1 to 5, but also can write comments at the end.

    In the same class, with the same group of students, and not doing any significant difference to all of them, I get both glowing, amazing reviews, all the way down to a student claiming that I'm a moron. :)

    If you apply the same "science" method to such a case, it implies that you can't accept as valid one result over another.

  9. Mar 13, 2010 #8


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    Quality of professors hasn't changed that much over the years. Quality of students has declined a bit, at least in introductory classes. But, what has really changed is how frequently students will run off complaining (usually in a group, because they feel safer in numbers) to a department chair or dean when a professor isn't willing to spoon feed them.

    As for student evaluations of professors, the vast majority of those have followed the grade distribution for as long as I've been teaching. The only times those vary substantially from the grade distribution is when students perceive (whether true or not) that a particular faculty member was less or more responsible for the grading in the course.

    On the other hand, it also sounds like that particular professor needs some guidance on classroom management. Somehow the tables got turned and the students were calling the shots instead of him, and he lost control of the class. If it had already been fully covered and it was only a small group of students who did not understand it and wanted it explained again, I'm not sure why he didn't end discussion simply by telling them they should ask after class or in office hours since he had other material to cover in class that day. That would have been the appropriate time and place for them to get the extra assistance if they did not understand it already.

    What really hasn't changed are the mediocre and poor students blaming the professor for their lack of success rather than realizing that maybe they just aren't really as smart as their mom tells them they are. That happened when I was a student too. A lot of students didn't do well in classes simply because they didn't pay attention to instructions or were lazy, and they will always blame everyone but themselves.

    The toughest part of learning to teach is you're suddenly confronted with dealing with all the mediocre and poor students. People who become professors were generally good students, and the good students are often blissfully unaware of just how clueless their poorer performing classmates are. I mean, you know that there are students who get Cs and lower, but you don't really see what their exam papers look like to realize just what that really means in terms of their lack of abilities in that subject. It can be quite a shock to start teaching and realize that there are students in the class who cannot follow the simplest of instructions, let alone think independently.

    One thing that I really have NOT seen in a very long time, though, is the student who is really above and beyond the rest of the class. I miss having those students, the ones who challenge the professors to think. It used to be fun to put a really difficult extra credit question on an exam, just to see if that one super-smart student could get it right (and even more fun when some other student got it right too).
  10. Mar 13, 2010 #9
    Personally I would put the blame on the professors because they are in the position to fix it. You can't expect the students to fix the problems even if that would be the best case. I personally think the main thing is schools at least from what I know of don't try to engage students to think for them selfs. Of course this is what everyone must actually want because I can tell you anyone I have ever seen who says something in public that goes against the norm gets outcasted right away. In any society there should be a good deal of ability to say what you want without fear of being pitchforked. People generally are way too up tight. I went to a taco bell once just to mess around with people and asked for free water 3 times in a row just kinda playing around and to my suprise they called the cops on me. Like I was some type of terrorist or something gona shoot up the place. Anyhow my point is... You can't do anything in public that is not the norm without at the least getting funny looks. So the point is don't expect a lot of creativity from that type of enviroment.
  11. Mar 13, 2010 #10


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    How are the professors in a position to solve the problem of students who are mediocre or lazy? Most professors have no say in undergraduate admissions, and no say about what students enroll in their courses, other than to set pre-requisites (but that won't apply to freshman level courses usually).
  12. Mar 13, 2010 #11
    So you think the students should do the professors jobs for them?
  13. Mar 13, 2010 #12


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    You can't force students to study, you can't force a student to come to your office hours or get tutoring, the instructors can only do so much. It's also quite hard to force students to engage in the education when they don't care. You cant walk up and slap them and yell "SHOW INTEREST". You can turn the subject into as much fun and games as possible to try to engage people, but then they don't learn anything, even if they do become engaged.
  14. Mar 13, 2010 #13
    You can try to force students to study and that's basically what youv been doing. That's basically what school is about. It works if what you want is a society of people who don't question anything because they are afraid they will be punished. It's not so great for a society of actually smart people who can solve problems on their own. You kinda get what you pay for and if what you pay for is second rate education that's what you get. I had classes in highschool with almost 40 students and a teacher that barelly knew the material as well as I did. I was luckly cause I was one of the types of people that studied stuff outside of school and was never happy with just being able to reproduce the answer but actually wanted to understand how it worked. Basically all im saying is if anyone should be an advocate for better schools it should be the teachers them selfs. However most from my experience don't really care and are just looking for a paycheck.
  15. Mar 14, 2010 #14


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    Once, I tried to get the students to do that. I gave them a rather far-out assignment to figure out what happened to helium balloons in an accelerated vehicle. The good ones did quite well. The bad ones complained because (i) "it is not in the textbook" and (ii) "we don't know what equation to use".

    You need to understand that by the time you get to college, the responsibility to learn falls squarely on you, not on the professor. There is no longer any spoon-feeding the way it is done in highschool or lower. The good students love to be challenged. I get summer undergraduate students who are more than eager to work on their own. I've also had to teach students who simply want to be given every single thing. Don't believe me? Wait an hour and go to the HW/Coursework forum on here.

    Are there horrible professors? Of course there are! We all had to suffer through those. But even the good ones will get complaints from students for one reason or another. And I agree with Moonbear. From what I've seen, the students lately have more of an attitude of an "entitlement" and are quick to fire off a complaint when they don't get what they want. This is especially true when everything else is available fast and easy at your fingertips. No professors, no matter how patient, can completely solve that!

  16. Mar 14, 2010 #15
    My point was not that professors should completely solve the problem but simply that to blame the students for it is wrong mostly because they are not in the best position to change it.

    I totally understand the part about students having a attitude and I also expect it to only get worse in the near future. It's really an attitude I see in society as a whole and I don't think it's very good for the communitys future.

    You said "the responsibility to learn falls squarely on you." and however true that might be its also true the responsibility to teach falls squarely on the professors. Believe me I know what its like to sit in a class with a teacher/professor that does not care. It's about one half of the reason I droped out of college the other half being the students that did not care lol. I think if change is going to happen its going to have to come from the professors/teachers/parents first.

    Saying the students are at fault seems to me like expecting your kids to raise you.
  17. Mar 14, 2010 #16


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    Let's get this clear here. I'm not blaming ALL students and ALL professors. That would be horribly over-generalizing.

    I made the point of noting that even within the SAME class being taught by the SAME professor, you can get an evaluation that is completely day and night! It certainly happened to me!

    This should already tell you that there's a possibility (in fact, quite likely) that a student complaining about a professor not being a good teacher may not be an accurate reflection of that professor at all! If you ask another student, you'd get a completely opposite answer! So is this the "fault" of that professor? How can you tell?

    Extremely good professors and extremely bad professors are at the tail ends of the gaussian. Most of them are somewhere in the middle. So you end up with a professor in which there are students who like him/her, and there are those who don't! How do you blame the professor because, obviously he/she is doing something right because there are students who do appreciate him/her? I happened to have had more good than bad professors (although the bad ones were a doozy!). However, I completely understand that another student may find it differently, even for those that I really like, and those that I really don't like. I know of a professor who was very tough and demanding, but I adored him and his teaching methods so much so that I think he has molded me into how I approach a physics problem today. Yet, I know of a minority who really dislike his approach. I would hate to think he has to adjust his teaching method just to pacify these people because he was effectively and amazing the way he was. So is it his fault?

    It is one thing is the professor neglected his responsibility, i.e. not accessible when he is supposed to be, did not prepare to teach, or teach the wrong things. But style and technique are extremely individualized, and this means that those things are accepted by the students based on a matter of TASTES! This means that the "data" can be suspect!

  18. Mar 14, 2010 #17


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    Something else to consider here is the difference between a university professor and a high school teacher. Although it's changing, most university professors aren't trained teachers. They hold their positions because of expertise in the subject area.

    I think they get a lot of flak from students right out of high school who expect them to use the same methodology that's designed for hammering basic knowledge into the average population. The good teaching professors are, in my opinion, the ones whose passion for their subject is contagious in their lectures.
  19. Mar 14, 2010 #18

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    The other problem with evaluations is that many students use them to answer the question "how entertaining was the professor"? This is not identical with "how well did the professor teach".

    Sometimes I think that we give the evaluations too soon - they should be given at the end of the next class, so you can answer how well the first class prepared you.
  20. Mar 14, 2010 #19
    Don't be too harsh on 'mediocre' students, especially if their interest in physics is genuine, and for many of them, it probably is.
  21. Mar 14, 2010 #20
    By mediocre students I mean those students that do not show intellectual curiosity or a desire to learn (as opposed to average students, like myself, whom may find the material challenging yet work responsibly to understand it). Fortunately, mediocre (or bad) students are very few in any given classroom. Unfortunately, the impact they can produce in any given class is very significant.

    In my current math class, there's an interesting young gentleman that even myself can clearly see should be in a "lower" class (and mind you, I'm currently taking a remedial advanced algebra class (pre-pre-calculus?)). Among this dude's shenanigans we have things like asking the professor to explain an exercise, then a few moments later start texting on his phone, sometimes he walks out of the classroom to buy some snacks, etc. All the while, the professor is explaining the exercise the dude himself asked for but the dude himself does not bother to pay attention. Then later on he commits a mistake on exercises similar to the one he requested but didn't bother to learn.

    People like that can sometimes make your learning experience a poor one.
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