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My friend's son thinks his professor hates him

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

John loves Physics and wants to learn everything Physics. But lately, he's been confiding to his dad that his physics teacher frequently insults him when he asks questions or the teacher often asks him difficult questions that he can't answer. My friend is concerned because his son did not go to physics class for three straight days last week because of this issue.

I tried to talk to John, told him to take this as a challenge, but I wasn't able to convince him. Perhaps you can help me help him.
 

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  • #2
Charles Link
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The university professors are usually very intelligent, often extremely intelligent, but there are some who can be extremely difficult to get along with. My university days were 40+ years ago, but I can still remember very well a couple of the more difficult ones. I encourage the student to attend class. If the professor is one of the more difficult ones, all he can do is shake off the irritation with some positive thinking, and try not to lose any sleep over the man. The Germans have a song "die Gedanken sind frei" which translates "the thoughts are free". And I think the student is likely to find there are many professors who make very good teachers, and it is a joy to be in their class. ## \\ ## Additional comment: Of the difficult professors that I encountered, I think, in general, if there was one thing they had in common is they took themselves a little too seriously. Some of them need to lighten up, and realize there is much more to this world than succeeding in their class. :)
 
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  • #3
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Is it only the Professor who could be "difficult" in this situation? The entire story is not up for discussion I think.

I'm encountering many students of the younger generations ("millenials", and not only those but others, too) who don't seem to understand the concept of diplomacy, protocols of hierarchy, boundaries of acceptable behavior, and just plain good manners. I've caught myself on several occasions, after losing my patience with unforgivable student behavior, of saying things that would be interpreted badly.

But in the same argument, after telling colleagues what has happened, it often resulted in private conversations concluding that those students (and their PARENTS, by the way) are in dire need of a good slappin'.
 
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  • #4
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I wonder if the prof is irritated with the students questions and so counters with his own more difficult ones. The student could take that as a challenge, research the question and come back privately with the answer and then the prof would realize he/she has a serious student with some real potential.

I am reminded of the jack in the box ad where the son asks the dad a profound question and as he’s answering it the son is admiring a caterpillar.
 
  • #5
JRMichler
...when he asks questions
Pin the student down as to exactly what, and how many, questions he is asking. Is he asking questions that he could answer himself if he did some thinking? Is he asking too many questions and holding up the class? How do the other students react to his questions?

If he is skipping class because he is too sensitive, then he may not be ready for college.
 
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  • #6
Choppy
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This is a problem that you can't solve for the student.

We can't offer a judgement on whether this student is actually being treated unfairly or not. In my experience many students struggle with the transition from high school where the teachers are often very good at (and trained in) meeting the needs of different students, to university, where the instructors often hold their positions because of their proficiency for research. And of course some professors are just plain difficult to deal with. There are some who do in fact bully students or treat them disrespectfully. If he feels he's being treated unfairly in the class - really unfairly - he has recourse. He can talk to his undergraduate advisor, a student ombudsman, other professors, and perhaps first and foremost, this professor himself.
 
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  • #7
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Yeah, I also haven't found it uncommon for people to struggle with the transition from high school to college. The biggest thing that people don't seem to understand is that in high school, the teacher is there to teach you. If they fail, it's the teachers fault (partially.) Where in college, the responsibility of learning falls entirely on you. I don't know how many students I've heard complain that tests contain questions about text of the book that was not necessarily discussed in class. If it was on the syllabus, nobody has any right to complain. He could also be asking questions that are answered in the book: the offline version of "did you use the search bar before asking?"

Your kid may be either unaware that he's in that group, or the professor mistakes him for that group. Thoughtful responses to his tougher questions might help make the professor change his tune. What kinds of tough questions are being asked anyway and in what class? Are they concrete problems with an actual answer, or more thought experimenty? Classical physics? Relativity? Nuclear?
 
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  • #8
russ_watters
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John loves Physics and wants to learn everything Physics. But lately, he's been confiding to his dad that his physics teacher frequently insults him when he asks questions or the teacher often asks him difficult questions that he can't answer. My friend is concerned because his son did not go to physics class for three straight days last week because of this issue.

I tried to talk to John, told him to take this as a challenge, but I wasn't able to convince him. Perhaps you can help me help him.
It is very difficult to know if there is a real problem here without knowing what these "insults" consist of, but from your description so far, I'm not seeing a problem beyond confidence: if a student could answer every question a professor asked correctly, immediately, he wouldn't need to be taking the class!
 
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  • #9
Charles Link
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It is very difficult to know if there is a real problem here without knowing what these "insults" consist of, but from your description so far, I'm not seeing a problem beyond confidence: if a student could answer every question a professor asked correctly, immediately, he wouldn't need to be taking the class!
Getting a college degree is not without its obstacles. The student needs to want it badly enough. For the most part, the system is what it is. If the student really loves physics and is also willing to work his way through some hurdles, he should be able to be successful.
 
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  • #10
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Basically the student must retain his/her focus and interest in a subject and teach himself or herself the things not taught in class. In college you educate yourself and the profs only help by focusing your efforts.
 
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  • #11
russ_watters
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Getting a college degree is not without its obstacles. The student needs to want it badly enough. For the most part, the system is what it is. If the student really loves physics and is also willing to work his way through some hurdles, he should be able to be successful.
Agreed. I'm not saying the prof isn't a jerk -- some are -- but even if they are (and not just giving tough-love), there likely isn't anything he can do about it. One important life lesson people unfortunately have to learn is how to deal with difficult people/jerks.
 
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  • #12
You see, John is a high-functioning autism adult and i'm thinking that this is just an adjustment period for him. I asked his dad if the prof knows his background, though, I don't think the prof will provide special treatment just because John is different.
 
  • #13
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You see, John is a high-functioning autism adult and i'm thinking that this is just an adjustment period for him. I asked his dad if the prof knows his background, though, I don't think the prof will provide special treatment just because John is different.
Yes, this could be the cause of his problems where the prof gets irritated with his persistence of asking his question. He may have to learn to speak to the prof during the profs office hours.

Here's a discussion of teaching tips that could be helpful to the prof or to anyone helping John:

https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/Tips-for-Teaching-High-Functioning-People-with-Autism
 
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  • #14
JRMichler
You see, John is a high-functioning autism adult and i'm thinking that this is just an adjustment period for him.
John may need some specific advice. For starters:

How many students in the class? How questions are asked in a typical class? What is the average number of questions per student? His fair share of questions is no more than 2 or 3 times the average.

When he gets a job, he WILL be getting feedback on his performance. Some of that feedback will be blunt. Suck it up and get used to it.

Making mistakes is normal. He will be judged more on his response to feedback than on making mistakes in the first place.

Find out how he asks his questions. He may need a script for how to ask questions.
 
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  • #16
John may need some specific advice. For starters:

How many students in the class? How questions are asked in a typical class? What is the average number of questions per student? His fair share of questions is no more than 2 or 3 times the average.

When he gets a job, he WILL be getting feedback on his performance. Some of that feedback will be blunt. Suck it up and get used to it.

Making mistakes is normal. He will be judged more on his response to feedback than on making mistakes in the first place.

Find out how he asks his questions. He may need a script for how to ask questions.
true, i agree. John has to be able to cope. I'll ask his dad about your questions. thank you for your suggestions.
 
  • #17
ZapperZ
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I've told myself to not be involved in this thread, but against my better judgement, I will.

There are two separate problems that I have with this thread:

1. Son told dad, and dad told friend. Friend now reports on here. This is not just second-hand news, but third-hand news! How accurate do you think it is? Son needs to give first-hand account of the issue. We need to hear from the horse's mouth directly and not through multiple interpretations.

2. We have heard only from ONE side of the story, the son who, admittedly, has his own emotional/psychological issues.

ANY teacher can tell you that, within the same class, different students will have wildly different experiences. I've received my end-of-semester reviews from students that range from "He's the best professor I've ever had" to "He's lazy and dumb", all from the SAME class that I had taught. Many times, I've often wished that I could sit with a few of these students and give MY side of the story ("I disagree that you didn't think the exam reflects what you've learned all semester long, because 75% of the questions in it were almost identical to your homework assignments!"). I have no doubt that this college professor may have a different take on what this student has perceived.

Zz.
 
  • #18
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I've told myself to not be involved in this thread, but against my better judgement, I will.

There are two separate problems that I have with this thread:

1. Son told dad, and dad told friend. Friend now reports on here. This is not just second-hand news, but third-hand news! How accurate do you think it is? Son needs to give first-hand account of the issue. We need to hear from the horse's mouth directly and not through multiple interpretations.

2. We have heard only from ONE side of the story, the son who, admittedly, has his own emotional/psychological issues.

ANY teacher can tell you that, within the same class, different students will have wildly different experiences. I've received my end-of-semester reviews from students that range from "He's the best professor I've ever had" to "He's lazy and dumb", all from the SAME class that I had taught. Many times, I've often wished that I could sit with a few of these students and give MY side of the story ("I disagree that you didn't think the exam reflects what you've learned all semester long, because 75% of the questions in it were almost identical to your homework assignments!"). I have no doubt that this college professor may have a different take on what this student has perceived.

Zz.
I would agree. Thanks for pointing that out. There's two sides and there's third party news. The one thing I see that explains a lot is the autistic part and that it goes beyond what a college prof might expect from an average student. I don't think its always easy to identify autism when we see its effects.
 
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  • #19
well that's all I can do, ask. his dad and john doesn't want to join in and i've suggested the same.
thank you for your insights, though.
 
  • #20
Dr. Courtney
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I don't hate students until they start skipping class...
 
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  • #21
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ANY teacher can tell you that, within the same class, different students will have wildly different experiences. I've received my end-of-semester reviews from students that range from "He's the best professor I've ever had" to "He's lazy and dumb", all from the SAME class that I had taught. Many times, I've often wished that I could sit with a few of these students and give MY side of the story ("I disagree that you didn't think the exam reflects what you've learned all semester long, because 75% of the questions in it were almost identical to your homework assignments!"). I have no doubt that this college professor may have a different take on what this student has perceived.
Story of my life.
 
  • #23
To update, they set a meeting with the professor to clear the air. In the end, the professor told John to stop feeling down. He said that there will be no special treatment and suggested online resources for John to read and learn from. At least...
 
  • #24
Fervent Freyja
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If it were my son, I would make his butt finish the course.

This is more a social matter than anything else. Once he enters a career then it will likely worsen if he cannot learn to deal. The best support you could offer him is to set up a life coach that teaches him how to deal with people like this from the get-go. His Dad may agree to you taking him for coaching. And he might be more comfortable with a life coach (with experience dealing with high-functioning autism if he does have it) instead of traditional counseling or therapy.

Yes, the Professor is human too and has a right to be a little hard with the entire class and be himself. But singling out one or a few students is wrong, as humiliation is incredibly disrespectful in a group. This should have been addressed privately.

If your friend's son does deal with high-functioning austism, I can relate as my own stbx-husband has social issues (Aspergers). The problem in this case may be that he has no prior established rules for the situation. This can cause them to go berserk in stressful and new situations. To help him, sit down and write rules for those situations. They strive for ultimate competency in their domains of interest and career, so may be sensitive to others picking out shortcomings. He has to finish this course as a personal learning experience, as once an Aspie has their mind set they are difficult to influence and have iron-strong willpower in their belief system. They have many great impressive strengths that often make them the best at what they do, don't let the autistic label fool you, their competency in career and few interests are often unsurpassed by neurotypical people. It's the social aspect that gets them, they don't gather enough rules for social situations because they don't deal with those problems fully, they'll do something like not go to class or drop the course instead of dealing with it. And end up not learning a required rule to deal with it the next time they face a similar situation.
 
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  • #25
HAYAO
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I believe that anything between two people is about playing catch. Both of them have to throw the ball good and also have to catch the ball good. As far as I can see from what I've read in this thread, both the professor and the student aren't very good at doing either of that. I believe that the student and the professor should have some private time together with another neutral and fair person watching over them so they can sort things out. If that doesn't work out, then nothing ever will so the student is left it two options: don't take the class or take the class and ignore what the professor says. Of course if it is a mandatory credit, then all he can do is the latter and wait for the term to end and hope that he won't breakdown mentally.

Personally speaking, the professor lacks professionalism. Public humiliation is something you should never do.
 

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