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Studying Not doing well in a class -- Teacher is abusive. help please

  1. Mar 3, 2017 #1
    So in my upper division mechanics course I've stared to not do well on my quizzes.
    The difference between a fail is 30 points and a few points extra is a 80 -90. The tests have a very fine line, and the teacher does not think this is a issue.

    So I go to ask him for help. He gets mad at me when I don't know how to solve a problem after learning it just 5 minutes ago in class. He thinks I should be able to do every problem after just hearing about the information just once. If I do know how to solve the problem he gets mad at me for asking him something I know how to do and thinks I'm wasting his time.

    If I don't know something immediately he makes insults such as, I will never do research, your lack of learning is not my problem. I can't believe you don't remember this one thing from 5 semesters ago. etc. etc.

    I'm really trying hard to pass/ace this class. I have a small chance now. If not a B-A then I'll shoot for C and bite the bullet on one class. I'am acing all my other classes so.... I don't know. I don't know what to do.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2017 #2


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    I don't understand your first paragraph. It doesn't make sense to me.

    If your professor is being verbally abusive, grow a thicker skin, talk to the chair or dean, or dish it back out to him. Your choice. Or just bypass him altogether and go to the TA's/Tutors for help.
  4. Mar 3, 2017 #3
    Grow a thicker skin? Really? I want to learn and the result is this professor throwing insults at me? That would be fine if he was free. Hes not.

    and dish it back at him? Why? So he can just not help me more?

    There are no TA's/Tutors at this level....

    The difference between a pass or a fail on the test is one or two questions.

    I plan on already talking to the dean about this.
  5. Mar 3, 2017 #4


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    Like I said, it's one option of dealing with the abuse. You don't really have that many and none of them are particularly good.

    Some peoples personalities are such that they hurl insults and demean when they're actually trying/wanting to help. It's just something you'll encounter from time to time. The best way to deal with these people is to rattle their cages as well, within reason. Also, we have one biased side of the story here, it's hard to figure out for us what's really going on and how best to approach it.

    So you have even fewer options. We had TA's in some of our upper division courses.

    Sounds about right, especially when exams/quiz's start to have only three or four questions on them.

    That's an option, and your prerogative.
  6. Mar 3, 2017 #5
    Well i guess you don't know. but i have depression and social anexity So abuse is determinetly for me.

    As for the exam structure. I usually am able to bank a bit on partial credit for answers and usually I practice alot of problems and that helps me get through the material.

    However the quizes are 20% of my grade and are only half an hour long. I have always had at least an hour for tests and that was pretty much necessary. Now. I'm not so sure what to do. They are harder than your average test and have much too little room for error.
  7. Mar 3, 2017 #6


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    Okay? The professors life/personality doesn't revolve around you though, nor does anyone else. You need to develop coping strategies that work for you when you encounter various people who upset your sensibilities.

    That's great, it's what you should be doing.

    I don't see the conundrum with time. If the quiz is thirty minutes long, but you're use to an hour, you should now get use to thirty minutes. Do what you do for exams, prepare. Read the material in advance, practice before you even go to lecture on that material, do your best. That's all you can do.
  8. Mar 3, 2017 #7
    There is no room for partial credit. the quizes are just very tight. I dont really know how to prepare them.
    There is no reason for a professor to be an ass when someone is trying to learn.
  9. Mar 3, 2017 #8


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    Some of that is/are bad ideas. Thicker skin/learn to tolerate bad behavior from a professor is not good and should not be necessary. "Dish it back", also bad idea, likely just to lead to extra trouble for the student on top of what he currently complained about.
  10. Mar 3, 2017 #9


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    There is no good advice. Going to the dean or chair is certainty no better.
  11. Mar 3, 2017 #10
    Why is that? If the professor is being as insulting as OP says, I think that having a conversation with the chair might be a good idea, especially if other students can back up the story. Based on the OP, I'm not sure that "insulting" is the proper term - I've also had profs be frustrated when students ask them for help, and it sounds to me like that's what's happening here.
  12. Mar 3, 2017 #11
    Your odds of success are much greater if you work harder to adapt to the professor rather than hoping or demanding the professor to adapt to you.

    This will be true of all the bosses you have in life, and the professor-student relationship is just a microcosm of that. You need to learn to adapt and succeed with all kinds of people. Look at this as an opportunity for practice.

    Even if you are right, blame shifting to the professor will not help you. You need to figure out what YOU need to do differently, not what HE needs to do differently. Because, you really only have control over your own actions.

    As a physics major, I saw a lot of professors in undergrad and grad whose methods were not well suited to my learning style. A few were pretty bad. As a physics professor and later a lower level admin with faculty reporting to me, I saw my share of bad teachers from that side of it also. Even if pressure can be brought to bear to improve a given professor, in most cases, the time scale of improvement is too slow to really help students in the current semester course. You gotta figure it out.
  13. Mar 3, 2017 #12

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    That's a good question. Let's look at the specifics we have been given.
    • He gets mad at me when I don't know how to solve a problem after learning it just 5 minutes ago in class. I can see that. If something is unclear in class, I expect the student to raise his hand and say "I didn't understand that part".If the student doesn't do this, he's not really holding up his end of the bargain, is he?
    • If I don't know something immediately he makes insults such as, I will never do research, How is that an insult? It's not very encouraging, I admit, but not everyone is going to have a research career, and not everyone is cut out for a research career. If the professor thinks that's the case for the OP, what should he say?
    • your lack of learning is not my problem. It really isn't, if it's from 5 semesters ago.
    • I can't believe you don't remember this one thing from 5 semesters ago. etc. etc. Physics is cumulative. The student is expected to remember things from 5 semesters ago.
    • There is no room for partial credit. This isn't abuse. This is also up to the instructor.
    I wouldn't describe the professor's comments as tactful, but I wouldn't describe them as abusive either.

    Now, let's look at this thread. If this is an example of how the OP interacts with his instructors, I understand why a) he's not making more progress, and b) why those instructors might be getting frustrated. Phinds is trying to help, and the OP is having none of it.

    Everyone can take a look at the OP's posting history. How many problems has he posted? How many technical questions? And how many life laments?
  14. Mar 3, 2017 #13


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    Yes - why is everyone assuming that the professor is the bad guy ?
  15. Mar 3, 2017 #14
    Not assuming that at all. Impossible to tell hearing one side of the story.

    Having heard student complaints for many decades, my experience is most are rooted more in student fear or falling short of grade goals rather than anything the professor is doing wrong.

    But one usually needs to ask careful questions and hear more than on side of the story before drawing that conclusion in a specific case. Unsubstantiated claims of "abuse" are a pretty big clue.
  16. Mar 3, 2017 #15


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    As an aside, given the one-sided nature of the discussion raised here, I sometimes wonder whether it may be advisable for students seeking one-on-one help with their professors to record their time with them (with permission from the instructor). Given that most everyone these days have smartphones and/or iPod/MP3 players, it should be relatively easy to do this.

    Any thoughts?
  17. Mar 3, 2017 #16
    I've always allowed students to record material with photo/video/audio when they asked (except for sensitive DoD materials). But on the abuse side, it was more a matter of following advice early in my career to leave the door open and the window coverings "open" so everything occurring in the office was audible and visible to passers by when working one on one with a student.

    The thing with recordings these days, is they are so easy to selectively edit and post online to frame the prof in a bad light and pressure the administration to take disciplinary action that may not be warranted by more careful consideration of context and a complete set of facts. As the climate has shifted from 2013 (when I was last a professor) to 2017, I'm not sure I would trust students at most institutions to be honest in their editing and context not to use audio/video as a tool of revenge against professors they just don't like.

    I would tend to prefer a university or department controlled monitoring system that recorded student-faculty interactions in their entirety. More or less something like dash cams or body cams used in law enforcement rather than smartphone snippets taken out of context. Kind of smacks of big brother, but having heard more than one exaggerated claim of faculty "abuse" motivated to get the truth rather than a distrust for faculty.
  18. Mar 3, 2017 #17


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    My emphasis. Just a friendly reminder that in many places in the US it's illegal to record someone without their explicit permission.
  19. Mar 3, 2017 #18
    If the prof is actually insulting the student, than he is the bad guy.
  20. Mar 3, 2017 #19
    I agree with Vanadium and Dr. Courtney here. I've looked at your post history and I believe you should get help for your psychological issues if you are not already. I do notice one problem you have is you expect immediate understanding/results. Yes, there are things that the instructor could do better, but nothing you describe sounds like abuse.

    I would suggest that in your instructor evaluation you describe what you did not appreciate about the interactions with the instructor and *why*. Be polite about it and avoid using the tone of voice that you have in previous posts. The instructor may possibly reflect on their behaviour if you write the comment well. I believe one reason some instructor's may not take instructor evaluations seriously is some comments just come off as rude and don't really seem to be mature. I've had students say that I belong in a mental institution, but they do not mention the behaviour or reasons why they feel that way. Similar situation with positive comments, no description of *why* they feel that way.

    I also noticed an interaction you had with your research advisor where he asked "why don't you just know that?". I don't know what their body language or tone of voice was, but this does sound like a genuine question. My advisor asks me a lot of "why" questions and research does support that this forces students to piece together their conceptions of whatever material is being learned. They aren't going to just tell you the answer; this doesn't help at all. Maybe they asked because you may have mentioned previously that you did know it.

    In the same thread you talk about how the material always causes you to be depressed and you get a lot of anxiety. Have you thought about considering other fields since physics is causing you this much distress? Perhaps try reflecting on yourself and/or speak to a professional. There is nothing wrong with that and I've seen a lot of students who are overly stressed, getting very little sleep, procrastination issues (which don't help with the previously mentioned things and don't help later in life), and a lot of other unhealthy habits.
  21. Mar 3, 2017 #20
    Physics cause me anxiety because most of my educational life has been riddiled with teachers, and professors, who simply refuse to give a crap about my learning because often times they would see my "bad" grades in the class as my not caring.

    I have been nearly shoved into a mental institution because the public school system in my state misdiagnosed me with severe autism. (i have minor). They din't know what to do with me nor did they care. Most of my anxiety in general revolves around that, so its not really something that can be glossed over.

    They aren't going to just tell you the answer; this doesn't help at all.

    This helps so much you wouldn't believe it. After I get the answer I begin to question it until I understand it.

    I'am always polite in answering questions, I just sound stupid, which is a sin worse than murder I suppose. I can remember concepts very well in my QM class but sometimes I forgot basic things like the potential energy of a string. I may just forgot the formula from time to time.

    Have you thought about considering other fields since physics is causing you this much distress?

    No, not really. There is no greater sense of accomplishment and close understanding of the universe as a whole as their is physics. Even if clearly this doesn't even pierce the surface of the grand scheme of reality, its still a step in the right direction.

    It would be the same level of anxiety. physics itself does not cause me the stress. The numbers don't hurt me. the equations don't torment. Its the want and need to learn the material and be bright in it, only to have a constant remainder that I'm stupid and the field only accepts beyond normal people. That is what really hurts. Remember I'm in my upper division courses. So Its not like I can't do physics at all (i hope). When a teacher decides to insult my ability to preform in the class or as a physicist in general its just reinforcing the notion that I'm not included. I know that is completely stupid, but I guess if I don't fit in anywhere else, I would hope at least the field of physics has some "wacky" people like me. I guess not.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 5, 2017
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