Opinions, Column

What’s Lacking in the Standard Student-Professor Dynamic?

Have you ever had a really shitty teacher?

Maybe they did not explain the material well, were very strict with their assignment deadlines, or just put half the class to sleep. It doesn’t just matter what they teach, it matters how they teach. Education stirs students’ feelings and opinions about a subject—sometimes even their stance on the world. Teachers mold delicate minds, so the manner in which they instruct classes should be authentic and effortful above all else. 

If you’re like me and come from an underserved school district, then you probably had around three really good teachers throughout your academic career (four if you’re lucky). At my high school, teachers had low morale, so they substituted their lectures with worksheets and at times wouldn’t even show up. Students filed passionless classes in the back of their brains to collect dust and cobwebs. 

A teacher who isn’t dedicated to their job—or at the very least interested in their work—can be miserable and often far removed from their students. In contrast, the best teachers that I’ve had were interested in their subjects and made an effort to get to know their students. A teacher who’s more invested in the topics they’re teaching is more likely to spark academic curiosity in their students. 

As a freshman in high school, I was so invested in STEM that I completely disregarded English, history, and literature. That all changed when I took AP English Literature and Composition with a teacher who transformed my interest in reading and writing. When I think back to that time, I realize what excited me the most about her class wasn’t the content—it was the energy she put in, which felt like an affirmation of my capability as a writer. 

Now that I’m in college, I believe the traits that make great teachers also make great professors. I’ve been fortunate enough to love most of my professors at Boston College. I’m intrigued by the cursing habits of one of my professors, how another one of my professors eerily resembles Drew Barrymore, and how one professor’s used an imaginary penis on wheels as an analogy to describe logos, pathos, and ethos (I know it sounds absurd, but there was a point to it). 

There’s an undeniable pull to any professor who loves the material they teach. I used to think I would only ever like professors that were loud and full of energy. But, it turns out I just enjoy professors who genuinely enjoy teaching and have confidence in their students’ abilities

Now you’re probably thinking of the professors that teach chemistry, psychology, English, or philosophy, etc. that you actually hate. Perhaps the class got you into the “C’s get degrees” mindset, the professor was strict, or you didn’t see the point of learning the material—the list could go on and on. More importantly, however, I would bet you didn’t actually know the professor very well. 

An aspect of high school that doesn’t translate well to college is the student-professor relationship. For some reason, it feels like there’s a larger barrier between us. For the longest time, I thought of professors as people who have everything together and know all the right answers. Consequently, I shied away from them because—like the average college student—I’m a mess. I didn’t want to be judged. 

But every time I took that leap of faith and made it past the student-professor barrier, I’ve been proven wrong. Most professors are actually understanding and personable. When I’ve nervously expressed my confusion, disappointment, or frustration with material to professors, my professors made the effort to understand. 

Truthfully, it has still been difficult for me to grapple with the idea that professors aren’t perfect, but I’m starting to believe they also experience insecurities and are still figuring it out—whatever “it” is. When I heard a professor talk about experiencing imposter syndrome, it blew my mind. I’m aware it may sound like a reach that getting to know your professor will change your attitude toward a class you don’t love, but what do you have to lose?

Recognizing that all relationships require effort from both parties, I encourage professors to be open with their students. That includes sharing mistakes, insecurities, and humor, as opposed to only organization, knowledge, and apparent perfection. I’m not sure if professors are scared of losing credibility or a role model status, but I assure you all that students will be more receptive to you and hopefully your material if you’re willing to show the imperfect parts of yourself and embrace your authentic energy. Both students and professors can benefit from having relationships—not just sitting through 50- or 75-minute lectures with no knowledge of one another.

December 4, 2022