- Was consistently late or unprepared?
- Couldn't answer questions?
- Who belittled students in class?
- Encouraged questions?
- Had clear expectations?
- Made time for students outside of class?
Find The Good Ones!
However, the good instructors do not take out their frustrations on their students, while ensuring that their classes remain engaging, informative, and fair. The bad ones show up unprepared, are unreasonably angry with students, or give little attention to grading. And then there are the frustrating instructors who are usually harmless, but mentally checked out. Good luck getting your quizzes back before the exam from them.
Signs of a Good Instructor
These instructors are explicit about how to achieve A's in their course: come to class, participate, hand assignments in on time, and do the reading. When they hand out essay assignments, the prompt details the topic, format, length, and important points to discuss. Good professors provide roadmaps to success.
Additionally, good professors do themselves what they ask of their students. They show up on time, wear professional attire, prepared to teach, ready to answer questions, and are receptive to students' ideas and feedback.
They offer office hours, so that students can receive extra help outside of class, while answering emails promptly. Good instructors make students feel comfortable about admitting when they are struggling, without worrying about losing face. Furthermore, these instructors help students improve their grades by offering them ideas for more efficient study habits, opportunities for extra credit, or help find them additional resources, such as campus writing centers or tutors.
The best instructors are those who promote camaraderie among classmates with extracurricular activities like movie nights, bowling outings, and class dinners. One of my favorite professors used to invite our Russian class to his home at the end of each semester, where we ran around his old house while he cooked a three-course meal featuring two desserts. It humanized our professor, while letting him experience us in our more relaxed states.
Oh, NO...The Bad Professor
Here's why the Easy Guy is an instructor to avoid: they don't care. They are completely indifferent to helping you better develop whatever skill or interest you are supposed to be getting out of that class. What incentive do you to do the homework, if you know the instructor isn't going to even look at it? None. There was more than one class where I figured out quickly that doing the work was a waste of my time. So my classmates and I floated through the semester, meeting each week to discuss books we hadn't read. It was a ridiculous waste of time and money.
It's more obvious why the Absurdly Difficult Professors are worth avoiding; they are perpetually undermining your confidence by giving you tasks you are not intellectually mature enough to complete, setting you up for failure.
Some are merely oblivious that not everyone is as smart as them, and they think that if they explain a concept once it should be imprinted in the students' minds - no need for further questions.
But there is a more insidious breed of bad professors - The Humiliator. These instructors use humiliation as a teaching tool, erroneously thinking that fear, anxiety, and a pervasive sense of inadequacy will motivate students. Unfortunately, these tactics produce the opposite effect; students who are consistently made to feel stupid and afraid will disengage from the class altogether, and attempt to just get by until the semester ends.
If The Humiliator is abusive towards you and your classmates, do not hesitate to speak with the relevant department's dean. Arbitrary grades*, verbal abuse, or erratic behavior on the instructor's part warrant an inquiry from above. Students are not whipping boys for angry instructors who are dealing with personal or professional difficulties outside of the classroom.
* Arbitrary grading is NOT when you receive a C on a paper you thought you did better on. It is when a professor's grading is completely removed from the students' abilities or from what the instructor taught them. This is a difficult thing to prove, but I include it because I have witnessed students (myself included) receive grades that were not reflective of what we were told to prepare for. I also had a professor who started handing out F's like candy one semester. The department ultimately corrected those students' grades, after determining the professor was suffering from a mental breakdown.
What If I Don't Have A Choice?
If you have a bad instructor, do not be intimidated. In most cases, I suggest you defy your natural inclination to retreat far from them, and instead, make a point of visiting them. Go to their office hours, participate in class, and attend study sessions. Do not give them a reason to ignore you or be indifferent about giving you a bad grade. Moreover, if you think you are being unfairly penalized and choose to protest your grade, you need evidence that you were trying during the semester to obtain help from the professor.
Good professors are worth waking up at 8am for, or sitting through three-hour seminars for. These are the ones who you need to prioritize getting to know, because they will take an interest in you and help you in your future endeavors. Those who feel invested in your success will agree to write you recommendation letters when you are applying for scholarships, grants, or graduate schools.
Just remember there are Good and Bad Students as well - you may not always have a choice who is teaching you, but you do have a choice about how YOU respond to your instructors.