Having a college course that has difficult material and little in-depth explanation is always something that college students dread. Is there a reason why some college professors are better than others? Let’s explore some of the reasons why college professors can be so bad at teaching.
We’ll explain the different reasons below and why they can have such an impact on the quality of education that their students might receive. In addition to exploring these reasons, we’ll also take time to discuss why students’ expectations can lead them to assume that the teaching methods of their college professors are bad.
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1. Lack of Teaching Background
College professors are sometimes bad at teaching because many have not taken any classes in teaching. Poor communication skills and limited educational resources for professors also contribute to this problem.
You may be surprised to find out that most professors at colleges and universities don’t have a formal background in education. Most have been hired because of their expertise in a certain field of study. They will have extensive knowledge in their area of expertise because they will have a master’s degree or a Ph.D. In most cases, a professor must have at least a master’s degree to be considered for a teaching position with that institution.
The reason that colleges do this is due to their focus on research. Colleges and universities within the United States are focused on using the research that these professors can bring with them. New research means that these universities are able to help further the academic understanding of a particular subject.
For example, a university might hire a candidate with a Ph.D. in biological engineering because of the research that they are doing with stem cells. They want to have that access to new knowledge before anyone else and they also want their students to learn from someone like this.
Unless a professor obtained their degree in education, they will rarely have any real teaching ability. Once a student begins to work on their master’s or Ph.D., it is tailored specifically to that narrow field. That leaves little room for any classes that would give professors the skills that would help them to teach more effectively.
2. Focus on Research vs. Teaching
As we mentioned earlier, most colleges and universities will hire professors that will be able to contribute to their school’s ability to discover and publish new research. New research is important because colleges can avoid paying for access to research that was done internationally. However, since most colleges are unable to support having professors who do research and professors to teach, these roles are lumped together.
This means that some professors are much more invested in doing research. This will reflect in the way they teach their classes. They will lack passion for their student’s success, and they will spend time focusing on getting through the course quickly instead of explaining the information in greater detail. They want to focus on producing the best research that they can, which usually leads to poor teaching.
Another reason that college professors may be so bad at teaching is also due to the greater potential for rewards. There are more awards given to the research instead of teaching so most professors in the science departments will be more highly rewarded if they produce great research results. Professors that focus solely on teaching are rarely rewarded.
This lack of recognition makes it difficult for some professors to be motivated to put much effort into teaching. This lack of enthusiasm for what they are teaching creates an atmosphere where both the professor and the students are not interested in covering the subject material.
3. Stagnant University Mindsets
It’s easy for most people to see that some college professors are not qualified to teach. So why do universities continue to hire people like this?
Well, another big reason comes down to tradition and a fixed mindset. The research that the college gets is beneficial for the university and a small number of students that are involved in those research groups. Most professors hired to conduct research for the university must also teach.
The university is less concerned by the structure and success of the students because of the mindset they continue to perpetuate. Because middle schools and high schools need to have very structured places of learning, teachers are given the tools that they need to create this type of atmosphere.
The line of reasoning is that students have already learned the skills that are necessary for them to be successful in college. Students have to learn how to motivate themselves and keep on top of the work. This may mean that students have to spend more time reading the textbook in order to understand a more difficult concept. Or, it may also mean that students will need to look up additional materials on Youtube to gain a deep understanding and grasp of what they need to know for their upcoming test.
Basically, if a student wants to be successful in a class, they are expected to put in that work. This applies to a class that may not be taught well by that professor. Hopefully, that professor will be passionate about the subject they are teaching and students can see that passion in that class. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most classes.
4. Poor Interpersonal Skills
This reason may be less impactful than the others, but some college professors are bad teachers because they have poor interpersonal skills. If the students can see that their professor is visibly nervous, bored, or annoyed, they will be more likely to zone out and ultimately get less out of the class.
Many professors are brilliant and talented in their field but lack the ability to control and manage a class. A good teacher needs to have a certain amount of confidence in themselves and their ability to teach. It’s no wonder that many professors don’t have this, especially if they never. planned on teaching in the first place.
5. College Professors Have Too Much Ego
Sometimes the thing that makes a teacher so bad in college is the professor’s ego. Because they have an extensive amount of knowledge in that subject, they can sometimes be extremely condescending to the students when they teach.
They may not want to cover material that may be simple or “easy” for them to understand. This can also extend to how they expect assignments to be done. If an assignment is not done in a specific way, students are limited to one scope of understanding for that subject. Dealing with an arrogant professor has caused many students to fail, whether out of frustration or inability to meet their impossible expectations.
6. Poor Communication Skills
One of the biggest factors that can cause a student to think that a college professor is bad is a lack of communication skills. Being able to effectively convey and communicate concepts is so important for being a successful professor. Even though a professor may have a deep understanding of the concepts they are teaching, that knowledge will not make a real impact unless they can communicate it in a way that their students can understand.
Communication is such a pivotal skill in any job, but especially in teaching. A professor needs to be able to take a complex concept and break it down into manageable parts. This may mean that a professor will have to compromise some of the technicalities of that subject, especially if they are teaching an introductory class.
That also means that a professor needs to spend the length of time it takes to explain a more complex concept. In many cases, they will also need to rearrange a schedule based on this. When a professor is unable to do these things, a student begins to fall behind because they can’t understand how to apply the knowledge they are being taught.
This ability to communicate extends past general lectures; it applies to office hours as well. If students come in trying to understand a simple concept, that professor needs to be kind and sensitive to that students’ needs. If a student feels dismissed by a professor, they are going to not put in the effort to succeed as much.
One of the biggest areas of communicating that goes beyond oral lectures is a professor’s ability to respond to students’ emails. If a student needs to know what material they are missing if they are sick, they will communicate via email. Although a professor has many students to teach and respond to, they must take time to look over the emails they are being sent. This includes being able to communicate if the class schedule is being changed or if a lecture is not being held on a certain day.
Unfortunately, some students only benefit from a professor’s expertise if they are involved in that professor’s research group or if they are in one of the higher-level courses that the professor is teaching. They have a better foundation for the basic concepts that a student taking an introductory class will not have. A professor can go into the complex technicalities of the subject and help students to apply them more effectively.
7. Poor Organizational skills
Being able to create organized lesson plans is also something that makes or breaks a professor’s ability to teach. Some professors are extremely disorganized which makes them quite bad at teaching. Students aren’t sure what to expect for the next class period. Or, the professor may be inconsistent with the material that they teach. The students cannot follow what is happening if every day is different.
If the professor goes over material that is not applicable for a career in that subject, the students could get even more lost. The subject material for the class is left until after the lecture period is over, creating an extra amount of work for students to complete. If the material that appears on exams isn’t taught in class, students may become even more frustrated.
8. Lack of Resources
Even if a professor wants to improve their ability to teach, there is a lack of resources to deal with. Professors are kept extremely busy; they have teaching, grading, research, and maybe a family. This leaves them little time to take any courses that might give them better skills for their teaching.
This has a direct impact on how well they do as a professor in the classroom. Instead, they may turn to a colleague and ask for assistance. They may learn some tips and skills that a colleague learned through their time as a professor, but it all depends on what’s available to them.
Those who teach K-12 are given so many resources to learn how to be effective in their jobs. They take pedagogy classes, which helps to feel comfortable teaching the four core classes (science, math, English, and language arts). They complete practicums, giving them real experience for what teaching will be like. In addition to this, students do student teaching for a few years before they can apply to a teaching position.
These resources are not as readily available for professors. If they want to gain the skills middle and high school teachers have, they have to take a class. This takes up what little time they have for themselves and their families. Most professors don’t even have any practicum-like experience. During most Ph.D. courses, students are required to teach a course as part of their education. They are given the material that they need to teach, but little direction for how to teach it. This creates a poor environment for success.
9. Students’ Expectations
The expectation of students is also another reason that college professors are so “bad” at teaching. This is much more subjective than the other topics discussed above. However, it is important to address this because these expectations do impact the opinion of whether professors can teach or not. The skill of a professor is determined by the number of students who are understanding the information they are being taught.
Students may assume that professors that deliver information in a dry manner are poor teachers. They expect professors to be more engaging in the information they give to their students, and if they aren’t, this can make the professor bad at teaching in their eyes.
However, they may be more effective in their teaching when they have small groups of students they are working with. The same can be true the other way around. This doesn’t automatically make them bad at teaching. Additionally, if the lectures are filled with useful information, it doesn’t matter whether or not the professor is engaging. They are giving students the information that they need to be successful.
Another expectation that can make a professor bad at teaching is the amount of work and testing they have to do. If students have to look up information outside of class or spend additional time understanding the concepts with supplemental videos, they may think a professor is bad at teaching. This isn’t always true, but if the information a professor is teaching isn’t in the exams, that is probably a sign the professor is bad at teaching.
A college professor is not a school teacher.
College professors have many responsibilities beyond teaching: conducting research, supervising students, and other administrative duties. Therefore, they can’t focus only on teaching.
However, this does not excuse:
- Rude professors who treat you as subordinates and not as students.
- Arrogant professors who think they are better than you.
- Unfair professors who don’t grade their students according to clear rules.
- Unprepared professors who forget the notes of their math classes.
- Lazy professors who refuse to hold office hours.
These bad professors lurking around university departments. Many colleges should improve the selection process of their lecturers.