In primary school, it is more or less impossible to effectively avoid teachers that are known to be awful. You either get assigned to their class or you don’t. Once you’re in, you’re stuck. Although many a parent has complained about a teacher being “unfair” to their child, it is the policy of most schools that unless there is abuse of some sort, a kid will stay in the classroom they are assigned to.
But now you’re in college and things are a bit different. You not only get to choose the classes you want to take, but even general education courses that are mandatory often come with several time slots and teachers to choose from. And once you get to your major study, you’ll be limited to a smaller department and faculty, but you still have some latitude when it comes to selecting the classes and teachers you prefer. So how can you tell which teachers to avoid? There are actually several ways to find out.
Word of mouth This is one of the best ways to get the dirt on teachers, but it has its flaws. Some students may not be capable of giving an unbiased critique of a certain teacher (maybe the student isn’t reliable or perhaps there were personal problems involved). But if it seems to be common knowledge that certain professors are just awful to everyone (and several sources confirm it), then you should probably stay away from courses taught by that person.
Teacher review sites If you’re new to campus or you don’t really know anyone in your major that you could ask for a recommendation, don’t despair. You can still get the student 4-1-1 on a teacher by checking sites like Rate My Professors, Rate My Teachers, Professor Performance, or a similar website that is specific to your campus. Not only can you read reviews and ratings for various professors, you can also add your own reviews to warn students away from unconscionably rough teachers, or alternately, refer those that are amazing.
Meet the teacher Want to make your own decision about whether or not a teacher is worth your time? Why not meet the professor in person? Most teachers have office hours to accommodate student requests, so find out when they are and pop by for an impromptu meet-and-greet. The teacher may be pleased by your straightforward attitude and remember it should you show up in one of their classes (keep in mind that they’re also meeting you for the first time, so try to make a good impression). And you’ll get a chance to interact one-on-one and formulate your own opinion.
Audit a class If you’re not too keen to approach a professor directly, simply sit in on a class to check out the teaching style. You’ll get to see first-hand how the teacher interacts with students (and how they react to him or her). If the whole class is asleep, they all seem too scared to raise their hands, or several have left in tears by the end of the session, then you probably don’t want to take a class with this teacher.
Bite the bullet Sometimes the only way to tell if a teacher is bearable is to take a course with them. If you’re unsure about a prof, but you see that you’ll need to take several classes with this person for your major, start with an introductory course. If it proves impossible, you’ll certainly want to avoid future run-ins. This could mean changing your emphasis or even your major, but at least you’ll know before you’re in too deep.
Editor’s note: If all else fails, learn how to get kicked out of class.
Leon Harris writes for Home Tuition where you can find an excellent tutor for your child in a range of subjects.