Students often have a tendency to forget professors are people and don’t treat them with the respect they should.
Bad grade on a test? “The professor didn’t teach the material well enough.” Too many assignments? “Clearly, the professor doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a college student.” Got a lower grade than expected after working hard? “The professor must be out to get me.”
These stereotypes are harmful to both professors and students. Professors want to do the best they can for their students, but it can be hard if students don’t talk to them, fill out the end of semester surveys or attend strategic planning meetings.
“I wish more students would come to these [strategic planning] meetings,” said Chandler Whitlock, academic adviser for the college of humanities and social sciences. “This is for them.”
Students seem to think professors don’t exist outside the classroom, almost like that quote in “Mean Girls” when Janice says: “Oh, I love seeing teachers outside of school. It’s like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.”
No. They’re real people with real lives and real feelings.
Associate English Professor Susan Ertel regularly posts photos of her cats Yoda and Arwen on social media and puts “Star Wars” stickers on assignments that get 100%. Logan Reid, part-time sociology instructor, tells stories about his teenage hijinx and uses it as a way for his classes to analyze crime and deviance. David Harris, assistant professor of media studies, is currently enrolled as a student himself.
Additionally, I remember that when English professor Ace Pilkington died last spring, it had an effect on the entire Enlish department. His friends and colleagues tearfully shared memories of him in class or during interviews with me, his students who remembered him as a “god” mourned him and wrote creative works in his memory — to the point that The Southern Quill had an entire section dedicated to him — and his wife, Assistant English Professor Olga Pilkington, shouldered the burden of the classes he left behind.
I never met Ace Pilkington in person and even I was saddened by his loss after only having interacted with him via one online course because he was still a person who left an impact on me and the people I care about. It also gave me an appreciation of Olga Pilkington after seeing how she handled the rest of our class that semester.
I’ve also known professors who profusely apologize for not having enough female authors represented in their reading assignments, who dedicate their office hours to listening to struggling students almost as if they were therapists, and who cry over their perceived failure to do what’s best for their students when they think no one’s watching.
You never know what professors are going through or how hard they’re working to make your education better. We should treat them with the same respect they do us, even if it’s as small as paying them a compliment when they host a good lecture.
If you have concerns and want your voice heard, fill out the end of semester surveys, attend a strategic planning meeting or talk directly to your professors. Professors are people too and should be treated as such.