It was my very first semester at a four-year university. I had just transferred in and was excited to take a required full-fledged biochemistry course. I had taken an intro to biochem class at my community college and had loved it, and I was hoping that I would enjoy this class the same amount, if not more. At the introductory weekend, I met many of the current college students who were asking me what classes I would be taking that semester. I’d spout off the list, but whenever I got to biochemistry, people would stop me and ask who my professor was. I would answer them, and they would instantly tell me to drop it and take another class. Naturally, I asked them why in the world I would want to do that. Over ten students (individually and on separate occasions) told me that the professor was horrible, that no one ever passed his class, that he made the tests really hard, that he was useless during office hours, and that I would be lucky if I passed with a “C”. Wow. That’s a glowing review.
However, I’m a firm believer that you should give everyone a chance and not believe everything that you hear (if you did, can you imagine all the crazy things that we would think were true?). I took my first exam and got a D on it. I instantly panicked, and then practically ran to his office. I approached him in office hours carefully, wondering if I should expect any help, since multiple people had told me it would be pointless. I told him I was struggling and that I needed his help. The harder I tried, the more he helped. My class schedule didn’t allow me to make it to his scheduled office hours, but he made time to help me – at times, he’d leave his research lab to do so.
There were many times when he would explain something, and I wouldn’t understand it right away. Instead of giving up and leaving me to figure it out for myself (like some of my other professors had done), he’d stop, think for a bit, and then try explaining it in a different way. I would repeat what he just told me (or what I had heard) back to him, and he’d be ecstatic that I got it and understood the material. If I restated it incorrectly, he’d even find a third way to explain it, or until he knew that I had a grasp on the material. It turns out that having gone to a community college, I had been taught to understand a particular “language”, and that was not the way he taught. But he was such a great professor, he was determined that he would help me understand. I would go to him before exams, ask for help studying, and he always made the time to help me. I remember that I was stressing out over the final exam and that I kept confusing myself with the material. He then stopped my ranting (I had been trying to go over every single thing we had covered in class) and said, “Reagan, stop. You know the material. I know that you know the material. If I could give you your grade and not have you take the final, I would, but I can’t. You have proven to me over these sixteen weeks that you understand the material. At the beginning, you had no clue what was going on, but now you’re able to hold a conversation with me about biochemistry. You know what you’re talking about. Of the 70 students in my class, you are the one that I have no worries about passing.” I was shocked. No professor in the history of all my professors (and that’s been a lot) had ever said anything like that to me. So I stopped worrying. I received a 98% on my final and a 92% overall in biochemistry. If I had relied on what the other students had told me, I don’t think I would have done so well, and I know I wouldn’t have learned so much. He taught me how to speak the “language” of science so that I understand others and they can understand me. He taught me how to succeed in a biochemistry career. (I’m not knocking community college – it’s worth saving the money – there’s just a bit of a learning curve).
Now, there was some truth to what the college students at the introductory weekend had told me. His class was hard, and many people didn’t pass. It wasn’t because the professor didn’t care, though, but rather that he did. If the students didn’t care to put in the necessary work, then he wasn’t going to hold their hand – he was truly treating us like adults.
Many times, it seems like the average college student is used to getting everything handed to them on a plate. Let me explain:
Throughout their time in public school, they were taught to spit out answers to pre-determined questions (thank you, S.O.L. tests). They weren’t taught how to take charge of their education and truly think for themselves. These same people tend to stay up until the wee hours of the morning partying with friends, and then show up late to class, turn in their homework late, and then when their grades start to fall, they instantly blame their “hateful” professor. They claim their grade is not their fault because the professor doesn’t remind them of due dates, doesn’t bend over backwards for them out of the blue, doesn’t keep tabs on them and their progress in the class, and doesn’t walk them through what is going to be on the exam. Honestly, by the time you make it to college, you should fully be able to do these things on your own…without your professor literally holding your hand through the class (because that’s certainly not going to happen once you get a job). Occasionally, some professors will walk you through everything, but the truly great ones are the professors who don’t. They’re the ones who will help you become a productive member of society and they won’t enable your bad habits or behavior.
Don’t let other people’s opinions on one professor determine how you view them (and honestly, you should consider the source of the information…someone on the President’s List vs someone who shows up late to class everyday). Don’t let them bias you against your professor, and don’t be a typical college student. Be willing to put in a whole lot of work. College prepares you for the workforce. You should be treating it like a job, not a hobby that you can spend a quarter of your time on and the rest partying.
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