How to Handle Prickly Professors

During the four years spent in college classrooms, everyone is bound to run into a professor or two that we believe is out to get us. These professors push us to the brink of insanity and hold us within inches of a psychotic break, seemingly without reason. When all else fails, how do we navigate the rough seas with someone who seemingly controls our future?

First thing to do when you think a professor is out to get you is to take a deep breath and a step back. Call to mind the basic tenets of being a good student. Are you showing up to class? Do you comply with all the nit-picky details explained in the syllabus? Do you at least attempt to pay attention in class? If the answer is no then maybe you need to step back and really give it your all in the classroom. While the annoying habits of professors sometimes border on ridiculous, in order to get the grade, sometimes showing up, paying attention and rolling your eyes through their quirks will go a long way.

If you are showing up to class regularly and submitting assignments on time then it’s time to speak to fellow classmates about this particular professor. There is no better barometer for how tricky your professor is than the shared perception of the teacher by the students. Speaking to people in past and present classes of this particular professor will help you to determine if the snide comments left on your paper were a personal hit or just a prickly personality. If you’re the only one who the professor is throwing shade at in the comments, take a few minutes to speak to them before or after to class to see what the deal is.

When dealing with a prickly personality who trolls everyone, the key to success is sometimes as easy as caring about the work you are submitting. Try asking a professor’s opinion on a sentence in a paper you wrote for the class or maybe ask a question about the reading. Being interested for the sake of the grade doesn’t mean you are teacher’s pet — it means you care, which will get you further in the long run.

After all of this, if your professor is still being difficult, approach him or her about it. As adults we need to get comfortable with standing up for ourselves in a respectful yet powerful manner, and this is the perfect training ground. Either make an appointment with said professor or show up to office hours with prepared questions and perhaps, write out what you would like to say to them beforehand. There is no denying that confrontation can be incredibly terrifying, but there is no way to try and decode every message and it’s better to know what can be done.

If for some reason the meeting goes south and you leave feeling as though you’ve lost more ground than gained intelligence, go to your advisor. At Penn State our advisors are expert level mediators and can give you tools on how to further approach the situation without completely torching your grade. Unfortunately, sometimes formal complaints need to be filed against faculty and no one should ever feel shamed or pressured either way.

It’s important to remember, throughout tricky experiences, that in life we aren’t going to get along with everyone and that is okay. Pushing through the tough, uncomfortable moments with people with whom you don’t get along only make you a stronger person.


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