The Young and Disenchanted

“Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense” – College Professors

Posted on: 5 February, 2009

Fact: I was one of those dorky kids who genuinely liked going to school.

Seriously. I liked writing essays, I enjoyed my classes and I especially loved my teachers. This may have been partially because I could bully them into giving me better grades (no joke, I once told a teacher who had previously given me a B that I expected an A in his class, and he actually gave me one at the end of term), but also because the teachers at my last school were genuinely inspirational. They knew their subject matter well and liked young people enough to share their knowledge without being patronising or confusing. So when I set off to college, I was convinced that I would find nothing but incredibly gifted Nobel Prize-winning professors who couldn’t wait to teach me.

Yeah, whatever. This is what happened instead:

First semester: For a compulsory science class I had to take, I had an Indian professor whose droning voice combined with her refusal to put on the lights in our windowless classroom for the first half of the semester and wrap-and-cheesecake-brownie-induced-itis resulted in me falling asleep in every class. And her hating me. And me hating her. And me not learning anything and getting a C+.  

Second semester: A professor of mine who sounded bizarrely like a male Mrs Brovlawski (Kyle’s mum from South Park, one of the greatest shows of all time for those of y’all who don’t know) succeeded in making me hate macroeconomics more than I love Idris Elba (which, by the way, is a fucking lot). How, you ask? By a) not actually teaching any of the subject matter but instead throwing in all kinds of complicated equations not necessary for the class and b) telling us for half of the lesson time that none of us would end up with jobs after graduating because “it’s about to be a recession, bitches.” To give props where due, he was fucking on point with that prediction so somewhere deep down, I guess he actually did know his shit.

Summer session: Calculus One. An overly eager Eastern-European TA-looking professor. An hour and a half, four times a week, for six weeks. Need I say more?

I hated it. By the end of my second year of college, I’d only taken a handful of classes that made me feel like, “Damn, I learned some real shit from that dude/chick.” Most of my professors were grouchy, uninterested and totally inaccessible. I found myself missing the days where I got chocolate bars and tea breaks in the middle of class, just because. (Jesus, did I go to high school or freaking kindergarten???)

This year, things have gotten a little better. Maybe it’s because I’ve settled into my major more, and I’m comfortable enough with the protocols of the classes to actually feel like I’m learning something. Maybe it’s the enthusiasm that my most recent professors embody – the fact that they actually seem to love what they’re teaching has made me also love Yeats’ poetry and 16th century treatises on Catholicism. Or maybe I’ve unconsciously adapted to the difference between college and high school teaching styles.

I went to high school in England, and the last two years which I spent doing my A Levels did a lot to make me academically independent. But at the same time, if shit was ever really bad, I could go have a banter with my teacher and get an extension for an essay/help with a tricky problem set/brandy to help drink my problems away soothe a sore throat. In part because I attended a boarding school, they felt like kinda like my family at my home-away-from-home.

But at college, there isn’t enough time for you to get to know a professor that well. I knew most of my high school teachers for seven years. In a big lecture class, I’ll be lucky if I even see my professor past the big-ass head of the kid in front of me, let alone get to speak to them during the 14-week semester that they teach me for. More than that, they always seem so aloof and all-important, with their PhD-holding-flying-to-Switzerland-for-a-scholars’-conference selves. I got pride – I don’t need to be made to feel stupid by someone who really is a lot cleverer than I am. Then again, the way my GPA is looking, I might need to just say “fuck it,” get off my ass and go suck up like my life depends on it. Shit, a bitch needs job references.

Rational Chaos and I were conversing about this topic a while ago, and he tells me that the problem is worse in the engineering school. Most of the professors are more interested in their research than in their students, and this reflects in the robotic way they deliver their classes. The engineers end up just learning to get shit done, rather than actually enjoying the subject matter. For the few of them who don’t actually want to go into finance, this is kind of a damn shame and explains why most of them want to get the fuck up out of here for grad school.

Maybe I need to stop being so idealistic about the professor-student relationship. After all, this isn’t Oxford in the 1930s. Most people come to college to get a degree that will enable them to get a high-paying job when they graduate, not to embark on a scholarly journey full of tweed caps and 19th century Romantic poetry. At the same time, I wonder why there can’t be a combination of the two – after all, money isn’t absolutely everything, is it? There is some joy in learning for the sake of learning, right?

 Speak on it.

 P.S. Title is from a Fela Kuti song. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s one of the greatest African musicians of all time and the baddest motherfucker ever. Check it. And this, just because it’s my favourite Fela song.



4 Responses to "“Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense” – College Professors"

Nice rant! But hang in there. I’ve got some news for you: it’s not just college, it’s the rest of your adult life. At some point, people quit “pushing” knowledge and opportunity and expect you to “pull” it. You are in a transition period, and hopefully you’ll learn to learn *despite* your environment rather than because of it. That’s the big secret.

Trust me. I’ve been right where you are!

Money certainly is not everything.

Learn what you can…..

I found that I did most of my learning on my own… Not by boring professors who were too busy to give me the time of day. Fuck them, anyway.

If all else fails, get your degree and then teach at the school…. Better than the rest.

I’m a girl up at Dartmouth and I’ve enjoyed reading so far. Just saying hi 🙂

Cute blog. Nice to see how much you argue against stereotyping but then just smash a “Calculus One. An overly eager Eastern-European TA-looking professor. An hour and a half, four times a week, for six weeks. Need I say more?

I hated it”

As an Eastern European doing science, I find that quite offensive.

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