Cross posted to Teaching Thursday
This past week one of the blogs hosted by U.S. News and World Report published a short list of ways to spot a bad professor (via Anne Kelsch). Two former university professors, Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman write for the blog giving some kind of authority.
Here's a short summary of their list:
1. The professor is boring.
2. The professor is bummed out.
3. The professor doesn't give out a syllabus—or hands out a one-paragraph syllabus that is just the course description from the Web.
4. The professor isn't clear about the requirements and how much they count.
5. The professor assigns an undoable amount of work—or no work at all.
6. The professor has incredibly petty rules.
7. The professor can't fill the whole class period.
8. The professor seems unsure about the material.
9. The professor presents the material in a confused way.
10. The professor never involves the students.
First, it is probably important to realize that this list is designed to attract hits to their blog as much as to advise students. Once we accept that, it is hard not to think that the list has some merit. I think I would flee from a class if a professor showed any number of these traits. More troubling, however, is the assumption that this kind of behavior is widespread on university campuses or at least common enough to make a list.
There is also the issue of how to determine whether a professor is boring or whether a particular workload is "undoable". Petty rules and honest insecurity about material are likewise in the eye of the beholder. Big classes often require some rules that would appear petty in a seminar environment. For example, I tell my students that I am not particularly offended if their phone rings during class (and most of our students here at UND know that this is rude), but I am offended if the student answers the phone. This kind of explicit statement is hardly necessary in a seminar environment. On the other hand, I've found it productive to admit in a seminar that I struggled with a particular text. This can often put a student at ease when confronting a very challenging text. I am not sure that this strategy would be as effective in, say, a large lecture course.
The real question, I suppose, is not whether a list like this is good or not (after all, who would want to be taught by a "bummed out" or confusing professor?), but what are the basic assumptions about good teaching (or being a good professor) in this list.