End the condescension

Students should stand up to professors who treat them poorly.

Trent M. Kays

When I started graduate school, I knew that I would be expected to teach. But I never expected that I would find my destiny. I love teaching, and I try to use my time as a student to inform how I teach. I approach my teaching with passion, and I often treat my students as peers. Not all teachers are like me, and some prefer to treat students with contempt rather than respect.

A friend of mine who attends an art school on the East Coast remarked the other day that he was tired of one of his instructors harping on his work. My friendâÄôs a talented artist, yet his instructor continually singles him out and offers harsher critiques of his work than to other students. Apparently, this instructor is given to bouts of pretention and erratic behavior, regularly changing assignments without notice.

IâÄôve heard this story many times before, and it always forces me to reflect on the goals of education as well as those who decide to become teachers. The example of my friend is typical of most art schools. These schools seem to be a haven for the pretentious and egomaniacal, yet instructors who exhibit these behaviors, like my friendâÄôs, exist in all universities. IâÄôve had students come to me and declare that they are helpless in a class where pretentious instructors rule, and I can empathize with them.

IâÄôve had my fair share of pretentious instructors. During some of my undergraduate coursework in history, I had an instructor who taught a course titled “Roman Republic.” In the days when I thought I would actually be successful with a history degree focused in ancient history, I dove into the course with vigor. But, I quickly became disheartened with the course, and it wasnâÄôt because of the course topic âÄî it was because of the instructor.

My instructor, like my friendâÄôs, routinely put students down and was overly harsh in his critique of studentsâÄô work. I struggled to connect with the coursework because the instructor never made me feel like I belonged in the class. In his class, the students were simply there to receive his knowledge and not talk. It was one of the worst courses IâÄôve ever taken in my academic career.

That was my first encounter with the stereotypical college professor, and one who gives all college teachers a bad name. When I started teaching, I decided I never want to be like that teacher. Listening to my friend tell his story, I couldnâÄôt help but be reminded of my experience with my former history teacher. Both experiences certainly are not generalizable, yet it is the impression that many students get when they first enter college.

My friendâÄôs remarks angered me because a teacher shouldnâÄôt treat a student as if they were inferior. Regardless of skill or knowledge, no student deserves to be treated in such a manner, especially when they are in a class and at a college to learn and better themselves. My recommendations to my friend were most likely influenced by my anger that another teacher would ever treat their students as such. But, after reflecting on my advice to my friend, I believe it was correct and in line with my own teaching philosophy.

I gave my friend the following advice: Do not just sit there and take it. This is something that all students need to realize. Teachers exist to help you on your journey through your education. It is true, especially at the university level, that many teachers are also researchers. However, just because they are researchers does not mean they get to shrug off their duty as educators.

I told my friend that he should stand up and challenge the criticisms and pretentious behavior of his instructor. He should not put up with someone talking down to him. This should be the case for all university students. Just because a person is your instructor doesnâÄôt give them the right to treat you poorly and as if you do not exist. Students should not put up with it, and they should challenge such behavior because that type of behavior reflects on all teachers, good or bad.

Life is short, and no student should have to listen to someone pontificate and talk down to them. University students are adults and they can make decisions for themselves. My job as an educator is to help students access the tools, skills and knowledge for them to be successful after they leave the University. It is not my job to talk down to students and to make them feel inferior to me.

Everyone has different life experiences, and while IâÄôm sure that my friendâÄôs instructor has his reasons for being a pretentious fop, I find it difficult to defend such behavior. As someone who has endured that type of criticism and that type of devaluing attitude from a teacher, I firmly believe that any instructor who treats their students in such a manner is unfit to teach. They are not worthy to help students.

My attitude toward these types of teachers may seem extreme, but when youâÄôre an undergraduate student, you have only so much time to discover who you are before society places tremendous obligations on you. Universities are a place of discovery for many students, and they shouldnâÄôt have to spend four years enduring the pretentious behavior of instructors who believe themselves superior to all.

If someone talks down to you outside of a university, then often you will challenge that behavior. If youâÄôre in a university, then it should be no different. My advice to all students is to challenge any person who would dare treat you as inferior, and make it known that you will not permit such behavior anymore.