When prospective students think about college, they often think about all the different kinds of people they’ll meet –– who they’ll live with, what student organizations they’ll join and what their classmates will be like.
Yet students don’t often think about the personalities they’ll encounter at the front of the classroom. Yes, professors are people, too, with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies.
There are cool professors and weird professors, professors who know how to teach and professors who are barely coherent, professors with clout and young bucks just trying to make it in the world of academia.
Like Cady Heron a la “Mean Girls,” I’ve mapped out the world of professors into different types for your reading pleasure.
Stranger in a foreign land
Oh, the visiting professor. This teacher is increasingly common, as there are fewer tenure-track positions and more competition for the ones that do exist. The visiting professor comes to a college or university on a short-term basis, signing a contract for a year or two. Oftentimes, they aren’t expected to do much research and there is little reward for a job well done.
Because of the aforementioned conditions, visiting professors are all over the place. Some are experts in the field they teach in, others are doctoral students stacking their resume with a sweet gig. They often don’t know the lay of the land and tend to look to students for guidance on “how things work around here.”
Visiting professors are to college what substitute teachers are to elementary school. You never know what you’re going to get, but it’ll probably be more lax than an old pro.
I don’t give a fuck (a.k.a the tenured teacher)
Speaking of old pros, these are the cunning profs that actually landed a tenured position. They are usually older and usually have the confidence of a 13-year-old boy that can grow a handlebar moustache.
These professors are experts. A tenured teacher at a prestigious college might be one of the country’s foremost authorities on the subject they teach. No measly undergrad dares to question the tenured professor’s knowledge.
These professors, however, are really hard to fire, a condition that gives them relative autonomy. Of course there are tons of tenured professors that are excellent teachers, but there are also many that don’t care enough to incorporate student feedback. As a student, you are at the mercy of your tenured teachers.
This professor is not the mean, fabled prom queen of yore. No, she is genuinely everyone’s favorite person, faculty and student body alike. The Prom Queen somehow gets a 5.0 rating on Rate My Professors and has thousands of devoted Twitter followers.
The Prom Queen’s strength is also her weakness: she is so popular that she will rarely have time to make lasting connections with individual students (especially at a large school like UC Berkeley). Everyone wants a piece of her, and she can only give so much.
This is the teacher that shows up on day one with a slideshow full of gifs and memes, because that’s what the kids like, right? This guy insists he’s better than you at Pokémon Go a hot six months after the trend started and likes to pepper his lecture with viral videos whether or not they demonstrate a point.
Admittedly, this teacher is super entertaining. On the one hand, the videos and memes are engaging in the way that clickbait reels you in. On the other hand, just watching Mr. Relatable work so hard to engage in youth trends is fascinating in its own right.
Sometimes, though, Mr. Relatable tries too hard to please, a fact that affects his ability to actually teach a class.
The Golden Oldies
This is by far my favorite category of professors. The Golden Oldies are professors that had a whole life and career outside of academia and decided to teach because retirement is boring.
These teachers rarely give a damn about what the college or university wants from them. They see mandatory assessments the way students see them: a drag and extra work they’d rather forgo. A Golden Oldie just wants to influence the next generation of young professionals.
The Golden Oldies sometimes get a bad rep (which is totally unfair!) because they don’t play the game. It’s harder to know what these professors want from you as a student so it can sometime seem like you’re trying to please an inscrutable and intimidating expert.
My advice is to pay attention to the Golden Oldies. These professors have unique life stories and simply want an audience to listen and learn.
No matter the professor, you can always succeed as a student. It’s all about figuring out what type of instructor you have and how you can best use your resources –– time, effort, skills –– to keep them happy.
Samantha writes the Friday column on undergraduate myths. Contact her at [email protected].