How To Deal With A Bad Online Professor

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Last Updated on October 25, 2023 by Alexandra Markin

I know the feeling well. You’re so excited to start a new course and dive into it with the best intentions, only to discover you’ve been assigned a subpar professor.

It happens to all of us. You won’t get through university without having at least one bad online professor (also called an instructor, teacher or faculty member). Fortunately, there are ways to step through this situation gracefully and still get a good grade in the course.

I’ve been an online student since 2017 and have experienced my fair share of bad professors – and yes, that means more than one. This post will give you some strategies on how to best deal with a bad online professor without sacrificing your sanity (or your grade!)

How To Deal With A Bad Online Professor

It’s one thing to have a bad professor for in–person classes, but dealing with a bad online professor poses an extra challenge. In online courses, you don’t ever get to meet, or (in most cases) have an actual phone conversation with your professor.

You don’t have the ability to read body language or facial expressions, and we all know how the tone of an email can be easily misconstrued.

These barriers aside, learning how to deal with a bad online professor is actually a valuable experience. It helps develop your problem solving and interpersonal skills, which are not directly taught through means of a university course.

Although we would all prefer to only have great teachers, consider learning how to deal with a bad online professor a bonus to the course material.

So get your feelings in check and read on to learn how to deal with a bad online professor.

1. Communicate Regularly

In any kind of difficult situation, communication is key.

As soon as you realize you may be dealing with a bad online professor, keep in constant contact via email throughout the course.

Although it may irritate you every time you compose an email to them, it’s important for your professor to see you’re making an effort to do your best, regardless of their teaching style or (undesirable) personality.

Some professors may offer the option to schedule a phone conversation during their office hours. It may help to have a real conversation about the course work you’re having trouble with. Like everyone, some professors are just not good at communicating their points via email, so having an actual conversation may be extremely helpful.

Effective communication is nothing without knowledge of the tactics for dealing with people. I highly recommend you read the book How To Win Friends And Influence People if you haven’t already.

The interpersonal skills I’ve learned from reading the book How To Win Friends And Influence People has helped me tremendously with how to deal with a bad online professor.

If you don’t at least try to communicate regularly to work through any problems, you won’t have any evidence in the rare case you need to report your professor to an advisor, or to back up what you write on the course evaluation form about what worked and what didn’t.

2. Reach Out To Clarify Any Questions

Whether it’s to clarify textbook material, suggested practice questions, optional coursework and especially assignment questions, email your professor and ask. It makes it look like you’re making an effort in the course and care about the material you’re learning.

Please remember that in university, no question is a stupid question. You’re there to learn, and there have been plenty of times I’ve asked a question via email only to figure out (the very obvious) answer on my own only hours later.

BONUS TIP: It can really benefit you to always ask questions about assignments, especially when you have a bad professor. By asking for clarification, you will often receive tips on how to go about answering a question you may not have considered, or important insight on what your “bad” professor is looking for.

3. Strictly Follow The Course Curriculum

When in doubt, strictly follow the course curriculum (also referred to as a course outline, course topics or syllabus).

Pay particular attention to the assignment marking criteria for the course. When in doubt, ask questions – don’t try and guess what is meant by the marking rubric means if you’re unsure.

Related Content: How To Study When You Don’t Feel Like It

4. Ask For Feedback On Completed Assignments

Didn’t receive the grade you were aiming for? If you get less than you feel you deserve, always ask for feedback on your assignments if your professor has left minimal comments.

In the case of a bad professor, you may not always get the kind of constructive feedback you’re looking for, but always following up with them and asking showing you’re putting in the effort.

5. Find Extra Learning Resources

If you’re struggling with course material and your professor isn’t much help, find some extra learning resources that can help you better understand the concepts.

Resources can be external websites, YouTube videos or a simple Google search that explains a concept more clearly than your course material.

There are both free and paid resources. If you’re good at Googling and willing to put in the time to do some digging, you can almost always find the help you need for free.

6. Reach Out To Classmates

A lot of online classes have a discussion board inside the learning platform that, in my opinion, are widely underused. I spend a lot of time reading and contributing to these forums. Often, many classmates are stuck on the same issue as you. On these discussion forms you can often find the clarification you need, both on the material and sometimes even how to deal with the (bad) online professor.

In addition to discussion boards, Facebook groups for your university are a good place to connect with other classmates. Ask for tips on how they handled the situation and what their experience was. Take this with a grain of salt – not everyone’s experiences are the same.

Remember to always be respectful and don’t say anything you may regret later. Especially online, where anything you put out to into the world is permeant.

Finding a study buddy (or buddies!) who are also struggling with the course can be tremendously helpful in getting a good course grade.

BONUS TIP: You never know who you could meet!

7. Don’t Take It Personally

Heeding the advice from my mother who was a teacher for 40 years and has a Master Of Education In Early Childhood Education from the University of British Columbia: “If you find the professor difficult, there is no doubt others find them difficult as well.”

Your professor could be having a tough time with a personal situation, they may be a new teacher or they may just straight out not care about their job (it happens!) It’s not about you, so it’s important to recognize that.

Sometimes it helps to write out your feelings in a journal to allow yourself to take a step back and refocus. Try keeping a journal to help process your thoughts in a constructive way.

8. Speak To Your Advisor

I’m a huge proponent for giving your professor and the course a fair chance before trying to change teachers or drop the course.

If you’ve given a solid effort to the strategies above and have given your professor a fair chance but you’re still having problems, speak to your education advisor. Explain the issues and ask what they recommend. Your advisor will be able to give you advice on how to best move forward or propose a solution that fits your specific needs.

9. Fill Out The Course Evaluation Form

After you have completed the course, fill out the course evaluation form. The more specific you can be, the better. Keep it constructive and respectful.

This is your chance to be a part of positive change and help future students. Evaluation forms are extremely valuable to your university and they take all feedback into account to improve the course and (potentially) bad online professors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How To Deal With A Bad Online Professor

What Makes A Bad Online Teacher?

A bad teacher is subjective – so what makes a teacher “bad”? Are they just poor at teaching, new at teaching a particular subject or not paying attention to detail?

What makes one teacher bad to one student may not make that teacher bad to another student. However, here are some classic signs you may be dealing with a bad professor:

  • Slow to answer emails
  • Slow to mark and return your assignments.
  • Brief answers to your questions, and not thorough enough with addressing your concern.
  • Impersonal tone to emails.
  • Unreasonable advice to answer a question in respect to the course content.
  • Little attention to deal, such as forgetting to leave feedback on an assignment or miscalculating an assignment mark.

Should I Take A Class With A Bad Professor?

In most universities offering online classes, and mine in particular, you don’t get to choose your professor. In most cases you won’t even know who they are until you’ve paid the course fee and receive your welcome letter (via email) for the course.

Bad professors are a fact of life, and your outcome of the class has everything to do with how you approach the situation. This is why it’s so important to develop skills for how to deal with a bad professor.

How To Report A Bad Professor

After you have tried your absolute best to get through the course but have had a particular bad experience, you may need to report a bad professor.

Assemble your evidence, in writing, before you report a bad professor. This means keeping well-documented emails and dates of the occurrence, assignment feedback or any other documentation necessary.

Before submitting anything, thoroughly check your universities’ policy on how to report a bad professor.

Rate My Professors

If you’re a student reading this blog, you’re probably well aware of the website Rate My Professors. If you’re not, Rate My Professors (also known as RMP for short) is a website in which college and university students can give a rating out of 5 and leave a detailed comment on their experience with a course professor.

In my experience, if you’re going to check these ratings before starting a new course, take the ratings with a grain of salt as they are not 100% reliable. Just because one person say the professor is bad, doesn’t mean everyone thinks they are bad.

Anyone can review professor ratings and comments, but if you want to leave your own rating you need to sign up for an account.

Despite the fact that leaving a rating on Rate My Professors is legal and anonymous, I would never leave a not-so-good rating for a professor without using a reliable VPN connection. And because I’m a computing science student, I wouldn’t even leave a good rating without using a VPN.

I’m passionate about the importance of cyber security and online privacy. If you’re interested in learning more about VPN’s and how they can benefit you, read the post Do I Need A VPN As An Online Student?

Have you had to deal with a bad online professor yet? Share your experience in the comments!

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