Having been a student for the vast majority of my life, I’ve had a wide variety of teachers. I choose to believe most teachers want their students to succeed, and actually take pride in their success. However, after having worked my way through high school and to almost the halfway point of my undergraduate career, this is getting more difficult to justify.
Specifically, notoriously difficult professors make me doubt my own beliefs regarding teachers wanting their students to succeed. Almost everyone has had one — you have to know what I’m talking about. It’s the professor who says, “Nobody does well in my class,” on the first day of the semester with a sick smirk on their face. It’s the professor who repeatedly gives exams no one can seem to get above a 50 on, regardless of the time they spend studying. I say “professor” because I believe these types of teachers are more prevalent in higher education. However, I have met them in high school as well, such as the teacher who refuses to give 100s as completion grades because “nobody is perfect.”
As everyone who has been taught by one of these professors knows, this behavior is indescribably frustrating. I’ve heard people dismiss these professors as simply wanting to inspire their students to work harder and achieve greatness, but this is just not the case. It is wildly discouraging, as opposed to motivating, to be explicitly told you cannot do well in a course even if you are doing your absolute best. Unsurprisingly, a professor telling a student success is impossible is not the pep talk one might think it is.
As I mentioned, I choose to believe educators want their students to succeed. But this shouldn’t just be a situation in which I am giving professors the benefit of the doubt. Being put in charge of someone’s education is an incredible responsibility that should make you want to see tangible success in the gradebook. The goal should be to promote as much student success as possible, not the bare minimum. Additionally, I would think that having the majority of your students failing a class would reflect poorly on your abilities as a professor to any administrator looking on.
Thus, the infamously difficult professor who borders on espousing anti-teaching sentiments genuinely holds the wrong mindset about both their relationship with students and their responsibilities as an educator. Instead of encouraging students, professors actively discourage them from even trying in class, because effort is apparently futile. A professor who refuses to give out a single A is a professor with a significant misunderstanding of their job.
I know you can be a successful student without being the smartest person in your class, getting straight As, or generally being perfect. Grades are not the end-all be-all of life. We’re all aware of the classic examples of failure. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. Walt Disney was fired from an early job at a newspaper for not being creative enough. The “Harry Potter” book series was rejected by 12 different publishing houses before finally getting accepted by Bloomsbury. These are all inspiring examples of failures building the motivation necessary for later success.
I’m fully aware it’s important to learn how to cope with the inevitable failures that are simply a part of life. But if a teacher does not want their students to do well, or solely uses failure as their only teaching strategy, their class is not worth taking. At the very least, it is not worth paying for such a class in a college setting, only to have the end result hurt your transcript in the long run. While we are still stuck the societal mindset of “GPA over everything” and constant resume building, there is no benefit to students from professors who purposefully jeopardize these values over a silly principle.