How to Evaluate a Professor

Rating professors is all the rage these days. But what should you really look for when you pick a professor

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Rating professors is a favorite pastime for many post-finals college students. It’s gotten increasingly big thanks to the Internet, fueled by websites such as RateMyProfessors.com, where a student from practically any college can post a review about any professor.

Beyond the coolness factor and the temptation to get revenge on a teacher for a bad grade, rating professors can be a useful way to help choose classes and make sure your college experience is a good one. A great professor can make an average class exciting and a good class life-changing.

Do Your Own Professor Evaluations

What makes a good college professor? It’s going to be different for everyone, but ask yourself a few basic questions when researching teachers and classes. You may have to do a little extra work, but if you can save yourself from a bad teacher, it’s completely worth it.

One of the most important things you can ask is, “Is this teacher good at lecturing?” Lectures make up the majority of the classes for most majors, and lecturing is a skill independent of being smart or knowledgeable. There are many brilliant professors who mumble with their backs to the class.

Beyond that, are they teaching the subjects they love? Sometimes professors are forced to teach classes they aren’t interested in. I don’t mean that you’re going to be stuck with an English professor teaching calculus, but a linguistics professor might teach literature or a mathematics professor teach statistics.

You can often read in a course catalog or faculty directory where a professor’s specialties or areas of interest lie. If you’re being really diligent, you might want to do a little Web research to see if a professor has any published material (whether a full-length book or an article) on a given subject. If a prof has spent time writing a book on a subject, chances are she’s pretty passionate about that topic.

You might want to stay away from such courses. The professors might be excellent, but they just can’t re-create the spark and excitement of teaching something they love. Keep this in mind when rating professors.

Other Thoughts for Professor Evaluation

Are they accessible? Do they have office hours? Do they respond to emails, and do they make their contact information readily available? A good professor is there for his students. Remember that they can’t be available all the time, but a good professor will have well-defined, clearly available office hours for students.

Another great way to get evaluations of professors is to ask other students. Remember that you have a whole alumni network and student body with knowledge of professors. Make sure to ask around if you are really interested in finding great professors.

Remember to be a part of helping teachers improve. Course evaluations and professor evaluations are given out at the end of the course. Professors read them. This is a perfect chance to rate a professor and help him improve his teaching ability.

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