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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Great researchers don’t always make great professors

Classroom
Photo by FILE
Classroom

We’ve all been there. You are in a lecture giving your professor your undivided attention, trying with all your might to understand the assigned material, but it is just not happening. It’s evident the professor is highly educated in their field. However, there’s an apparent knowledge gap between the student and the professor, and the instructor is just not well equipped enough to bridge that gap.

This article is not about the professors who brag about their classes being extremely difficult, or for those who tell students on the first day that most people will likely not make it all the way through. Those professors need to better reflect on who to blame — the students, or themselves. Stating something that daunting on the first day sets everyone in the class up for failure, and the opportunity to be a helping hand to students in need has already gone to waste. Professors who teach this way do nothing but excel at creating negative, self-fulfilling prophecies about their students. They expect students to fail their class, which will most likely happen because they already began the course with low expectations. Rather, the purpose is to highlight the researchers who double as professors, but lack the communication skills to address these concerns.
Texas A&M looks like it is trying its best to be nothing but a STEM-focused research institution. That image will surely draw more researchers to College Station. However, at the cost of gaining these new professionals into our various programs, the university is trying to shift the role of instructor to these individuals as well. The assignment of researchers to the position of a professor is not an issue for those who can break down information to students and give them a greater appreciation for their field of study. The problem is not everyone has this gift, and undergraduate students end up suffering because of it.

 

One of the most apparent differences between a good teacher and someone with a tunnel vision of research is the art of communication. Great professors can take students on a journey of discovery in their field. They can relay information clearly to people hearing it for the first time and have patience with those who don’t get the material right away. The professors who don’t have this skill experience what social scientists call the curse of knowledge.

The idea behind that theory is that the more someone knows about a certain field, the harder it is for them to put themselves in the shoes of those hearing it for the first time. The lack of understanding for those seeing the material for the first time is an all too familiar feeling among students. There is nothing more frustrating than hearing, “I don’t know how you don’t understand this” from a professor, only to go to the Organic Chemistry Tutor page on YouTube and understand it with much more certainty.

Furthermore, another trope of a professor solely focused on research is when they are obviously on autopilot in the classroom. The scene goes like this: The professor walks in the room, turns on a PowerPoint presentation, talks for 50 or sometimes an hour and fifteen minutes and then class is over. The entire class structure is just the professor giving a monologue and rarely incorporating new teaching strategies into the classroom. It leads to students questioning their motives for coming to class if the professor just reads them a presentation. A little engagement and getting feedback from students can go a long way in understanding the material.

Their inability to learn new teaching styles was never more evident than during the past two years of hybrid school. I certainly understand it was challenging to ask professors to shift their entire teaching structure on short notice because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we were all making sacrifices and some professors stuck to the only ways they knew. The lack of flexibility distinguishes the excellent professors from the ones who have no business teaching. They couldn’t effectively communicate the importance of the material or why it was applicable in the real world. Simply put, the students were not given engaging lessons. 

There is nothing more heartbreaking than a student that gets the excitement and love for a subject beat out of them by a professor with as much energy as Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh books. It is very hard to care for something if the person telling you about it doesn’t seem particularly excited about it either. Students can only have so much enthusiasm when a professor gives his entire lecture in the same mono-toned speech pattern. 

Researchers do a lot for the university, and their work should never be belittled or seen as unimportant. However, we shouldn’t burden them with the workload of being a professor. I do not support the saying that goes like, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Frankly, that saying is ignorant and dismissive of the impact professors can have on students. A great professor can inspire a student to keep moving forward and show them the validity of their efforts spent in class.

Teaching is too important of a job to be treated as a side hustle, and we should start seeing it for its value.

Ozioma Mgbahurike is an electrical engineering junior and opinion writer for The Battalion.

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