Tips for student success: Dealing with difficult professors and classmates

Many stressful situations are presented during college, but don't let them get the best of you.

Many stressful situations are presented during college, but don’t let them get the best of you.

We’ve all encountered the stuffy professor who can’t understand why you need help before your final exam or the slacker student who disrupts your study habits or sabotages your group project. Here are some tips for college students on dealing with difficult professors and fellow students.

Dealing with difficult professors

The professor is there to teach you. That’s a given. He or she is the expert, and hence, knows more about the subject matter than you do. However, that doesn’t excuse behavior that is arrogant, intimidating, dismissive or anything that is not one-hundred percent professional. Professors should still remember that they are teachers who have to work with young adults and prepare them for the big wide world.

Professor Joe Martin, ED.D. online at Real World University, advises students in “Dealing with difficult professors”: “If you want to win over your professor, reinforce your professor’s position by letting him know that you are lost in the class. However, never blame him for the reason you feel lost (even if he is). Eat humble pie, and take full responsibility for his inability to teach. Again, this goes against traditional logic of standing up for what you believe in, but it is more important to win the war than the battle.”

Martin suggested some typical lines to soothe your savage beast of a professor:

• “I’m not getting the kind of grades I know I can in your class. What do you think I’m doing wrong?”

• “Would you mind if I came by your office to get some additional help?”

• “What do you think is the key to mastering (this subject matter)?”

More tips for mean or unhelpful professors:

Be respectful – Swallow your pride. Being respectful keeps the professor superior to you, and makes him/her more willing to help someone in need (you). If you’re too disrespectful, you likely will get little or no help, or you may even be reported for disciplinary problems.

Communicate calmly – Find some quiet, uninterrupted time with your professor and calmly explain the trouble you’re having with the course work. If you are calm, collected and speak intelligently, you will elicit the same behavior from your listener.

Respect office hours – Office hours are the time the professor has allotted to talk to students. Don’t accost your professor in the hall, the bathroom, the lunch room, just before his next class or while he’s walking toward his car to go home at the end of the day.

Dealing with lazy classmates

Working in a group on a project is supposed to teach you to work together, collaborate, compromise, analyze resources, budget your time and delegate. But sometimes classmates are just plain disruptive and lazy. In “Conflict resolution and group work” published in Academic Exchange Quarterly, summer 2005, writers Brian K. Payne, et al., said: “Students learn a great deal from overcoming conflict. They learn how to talk to one another and listen to one another. They also learn how to work collaboratively and develop goals consistent with the group. In addition, they learn that they have something to offer to their fellow group members.”

Here are some tips for working with difficult classmates:

Be the leader – “Don’t fear stepping up and being the team coordinator or leader….This doesn’t mean being the person who does all the work, but ensuring everything gets done on time. Leaders also facilitate communication between members and help keep members on track. If you find yourself in the leadership role, keep an open mind and listen to everyone’s opinions,” wrote Ashley Ritter in “7 tips for surviving a group project,” posted May 20, 2012, on USA Today Educate.

Set goals and deadlines – Make sure everyone has his/her own jobs to do, spelled out and understood by each participant. Each person knows that the others in the group are depending on him to do his part.

Submit progress reports – Each participant should check in periodically to make sure everyone is on track with the project. The slacker in your group will be discovered soon. If he/she still causes trouble, talk to your professor.

What’s your strategy for dealing with a difficult professor or lazy classmate? 

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7 replies
  1. Porphyria says:

    It’s “the savage BREAST” not “the savage beast” (from Congreve’s “Mourning Bride”. Stuff like this doesn’t add to your credibility.

  2. Donna says:

    I would also add to dealing difficult professor – are you, the student, doing the work it takes to earn the grade you want? Have you submitted the assignments on time, in the required format?

    Students tell me that they deserve a higher grade – an A preferably – because they worked so hard/spent so much time/ on the class. However, there is no grade for “effort” in the syllabus.

    While there are truly difficult professors out there, students must accept responsibility for their work and learning. To recommend “take full responsibility for his inability to teach” without the student evaluating their learning and contribution leaves out the other 50% of the equation: student responsibility for learning.

  3. Denise says:

    What people don’t realize is that we are consumers, not just students and we do have rights. Lookat at the mission statement of the college, etc.


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