Preparing for College

Inside A Professor's Head

I recall with great fondness sitting in my college classes and wondering what my professors' true motives were. Some seemed apathetic. Some were extremely passionate. Others were rather matter of fact. A few acted like they were doing us a favor by showing up to disperse their elegant pearls of wisdom before us mere swine students. Usually, that latter group had Teaching Assistants (TAs) at the ready to take over the instant the lecture was finished, similar to a press secretary taking questions after the president hurriedly departs the rostrum.

Those of you seniors who are anticipating your first-year experiences in the halls of ivy may be wondering about what you will encounter in the way of professorial behavior, motives, and demeanor. Along those lines, have you ever perused the opinions on RateMyProfessors.com?  Of course, there are myriad motivations for posting the likes of some of those opinions, but many are quite entertaining. For example:


STAY AWAY! Does not want you to succeed. Is condescending and does not like opinions that differ from her own. Also doesn't do well teaching online due to she cannot comprehend what you mean. Will give zero for paper if she feels you didn't address her question fully. Also gives zeros for work turned in even 20 minutes late. BEWARE!!!!

But I digress. The real purpose of my post here today is to give you a peek inside the head of one professor whose behavior, motives, and demeanor aren't in the "BEWARE!!!!" category. Far from it. I think it's good that professors speak out in a candid sense about what they're trying to accomplish in the classroom. If you're wondering what you might encounter this fall, then hope that you can get a majority of faculty members like this one. Here are a few excerpts from inside this professorial head:

I Don't Lie Awake At Night Thinking of Ways to Ruin Your Life

by Art Carden, Assistant Professor of Economics at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee

... One of the popular myths of higher education is that professors are sadists who live to inflict psychological trauma on undergraduates. Perhaps you believe that we pick students at random and then schedule all our assignments in such a way as to make those students’ lives as difficult as possible. The older I get and the longer I do this, the more I recognize that we (the professors) need to be more transparent about our philosophies of evaluation. How does this work? Let’s clarify a few things.

First, I do not “take off” points. You earn them. The difference is not merely rhetorical, nor is it trivial. In other words, you start with zero points and earn your way to a grade. You earn a grade in (say) Econ 100 for demonstrating that you have gained a degree of competence in economics ranging from being able to articulate the basic principles (enough to earn a C) to mastery and the ability to apply these principles to day-to-day affairs (which will earn an A). ...

Second, this means that the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that you have mastered the material. It is not on me to demonstrate that you have not. My assumption at the beginning of each class is that you know somewhere between nothing and very little about basic economics unless you were lucky enough to have an exceptional high school economics course. Otherwise, why are you here? ...

...  Finally, I’m here to be a mentor and instructor. This means that our relationship differs from the relationships that you have with your friends and family. Please don’t infer from this that I don’t care about you, because I do. A lot. I want to see you make good choices. I want to see you understand basic economics because I hope it will rock your world as it continues to rock mine and because the human consequences of lousy economic policy are enormous. That said, you should never take grades personally. I don’t think you’re stupid because you tank an exam, an assignment, or even an entire course. ...

Dear student, I once thought as you do. I once carried about the same misconceptions, the same litany of cognitive biases, and the same adolescent desire to blame others for my errors. I was (and remain) very poorly served by my immaturity. As shocking as it may seem, I still cling to a lot of it, even after four years of college, five years of graduate school, and now five-and-a-half years as a professor ... I’m still learning to put aside childish things. I hope you will do the same. Start now. The effort is daunting, but the rewards are substantial.

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You should all be so fortunate to end up in classes with teachers like Professor Carden. So, start searching Rate My Professors!

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