I used to hate the professors I had when I was still an engineering student. They were often intimidating and most of them only went to class to remind us that not everyone gets to be a chemical engineer one day. Being part of a tough program with a lot of competitive peers, asking for help from my professors often looked like I was not smart enough for to be part of the class.
For years, I struggled to get high grades in my exams, projects and even homeworks, yet I really had a terrible time doing so. It often ended up with me easily getting discouraged to continue the program because I don’t think my brain can handle all the information I needed to pass all my subjects.
Upperclassmen often scared us into thinking that we should avoid certain professors if we wanted to make sure that we’d pass a subject. Yet if we do end up with these terror professors, people would often remind us that these professors often like to fail their students. They are often the most hated and most feared human beings in engineering school. Students nervously laugh when they hear them joke about the exams and some would just avoid them entirely.
In short, the students often think that most engineering professors love the idea of failing their students. I should know this sentiment because I was one of them – and I did everything I could just to make sure I could avoid them every semester.
But we all know every student needs to experience going to class with a terror professor.
It’s been five years since I graduated and I am finally a licensed engineer. I no longer dread the thought of taking an exam I barely had time to study for and I am now doing well with my job. I accidentally bumped into one of my college professors and despite the awkwardness I must have had projected, he was certainly in the mood to catch up with an old student.
So all throughout our conversation, I was still feeling nervous, of course. Despite his approachable demeanor, he had a reputation for flunking his students in one of our major classes before. I almost failed in his class so I was surprised when he wanted to make time for some silly chit-chat with me. He was asking how I was doing and where I was working now. To be polite, I also asked about his well-being and his work. I know he was still one of the most hated professors today but I just thought it was okay to joke about his popularity in school.
I joked, “So, Sir, are you still a terror professor? How many students did you fail this semester?” He laughed and asked if that’s what his students considered him in school. I was honest but I was careful in telling him that me and my peers were afraid of getting him for our advanced thermodynamics class and when we did, we really wanted to drop out of the class. He tried to recall the grades he gave me before and eventually asked me if I passed, I said I did.
What struck me the most in our conversation was his sincere response after that. He told me, “I hate the idea of giving my student a low grade. If they’re not ready to take the advance classes next sem, then I will have to make sure they will be even if it meant making them retake the class again. I just want all of my students to learn and fully understand what they’re getting into. Being an engineer is not as easy as what most students think.”
Hearing him say that to me made me realize that professors have a hard job of educating kids and not everyone wants to fail their students for the pleasure of it. It was refreshing to hear my professor tell me honestly how he felt about all the students who went up to him to consider passing them instead. He said, “I’m not helping them if I do so.” He also shared how seeing a student cry in front of him breaks his heart. I didn’t make the conversation long since I had a meeting I needed to attend to, so I thanked him for catching up with me and for not failing me in his class. He laughed and went on his way to my old school.
It was just a 15-min conversation, which made me realize how wrong it is to judge our professors when most of them only have good intentions for their students. Not all of them find it fun to fail their students, so did I hate my old professors for the wrong reason? Should I have hated them in the first place?