September 27, 2023

Dealing with Difficult Professors in Your Online Classes

Author: Jarrod Sadulski
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Start a criminal justice degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University

Beginning with my associate degree and ending with my doctorate, I completed my education online. During those years, I found that time management and organizational skills were essential to my academic success.

I also found that working well with my college professors greatly helped with my education. Most of my professors were available to answer student questions, were helpful and had a genuine interest in fostering learning within the online classroom.

These professors had a positive demeanor and were approachable. They provided feedback that enabled me to understand both the strengths of my coursework and areas where I needed improvement.

Working with Difficult Professors Who Were Hard to Reach

However, there were some situations when I had difficult professors who created a tough classroom environment and increased my stress in class. This was particularly true during my undergraduate studies.

One of my most common challenges when I had a difficult professor was unavailability. The vast majority of online professors are adjunct, which means that they both teach and maintain full-time employment in their chosen career. Often, their job corresponds with the course’s material.

This kind of dual employment brings extra value to the classroom, because the instructor can share his or her practical experience. Unfortunately, it also creates challenges if the professor is not available for student questions.

In these situations, I noticed that my instructor’s responses to my questions would come several days or even a week after I made the request. This delay presented a problem when an assignment was due and I required additional assistance from the instructor.

When I was faced with this challenge, I applied several strategies. First, I created a follow-up message via a different method within 48 hours of my initial query. For example, if I initially sent the professor an email that went unanswered, I would re-send it to the professor’s university email address. While maintaining a professional tone in the email, I would mention that I had not received a reply.

If that strategy was ineffective, I would post my question to a class forum. I often benefited from a response from a fellow classmate.

Getting Help from Instructors When Feedback Was Unclear

Another challenge that I experienced involved feedback on assignments. If the feedback was vague and points were deducted without an explanation of what I did wrong and how I could improve, I was not fully learning in that class.

When this problem happened, I found it helpful to contact the professor directly to address the issue. It was also useful to reach out to professors when I did not understand why I received a lower grade than I expected. Often, I received clarification and benefited from the additional coaching and assignment guidance.

Resolving Disputes with Difficult Professors

Although disputes didn’t occur often, there were times where I disagreed with a professor. Although it’s uncommon, a difference in opinion can occur between the student and the instructor within the online classroom.

The best way to resolve these disputes is through open communication. I found that most of the challenges I experienced resulted from a misinterpretation of tone in the classroom or some ambiguity in online messages.

In these situations, I found it best to schedule a phone call with the professor to work through the miscommunication or dispute. If you ever face this situation, remember that your academic advisors have an important role in these situations with difficult professors and should be consulted as well.

Teaching Practices and Diversity of Professors Vary from One University to Another

Throughout my education, I found significant differences in teaching practices among universities. As a result, it is important to attend a school that has both excellent teaching practices and an online education platform that fosters effective learning.

About the Author

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.

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