Haters Gonna Hate… Not?

It’s that time of year again, when undergrads start enrolling in their spring semester classes. I am scheduled to teach a large undergrad course, let’s call it A, one that’s required for majors and offered every semester, and it’s nearly full to capacity. I looked at the roster and there are probably a couple of dozen students whom I had last spring in another large required course, B. What’s interesting is who these folks are: some of them I could have sworn didn’t care very much for my teaching of B last year at all, and they could have easily avoided having me again by taking course A this semester, with another teacher. Yet here they are, willing to subject themselves to another semester of my teaching, seemingly on purpose.

It’s not uncommon that I have students who take 2, even 3 courses with me; usually those are the students who meet me in a lower-level class, do well, and then try to take electives when I offer them; this is a point of pride.  There are definitely a few kids who I know enjoyed course B, so I am not surprised by them taking A. There are also a few students who did very poorly in B, but with whom I had good rapport nonetheless; I thought they might avoid me, because I am tough, but they are back. There are a few with whom I didn’t have a lot of interaction so I couldn’t tell one way or another if they particularly liked it or not; maybe they were indeed ambivalent, but it’s better the devil you know, and they do know me.

But there are a few who I could have sworn hated my guts with the burning passion of a thousand suns, and now they are back for a second helping? One student, who received only half a grade lower than the maximum, was quite displeased by it and sent me a lengthy email about how that’s the most unfair thing that had ever happened and how what I required in class was unreasonable and inhuman; you guessed, that student is back. My husband, always ready to  mess with me, hypothesized that the student was there just to psych me out through the intervening months, and will drop out as soon as the semester starts.

The point is: I suppose we may not have a very good idea how we are perceived by students. We do on average, but not necessarily on an individual level. It’s entirely possible to be genuinely disliked by the people who act very sweet and interested in the material, but who are just kissing up; I am in fact quite sensitive to that. In contrast, it has happened more than once that the people whom I had no idea I had positively influenced, who seemed quiet or even glum in class, actually turned out quite appreciative of the experience.

Never a dull moment in academic land…


  1. Not too long ago, we used to have written comments on paper evaluations and I would get to see them. The evaluations were anonymous, but one could easily match handwriting for quite a few people. Written comments were not required, but there was a space for it if anyone was compelled to comment. I was surprised on many occasions by rave reviews from quiet people I had barely noticed. It is nice to know that you might be actually inspiring people and teaching them something, even if it does not always feel that way. On the other hand, I also sometimes get random petty comments from people who were very active and seemed to really enjoy the class.

    BTW, you checked the roster, even though the class is months away?! I don’t even think to look until the class starts.

  2. When I was an undergraduate, I never checked who the prof for a class was while registering or made any course decisions on that information (maybe I should have! I dont remember if that info was obviously available but I’m sure it was easily found if I had been concerned enough to think about it). Course choices seemed to be very much limited by content needs and scheduling needs, etc. My guess is this may be a matter of students not thinking about it as much as you’d expect them too.

  3. I’m guessing “burning passion of a thousand suns” person writes a similar email to every prof at the end of the semester when they get anything other than a 4.0. Some people are just like that – it’s called entitlement.

    My husband got from an advisee recently, going on about how other instructors were not suitably adjusting their teaching styles to his personal preferences. And he’s a science teacher at a private high school, so it starts early nowadays…

  4. It might just be timing. Some of it depends on what else is on their schedule, and if they had conflicts, they may have to take the class from you even if they prefer not to.

    I’m surprised by some of my comments. The kids that really hate me are obvious. I can think of two or three really scathing comments I’ve had over the years and they were generally from the really smart kids who felt like they shouldn’t have to work that hard to get a good grade or thought I was too picky. For the most part, though, I was surprised moreso by the positive comments simply because I didn’t realize my classes were such a positive experience for so many of them. (I’m very glad that those outweighed the negatives, but disappointed that the particularly harsh ones stick with me.)

  5. Outward demeanor can be a very poor predictor of what people really think. And even if a student really didn’t “like” you, that is not inconsistent with her also realizing that she learned a fuckeloade. People choose to do all kinds of things they don’t “like”, because they know they are valuable in the long run.

    And your husband’s theory is absurd. No undergrad is gonna sign up for a course just to “psych out” the professor.

  6. Love this theory: “My husband, always ready to mess with me, hypothesized that the student was there just to psych me out through the intervening months, and will drop out as soon as the semester starts”

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