Student Issues

Dealing With Unhelpful Teachers: What Do You Do?

We all have them. Those lecturers that make a 9AM even more unappealing (if that’s possible); the tutors who make you wonder how they got the job. I would be willing to bet they exist in every education institute in the country. While most staff you encounter in your time in education are highly proficient and accommodating, it can be a challenge to approach those who aren’t.

So, what do you do if you find your teacher is more unhelpful than others? Whether they’re consistently marking the whole class low, refusing to give feedback or just plain rude, no one really loves criticism, so it’s important to take the right steps in a situation like this. So don’t go rushing in like a bull in a china shop! Do your research so you can make a constructive, fair argument.

NUIG Students’ Union Vice President/Education Officer Andrew Forde advises ‘that the best way to facilitate improved teaching when you have a hostile lecturer who is performing poorly is to gather all of the facts around where the lecturer isn’t doing their job and bring them to your Union.’ As an experienced Class Rep, I can vouch that most appreciate constructive feedback if delivered in a polite, professional manner.

1. Talk to your classmates.

The first step of overcoming a poor lecturer is to find out if this is a problem for the whole class. Chances are you’re not alone, but it is critical to ensure you have a right to complain. However, if it does seem like you’re having more difficulty adjusting to the teaching style than others, why not chat with the lecturer to see if there’s any helpful resources available, maybe there’s a textbook you can use to supplement the lectures? Or a peer assisted study group (like Céim or PAL) you can join? The sooner you act the better it’s going to be on yourself.

2. Check yourself.

Are you attending the classes? Have you prepared appropriately for the class?

Lots of classes require some level of prior knowledge to keep up, so it is important you have done your share. This is particularly relevant for tutorials or seminars where the small class size usually means it’s open for discussion. You can only take part if you’ve completed the set material. However, in saying that, a problem with some teaching staff is that they overprescribe material. With other classes and commitments, no one has time to read an unreasonable amount every week. So, consider is it in line with your other modules work load? This could be fair topic to broach.

3. Approach the lecturer/tutor in question.

It is important to talk in a mannerly, formal tone. If you talk to a professional staff member angrily or irrationally they won’t take you seriously. Emailing is fine if the matter is something trivial like a lack of resources being uploaded to your class folder, or you’re unsure of a deadline; this could just be an oversight. Be careful to use polite language, with correct spelling and grammar! This will make it more likely for them to respond. However, it is difficult to convey the correct tone in an email if you are broaching a more sensitive subject with the lecturer, so face to face could be best. Being respectful usually earns respect. Most educators are reasonable people and will appreciate your concern.

If you do not feel comfortable doing this, raise the issue with your class rep or relevant Students’ Union officer (E.g. Education or the relevant college convenor).

Speaking to Andrew Forde from NUIG SU on this matter he stated that, ‘when faced with a less than ideal lecturer or tutor I always advise students to contact a Students’ Union representative’. They won’t use your name and it will be treated as an issue from the whole class generally

4. Seek help.

If you have spoken to your lecturer and feel like you got nowhere, speaking to your year head, or head of the department is the next step. This is generally easier if you have your Students’ Union’s support. If your tutor had difficulty believing your complaints are viable, why not circulate a google survey to your class? Providing anonymous feedback sheets is a fool proof way to back up your issues, and verify it isn’t your own exclusive issue. Trust me, this sounds harder to do than it is!

It also makes it easier for the department to step in as they can see it’s required. On this matter, Forde added that ‘your SU Officer can take the feedback and deliver it the Head of School. This allows for the feedback to be brought to the Schools attention anonymously and encourages the school to act because they are receiving attention from the Union.’

Although you may have a niggling voice in your head warning of the harm complaining could do your grade, it is better to act. It would be highly unprofessional for a lecturer or tutor to mark you harder because you had the confidence and initiative to try and improve the class experience! This shows you are passionate to learn- that’s a good thing!

As anonymous marking is becoming even more common – NUIG had its first anonymous exam before Christmas – it is harder for lecturers to single you out. There is also the reassurance of external examiners, making it increasingly harder for your tutor to punish you in this manner. In the unlikely event they did, repeal systems are in place and there is on campus support in most colleges to combat this sort of behaviour. If you are worried about this, take Andrew’s advice and use your union! It guarantees anonymity in these circumstances.

Finally, having a negative learning environment benefits no one. If a lecturer isn’t up to scratch it means you must put in unnecessary extra hours to substitute the lack of support in class. Hours that you probably need for another subject, creating a vicious circle of all round suffering grades. It doesn’t need to be an aggressive campaign; your lecturer mightn’t even realise there’s an issue and it could be easily resolved. Remember, being polite, positive, and professional in your approach with the class on your side will make it much more successful.

When exam time comes rolling in all too soon, you’ll wish someone had acted, so go for it!

Still here? Check this out: Safe Sex At NUIG: A Student Issue