The Importance of College Professors
What is it about college that makes it unlike any other educational experience?
The college experience—the one you dreamed about while poring over countless applications and sorting through exam dates—isn't based solely on the idea of being in a brand new atmosphere and environment. It isn't even based solely upon the structure of a university curriculum. Yes, though it's radically different from what you may be familiar with in high school, much more comes into play in shaping your overall collegiate experience.
Understandably, the courses you register for, how you select them, and when you take them are exciting ventures; you are no longer bound (depending on what school you attend) by a guidance counselor or, in collegiate terms, an academic adviser. You are in complete control of your scholastic journey, and in many universities seeing an adviser is optional. (It is in my experience, though, that advisers should be sought, just to make sure you know what you're doing.) And control—in other words, independence—is a thrilling feeling. College is, literally, freedom.
But there's more to college than that. In fact, college is shaped by those who seem to have a huge control over your freedom (i.e., time).
I'm talking about professors, the heads of your classes, who say what goes (and what doesn't).
Most of my professors (and I'll say about 90%) were excellent instructors. My professors at FIU have certainly shaped me as a student and as an individual. One professor in particular taught me the importance of optimism. Every day, rain or shine, on a Monday or a Friday, he would greet our class with a beaming, "It's great to be here!" For all I knew, he could have been sick, had an awful day or something else—but he always made his students feel trusted, and was always cheerful. To me, he was a gem.
You too will find your gem teachers during your academic career in college. These are the individuals who take the time to know you beyond your ID number, and try their best to help you succeed.
The thing is, your success does not solely rely on how well they teach. You have to reach out for them if you really want to do well.
I've learned that professors are not the only ones to blame for my lack of success in the classes I struggled in. For example, I dropped one English course after I fell behind assigned readings and received a B- on the first of three required academic papers. Instead of reaching out to this professor for help, I blamed her for my performance in the class. At first I felt she was too difficult to understand, and that she herself made the concepts unclear, but it turned out that I was the one who prevented myself from understanding her. I didn't reach out to her because I was too stubborn to realize I needed more help.
Same goes for a math course I took my first semester, for which I got a C; I was so lost in the class, but I honestly cannot remember taking the time to see my professor for assistance—though I do remember complaining to my classmates about the course itself.
(An aside: My first semester at FIU was my most difficult semester to date. The biggest challenge, I remember, was managing my time appropriately, for I found myself with a lot of breaks between classes. Looking back on this experience, I'll say this: if you find yourself not doing as well as you would like your first semester, don't fret. It's supposed to be difficult! Your first semester is a transition from one academic setting to another, and this is a drastic change. It'll take time to adjust to your new setting, and that may (or may not) take a toll on your studies and grades. After it's over and you roll into the second half of your first year, give yourself some credit and pat yourself on the back; your first year is not supposed to be easy, and finishing it deserves congratulations.)
Professors are there to help you find the keys to your own successes. Most of them (honestly, I can't speak for all of them) are not out to get you. Many of them are not sitting at their desks plotting, "What can I do to fail this student?" I doubt they'd even have the time to do so, because many of these educators are busy writing for academic journals and conducting independent research, all while teaching a number of other courses. They teach because they love to teach. From the professors I've met, their passion for teaching is infinite. They're at your university because they want to be there, and because they deeply love the subjects they instruct.
Even they will have their own key meant for you; these are the individuals who have the power to write recommendation letters on your behalf when you apply to graduate school or beginning job positions. They are the ones who help shape your goals as a student and as a professional, as well as help you discover your passions within your studies.
In college, you're free to do what you please, but when you walk into a classroom you have to be ready to play by someone else's rules. Though you've done it before – for twelve years, at most – in college, it's a whole different world.