GOODMAN: Disagreeing with professors a learning experience

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Goodman_WEBElementary school was full of potentially life-altering moments.

There was Mystery Meat Monday, when eating the rubbery substance that bounced off the walls determined if you got to go home sick for the day. Daily monkey-bar battles showcased kids who could hang upside down by their knees the longest, rather than who was the strongest or most athletic. And the oh-so-pivotal new seating chart day provided ample opportunity for romances to bud.

Perhaps the most fateful moment, however, was during the summer before school even began – it was receiving notice of who your teacher would be for the upcoming year. This moment defined whether you would enjoy school that year and if you would choose to act like a teacher’s pet or a rebel.

Teacher assignments were fun, but the nice thing about college is that we can choose professors with whom we want to spend our academic time. These choices are based on personal preferences, past experiences, references and an occasional RateMyProfessors.com score. If we don’t want to take a class with a certain professor, the likelihood is that we don’t have to do so.

That is, of course, unless we do have to.

Sometimes – just like in elementary school – the freedom of choice is taken out of our hands. Busy schedules, class sign-up times and courses offered may dictate which options we have and by whom they’re taught. Unfortunately, sometimes the class bubble on Checkmarq is red, and it’s a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.

What makes this process more difficult is when the professor reinforces why you didn’t want to take her or his class. Whether it’s political bias, derogatory comments or unfair grading, sitting in a class for an entire semester may seem like nothing short of impossible.

The semester progresses, and you can approach the unfortunate situation in one of two ways: challenge the professor on everything or sit in silence and find ways to distract yourself. Either of these options bode well until the professor says the one thing that truly sends you over the edge.

For me, this blood-boiling moment occurred when a professor called journalists “terminally stupid” and then offered an insincere apology to “any of the communication majors in the room.”

So what’s the plan of action when you’re sitting with fists clenched, daggers shooting from your eyes and a bitten tongue to avoid screaming?

Storming out of the classroom is an option, but that would be pretty immature. Withdrawing from the course is a possibility, but then again, do you really want to let the professor win? Sending a nasty email or complaining to the department chair are also options, but you probably don’t want to be “that student.”

I simply picture myself as a fly on the wall. In other words, I mentally distance myself from the situation.

Instead of taking drastic action, take a mental step back and think about the situation from a perspective other than your own. Did the professor’s comment affect anyone else? Will the situation ruin your day?

Probably not.

Just like in elementary school, we sometimes end up with an instructor we don’t like. Some are mean, some assign too much homework, some don’t grade tests fairly and some are simply so stuck in their ways that it’s not even worth trying to communicate opposing opinions.

We can’t dwell on these things, though. What we can do is use these situations as a chance to practice for the future.

Professors are ordinary people just like everyone else, and there will always be individuals who we disagree with and simply don’t like.

As much as we may want to take immediate action against these types of people, sometimes the best option is to take a minute, remove ourselves and pretend to be a fly on the wall. Trying to understand the situation from a different perspective and recognizing that this is merely practice in conflict resolution is a much more productive approach than trying to get someone fired.

And I guess if all else fails, you could always just write a column about it.

Brooke Goodman is a senior studying journalism and political science. Email brooke.goodman@marquette.edu with anything you’d like to see her write about. 

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