As your high school years fade away and you embrace the new chapter that is college, you’re likely to face a common struggle. At some point, the odds are good that you will end up with subpar professors who bear down on you with rigid grading and attendance policies. College classes are supposed to foster independence and creative learning, but some professors approach student interactions as if they were still in high school.
While people’s experiences likely vary depending on what school they went to, many students compare their time in high school to that of a prison. While this analogy might seem extreme, it wasn’t inaccurate for many. High school was a place where your time was dictated day in and day out, any small mistake could be punished severely and your autonomy was decreased overall.
College classrooms should be moving away from this kind of environment, not reverting back to it.
For example, consider how strictly some professors emphasize attendance, with policies that actively penalize students who miss even a few classes. When strict attendance rules are enforced, it can be hard to feel like coming to class is anything more than another box to check off rather than a learning opportunity.
It can be easy to dismiss the idea that a harsh attendance policy would make you less likely to come to class. But consider it like this: One day, you wake up and decide to do the dishes and clean the house independently. But then your mother tells you that you must do it, and you need to repeat the task daily. Many would lose the enthusiasm they had earlier.
You would no longer want to complete the task because it became a chore, something forcefully imposed on you.
People don’t want to complete chores because of the stress associated with the looming responsibility, plus the added stress of having to finish a task on a deadline. That is not to say that deadlines aren’t important, however. In many cases, deadlines can be useful to keep you productive and motivated for other important activities.
Deadlines really start becoming a problem when professors make them needlessly strict. Some professors refuse to allow makeup if you miss a deadline by even a few minutes. This can make it shockingly easy to receive zeroes in some classes, and can quickly lead to plummeting grades. This stressful process can hinder a student’s ability to enjoy the class and for some, it might cause them to hate the entire subject.
No one wants to feel like a failure, nor should they feel like every small mistake could jeopardize their future. When punishment is prioritized over actually delving into a subject matter — as classes are supposed to encourage —the ones hurt the most are the students because they aren’t able to grow educationally.
For students to remotely care about the subject they’re taking, the professor needs to do their part by providing an environment where students are able to freely explore and express interest in the subject being taught. Having extensions on assignments if students have reasonable excuses is a great place to start.
Beyond providing extensions, professors can foster a good learning environment by providing various opportunities for students to join in on research outside of class. Holding open-ended discussions with student collaboration on projects in class is another great way to promote further interest and engagement in the material being taught.
Applying excessively strict academic expectations can give students the impression that completing their classes is simply a means to an end. This pressure can keep them from enjoying the journey towards their career goals. After all, college is one of the last spaces where people are encouraged to show up and learn something new each day.
Beyond the benefits to students, creating a comfortable learning environment can also help professors. If students were given a space to thrive and professors were given the respect they deserve, then everyone wins! In contrast, both parties failing to play their roles inevitably ends poorly.
Students not showing up to class because of a bad learning environment leads to the professor having to reinforce class rules. Eventually, the professor is likely to become more frustrated at teaching a class of disinterested students, and the environment is only going to get worse. Everyone loses here.
In high school, college was marketed as a place for education and intellectual stimulation, not somewhere where students spend every waking hour suffering because of grade-related stress and professors who don’t care about their students. The reality has been disappointing to many, but there is room for change.
If everyone plays their part, we can redefine the college experience. Together, we can make it a place where students engage, professors inspire and both parties learn and discover together.
HaiAn Hoang is a biology and philosophy junior who can be reached at