A recent college graduate sends along these great suggestions for all of us:
The best professors I ever had were tough. Incredibly tough. Sometimes this meant that they were harsh in class, but sometimes they weren’t. But what they all had in common was that they constantly challenged the class, and didn’t make any apologies for it. I don’t mean that you have to always give the maximum reading or assignments – part of how I’m defining “tough” is “intellectually-stimulating,” so repetitive assignments that don’t have much value should not be included. The point is to set the standard higher than what you would reasonably expect to be possible – and then see what happens. Granted, you may get some negative feedback, but way too often in college did I see professors babying the students just to avoid this feedback.
Some of the worst professors I had were inflexible in their teaching style. They had a particular method, and it was not about to change, no matter how awful the class was (for both them and the students). I’m sure it’s not easy, but you need to constantly be re-evaluating yourself and seeing what works and what doesn’t. If it does work, then great – but first ask yourself whether it really does.
Instead of griping about how awful the students are, do something about it. Be in command of your classroom, and set rules and stick to them. You have the power to kick students out, give large penalties, embarrass unprepared students, etc. If someone’s cell phone rings in class for the second time that semester, tell them to leave and come back next week. And even if you don’t have as much power as I think, at least pretend like you do.