Why Your Professor is NOT like Your High School Teachers

One of the most important factors determining your success in any university class is the relationship you have with your professor. But for better or for worse, your professors are not like your high school teachers. That can make them more difficult to understand – and to navigate around.

This can be particularly true if you are a freshman. You might enter university with certain preconceived notions that are largely based on your high school experience. But there are a lot of differences, and one of the biggest concerns the wide difference between high school teachers and university professors.

A High School Teacher Has to Work With You – a Professor Doesn’t

In high school, there is a certain responsibility that all faculty have to educate their students. In fact, it’s virtually a public mandate. Teachers are not only required to teach students, but they are also called upon to identify specific student learning difficulties, and to recommend different teaching methods, or even remediation.

But at the university level, a professor has no similar obligations. You are paying to attend university, and that changes the entire educational dynamic. A professor is there to provide the relevant information that will enable you to master the curriculum of the course. Whether or not you do that is entirely up to you. But if you choose not to, the professor has no responsibility to see to it that you do.

Related: Talking To Professors – It’s Easier Than You Think

At the university level, your are entirely on your own when it comes to learning.

Larger Class Sizes

Why Your Professor is NOT like Your High School Teachers
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University professors can hardly be faulted if they don’t take a one-on-one approach to educating their students. Where a high school teacher may have no more than 20 students in a class, a professor may be teaching a class in a lecture hall with well over 100 students in a single class.

In that environment, there is no capacity to deal with you or any other student on an individual level. The professor’s job is simply to lecture, hand out and grade assignments, projects, and exams, while your job is to respond to all of it in the most proactive way possible.

If you need extra help, you’ll also need to compete with other students for the professors limited number of office hours. Each of the other students has the same right to the professors time – as it is available – so you’ll be forced into a situation of competing for attention.

University Professors Are – and Can Be – More Independent

A high school teacher typically is limited to a single occupation – being a high school teacher. Sure, a teacher may have a summer job, or even a part-time job, but the main thing that they do is teach. In addition, they are responsible to report to the local school board and to the school itself on the progress that they are making in educating the students. There may even be repercussions if that effort is not going as well as expected.

Related: Finding a Part-Time Job While In School

University professors on the other hand, often have other professional engagements. Many of them are published writers, some go on the lecture circuit, and some have other business or employment activities. Teaching may be the main thing that they do, but it’s rarely the only thing they do. In addition, many professors are adjuncts – part-time professors who spend the lion’s share of their time in other pursuits.

And unlike high school teachers, university professors are not generally held responsible for the failure of their students – and certainly not any individual student. All in all, university professors enjoy a level of independence that is rare anywhere in the employment world.

This changes the entire way you can relate to a professor versus a high school teacher. High school teachers may be required to give you special attention – a university professor has no such obligation. You may sense this early in the process, and the sooner you adjust to this reality the more productive the relationship will be.

Related: The Power of Rate My Professor

You’re an Adult Now – in High School You Were a Kid

This is probably the single biggest difference in the student – teacher relationship. When you were in high school you were a kid, and treated as such. The teacher had to relate to you as an adult to a child. That’s an entirely different relationship than the one you might have now with one or more of your professors.

Now that you are in university you’re most likely an adult, legally speaking. That changes everything!

As an adult, it will be more difficult to either claim innocence or to play on a professor’s sympathies. You graduated from high school, so you’re already a proven student. A professor has a right to expect as much from you, so the bar will be raised higher for you now that it was when you were a high school student. You’ll be expected to get your assignments in, on time, and of good quality.

Keep these differences in mind while you’re at university, and while you are trying to develop constructive relationships with your professors. You’re not in high school anymore, and the professors are not your high school teachers. You have to adjust to the change, and do what’s necessary to relate to them as an adult and on an adult level.

Have you found any of these differences to apply now that you’re in university?

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6 years ago

I have not found any of these differences difficult to apply. I am an adult who has been out of high school a long time. I can adhere to rules and policies without a problem. I am sane enough to focus too. The problem might lies with not completing the course contents because not knowing the full scope of the lessons. I must learn to navigate through the course content. When I confer with a professor, it is because I feel a mix-up has occurred. I believe that a professor is still morally and ethically responsible to behave in a… Read more »

Rose Wynder
4 years ago

They should not be allowed to say they do not care about students. Especially when you are returning back to school after 29 years. you are lost in some cases. I to can follow direction and read policies. The professor should care about the student.

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