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"My Teacher Hates Me" -- How to Deal with a Difficult Professor

We all have those moments of doubt when we suspect someone doesn't like us for one reason or another. Maybe we did something to warrant this dislike, such as kicking this person's puppy into oncoming traffic. Maybe they met someone like us once and they didn't like that person, so they don't like you by extension. Maybe they're just misanthropes and they hate everyone equally. Usually, it's easy enough to brush these thoughts aside or, if they simply won't go away, to just avoid that person and the awkwardness that comes with being around them.

But what happens when you get that feeling and the person just happens to be your professor? That's when things can get pretty tricky.

Unless you've gone out of your way to make your teacher miserable, odds are, they don't actually hate you or even dislike you to any great extent. Fact of the matter is that professors deal with so many different students on a daily basis that, generally speaking, they just don't have the time to actively dislike you even if you've given them a reason to do so. Assuming that you're a typical student and you do your work as best you can and at least pretend to pay attention in class, relax. Your prof doesn't hate you.

"Then why did I fail that test?" you ask. Well, the most obvious explanation would be that you just didn't know the material. But let's say you studied hard and you're certain that you knew everything involved with the test. How's your spelling and grammar? Did you do anything to make your essay stand out from the twenty or thirty (or more!) your professor also had to grade? As a TA myself, I can assure you that adding a little extra style to your essays can often be the difference between half a point grade (e.g., between a B- and a C+). As well, many professors grade on a competitive basis, meaning that they have a general idea in their head about how many "As" they're willing to give out, and only the very best essays receive those high marks.

Let's say that you're not dealing with essays here, but rather a bitter, perpetually angry professor who uses his tenured status to get by with whatever he wants. Let's further say that this person is an art professor and seems to thrive on publicly humiliating students in front of their peers. Purely hypothetical situation, mind you. Anyway, let's also say that for whatever reason, you've ended up on this professor's bad side. Maybe you're not as good an artist as others in the class, or maybe it's because you call him out on his disrespectful and unacceptable behavior. What are you supposed to do in this case? Should you keep your mouth shut and suffer quietly through the class, take whatever abuse he heaps on you and hope he's feeling charitable when assigning your final grade? Do you fight back? Do you drop the class? Tell his superiors? Any of these are valid options, so let's explore.

Staying quiet is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this professor is a bully and like every other bully in history, if you show him he's not getting to you, he'll move on and find another target. On the other hand, you also don't deserve to be talked down to, insulted, given lower grades than others for the same work, or otherwise singled out for negative treatment, and remaining silent may very well just encourage this professor to keep treating you poorly.

Fighting back is an option. Please keep in mind that I don't mean literal fighting with fists and/or weapons, but just letting your professor know that you feel he or she is treating you unfairly and that you'd appreciate it if you were treated with more respect. As long as you remain in the class, it's a bad idea to fight fire with fire. Yes, that's popular advice for how to defeat a bully, but playground bullies don't hold your grades and your education in their hands.

If you're in a seriously antagonistic relationship with your professor and the class is non-essential to your studies, drop it. There's no use in torturing yourself for three or four months and giving yourself an ulcer because you're dreading that class so much. If you really do need the class, find out if different professors offer other sections and take it from them next semester.

Your first and best line of defense is to just talk to your professor. I know it sounds terrifying when this person is already making you miserable, but it could honestly just be a misunderstanding. Maybe they're really not picking on you; maybe they're the type that only pick on those they actually like. Whatever the case, arrange a private meeting with them during office hours to discuss your concerns. Make it clear that you are trying your best and that this behavior is neither deserved nor acceptable. Be polite about it (i.e., don't barge in ranting like a lunatic), but be firm as well to prevent your prof from simply blowing you off as another thin-skinned student.

But this is your last semester. You have to have this class to graduate on time, but you're absolutely certain that this professor is mistreating you without any valid reason. This isn't to say that there's ever a reason for mistreatment, of course, but if you knowingly slack off in class and barely even show up most of the time, you're not exactly blameless in this situation. So what do you do now? Your best bet is to schedule a meeting with the chair of the professor's department. Be firm but rational during the meeting; explain that you understand that everyone has good and bad days, but that you've been the victim of repeated insults/unfair grades/whatever that you don't feel you deserved, and that your performance in class is suffering accordingly. If it gets to the point that you have to complain to a professor's superior about his or her behavior, it's highly unlikely that you're the first person to ever do so. If the department chair sees this from multiple students, the pattern of abusive behavior becomes much clearer and much easier to target.

Then what? What if your discussion with the chair didn't produce the results you wanted? Just like in any bureaucratic system, go one step further and arrange another meeting, this time with the dean of the college. To use our strictly hypothetical art professor, this would be the dean of the College of Fine Arts. Theoretically, you could keep going all the way to the university president, though getting a meeting there might be next to impossible. Regardless, make it clear that you are very serious about your grievances and that you feel very strongly that this professor is in the wrong. Ultimately, it may not resolve your personal conflict, but it may well save future students from going through the same turmoil.


jvstanley's picture


I really enjoyed this article and it was an eye-opener.  I've had a number of professors who I thought disliked me.  My current instructor I actually assumed doesn't like me.  Its an online course and for some reason I was taking his way of grading my online responses to questions too personally and assumed that he simply didn't like me as a result.  After being in this class for awhile however, I managed in one of my responses to make a math joke (mind you, I'm not a math person so I impressed myself with the pun) and my instructor started engaging me in another conversation about another topic which really eased things over.  

Sometimes finding a middle ground, something that both the student and the instructor can relate upon can initiate a better relationship.  The main thing to remember is that instructors are people to and are deserving a little respect.  People strive for that feeling of importance and trying to find a way to get through to your instructors in a diplomatic as well as respectful manner can get you farther than berating them.  Think compliment sandwiches.  Even instructors enjoy a little praise sometimes.

Adelaide's picture

Professors are People too

Which can be a good or a bad thing based on how they are.  I haven't had any professors that I felt truly hated me for some reason or another.  I was never the sort of student that -wanted- too much attention from the professor, so I was always on decent terms with them.  There are those who do think that they are always right, or are simply so picky with essays that it's literally impossible to get an A on anything you write.  I've had both before, and while there were plenty of times where I'd grumble that the professor must hate me, giving me a D for a paper because of my writing style or I wrote something they disagreed with, I never changed what I wrote.  Though that first bad grade can be startling, normally the professors loosen up and let more things slide.

onlinerewardz's picture

good relationship with professors

Well, one strategy that I use to get a good grade from professors is being close to them. My cousin who has been in the college before me gave me that. If I am close to my professors, I stand a very good chance of getting a good grade. Now let me give you some tips on how to maintain a good relationship with your professors.

The first thing that you need to know is professors like a student who comes to class regularly, and this is something that I always do. I hardly miss their classes, and this is something that most professors like; and because I do not miss their classes, my absence in class is easily discerned. When I failed to come to class the next time, my professor would definitely ask me what went wrong with me and why I was not able to come to his previous class.

The second thing that you need to do in class is to study the type of professors whom you have. Some professors want their classes to be silent and boring, even though this condition is really not enjoyable to the  student. You would have to tag along with it. Also, if the professor is the one that wants contributions from the students, try to make a contribution in the class; and this will let every student in the class knows you too. When the professor asks a question, do not be shy to give your own ideas or thoughts on the topic being discussed, as your participation in class is also another way to build up good relationship with your professors.

Another way to build your relationship with your professors is by paying them personal visits at least twice a month. Most professors usually have their free time to attend to students, try to use this time to ask the professor questions about certain areas of the lecture that you do not understand; and if the professor is a person who is very friendly and has a good sense of humor then you could just joke with him or her. All these actions are what I am using to build a good relationship with my professors. And one last thing, try to do all assignments that the professor has given to you, and it is even advisable to submit all assignments before it is due.

I hope you guys try these strategies and tell me how it goes. You do not have to be shy because college days are one of the best times of one's life, depending on how the person views it

navyatha's picture

I was professor's favorite in

I was professor's favorite in high school. I was favorite of a few professors at my university. But, I know what you are saying. We had this one professors who liked to think he was the god! He used to always insult students if they didn't understand him right way or ask further questions. Unfortunately we couldn't drop out of his class because he is the only one available for the class and also because that subject was a core for the major. He personally didn't torture me so much, but I would have gone to any length if that man tortured me. I don't like bullies whether they are students or professors.

onlinerewardz's picture

Report professors

I think that another way to handle professors who are very harsh on student is to report them to the dean of their department. However, when you want to report a professor to the dean, it is advisable not to disclose your identity you could send it as a letter or an email to the dean this way you would not be at risk of the professor becoming angry with you. At times reporting your professor could also further complicate the situation has, he could turn the whole story around and the students would be the one that would suffer for it, but it's pretty risky. I just hope i would not meet with any tyrant professor till I leave college.

FrancesG's picture

Helpful tips

I found an article called “The Hidden Traps in Decision Making.” It contains some great advice on conflict resolution that applies to all aspects of life, including dealing with a difficult professor. There are many attributes for successful conflict resolution, the most important of which is the ability to see the issue from multiple perspectives and separate the biases. Here are some tips to help identify and eliminate bias that can be applied to dispute resolution:

  1. Always check to see whether you are examining all the evidence with equal rigor. Avoid the tendency to accept confirming evidence without question.
  2. Get someone you respect to play devil’s advocate, to argue against the decision you’re contemplating. Better yet, build the counter arguments yourself.
  3. Be honest with yourself about your motives. In seeking the advice of others, don’t ask leading questions that invite confirming evidence.

The article reference is:

Hammond, J., Keeney, R., & Raiffa, H. (2006). The hidden traps in decision making. Harvard Business Review, 84(1), 118-126.



zwright55's picture


I agree with most  of the latter at the top. Building some kind of relationship with you professor from the start is a sure way of them leaning your way when it comes to grades, life, or anything. That is the first step when getting on good terms with teachers. If you are a student who seriously isn't doing much in your class, you skip often, or make nasty remarks. Obviously, the professor will not be on good terms. And Also like the person above me stated above it's good to see the issues you face with someone from multiple perspectives, and not just one. 

Alexander90's picture

This may be confusing

But college here in Romania is a brand new experience compared to regular international ones.

For example, even though you are encouraged to visit a professor everytime you haven't understood something, they're nowhere to be found.

Tried to find one certain teacher for each day in a week to ask something regarding an exam, but couldn't reach him. Very few of them barely respond to mails and they're evasive after the hours are over.

Teachers here are more weird and try to minimise contact with students as much as possible.

That's just sad :(

Capslock077's picture

Angry Teachers

This article is quite helpful when it comes to dealing with these types of professors.  We all have issues when it comes to some teachers.  The way that we deal with it is paramount to being able to pass a class and also to be able to deal with conflict resolution later on in our lives.  It is always tough to deal with someone that controls certain parts of our lives.  This article allows you to understand what to do and where to move forward when you have these types of professors.

onlinerewardz's picture

Reply to Alexander

In the case where a professor does not stay in school during their free time, then what I would advise you to get their contact details from them in the class.This could be either their phone number or their email address. After you have gotten it, then you can just call the professor or send him an email on any issue bothering you, ask him for a time and date that he would be free to attend to your complains. I am sure by doing this, the professor would give you a time and date to visit him in his office, and you can discuss whatever issue you want to discuss with him.