Last spring, I arranged my entire schedule to avoid a specific professor. When I looked at his Factrak comments on WSO, I could not imagine sitting through three hours a week with him. His Factrak page was almost entirely negative, with comments about how I might as well take a failed grade and move on with my life. It sounded like I would have been better off running full-field sprints until I puked than sitting through three 50-minute lectures with him every week. I had no choice but to make concessions in my course selection so that I could avoid him. I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment, then, when I found out I had been dropped from another professor’s section and enrolled in his (I guess everyone else saw his Factrak page also and had the same idea). Upset and ready to cry before even taking his first supposedly horrid exam, I tentatively attended his class the first day of the semester.
But this really crazy thing happened over the course of my spring: Not only did I learn something in this class, but I also loved this professor. I can point to him as one of the teachers who has done the most for my education at the College. I couldn’t believe it. How could I have made a judgment based solely on Factrak comments? I was so quick to believe the few people who had commented that I didn’t think of the hundreds of other students who clearly did not have as much of an issue with him.
I had a great experience with someone who Factrak said would be awful. I was lucky, and I recognize that others have had experiences that only served to validate the negative comments on Factrak. A friend who isn’t enjoying a current class because the professor is boring and not a particularly good teacher claims that the same professor had one of the most positive reviews he had ever seen on Factrak. He went on to tell me that you have to know how to read this site. He said you have to ignore comments from people who either did very well or very poorly in a class because, let’s be real, at some point, all of us are probably pleased with our success or bitter about not doing as well as we felt we deserved in a class. It just happens that some of us choose to express those sentiments on the Internet.
Part of the problem with Factrak is that reviews cannot completely encompass that which makes a good teacher. Great professors are not the ones who give you an easy “A.” Instead, great professors inspire us to change how we view ourselves as students and how we view their academic discipline. Additionally, it is someone who wants you to improve and get better, no matter where you start. Good professors are eager to work with their students outside of class not only to clarify material but also to inspire and advise. These are the professors who meet with you and respond to e-mails no matter how often you harass them during their office hours. But we can only ascertain a professor’s willingness to do these things if we actively seek them out and take advantage of the opportunities they offer. Maybe those people who criticize their professors on Factrak didn’t take full advantage of their availability and desire to help. Meanwhile, most of the comments on Factrak are more about professors’ grading tendencies than their ability to serve as an engaging and inspiring teacher. Often times, professors are praised for giving easy tests; granted, it’s nice to have a lighter workload, but that doesn’t speak to all that makes a professor good.
In evaluating Factrak comments, we need to consider what it is we’re looking for in a professor. If you are looking for an easy ‘A,’ then let Factrak lead you to the easiest graders at the College. But if you are looking for more in your professors, a complete experience, then consider going against popular opinion; otherwise, you might never find out what you’re missing. Some of my best experiences at the College have been with professors I would have avoided at all costs based on their reviews. Ultimately, be sure to recognize that we are at Williams, and while some professors might make your life more miserable than others, they all teach here for a reason.
Ali Piltch ’14 is from Bryn Mawr, Pa. She lives in Thompson.