Why Do Some Professors Plan to Fail You? (More Search Term Fun!)

Posted by on Apr 6, 2012 in Communicating with Professors, General | 9 comments

Professors plan for you to succeed. Are you with us?

My earlier search term post generated some incredible discussion on Twitter, so guess what? I’m going to keep going. If you missed it, click here to recap.

There was more to that list… and the searchin’ only got better. So, let’s see if I can come up with some more answers:

-Summer or fall for college, which is better?

That depends on you and your schedule, of course! Also, if you’re just entering college, your experience is going to be very, very different during each term. I wrote about what summer school is like in this post. You have a different mixture of students and profs definitely spend less time on campus. Now this may be appealing to you if you want to do a “soft start” and take just a single class in the summer to get your feet wet, and make your big push in the fall. That can make you feel a lot less overwhelmed.

Just a side-note: I went into grad school mid-year, in the Spring semester, rather than in the Fall. It was a weird situation due to when I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and when they had an unexpected opening in the assistantship program. But, all worked out fine, and I actually enjoyed going in at a non-traditional time.

Say this:

You can certainly ask a prof or an advisor, “How will my experience be different if I start taking classes in summer, rather than fall, or vice versa?”

-Can a professor change a syllabus?

Have you been reading my mind, oh wise searchers? I totally blogged about this one before, too… and it was just my third post! I outed myself when I taught a class in a time structure that was totally new to me. I had to make some late-breaking syllabus changes, and I was not proud of them! Take a look at the post and see what you think, but bottom line: Yes, a prof can totally make syllabus changes. Here’s the catch: The syllabus changes should not be detrimental to the student in any way, shape, or form.

Say this:

The syllabus is like a contract, so if the prof makes changes to the policies of your class and something feels funky to you, say,

“Professor, can you explain why these changes were made?”

If new assignments were added, you can say, “How will the new assignments affect our grade weighting and overall points?”

If you’re still uncomfortable, you can either go see the prof privately and say, “I am still feeling uncomfortable about the impact of these changes to our grades” or, if you feel comfortable enough, you can say this in class. If others feel the same, remember what I said in this post: Individual voices have greater power. Do not say that “everybody” disagrees with the changes.

And, the last search phrase for now…

-Why do some professors plan to fail you?

I’ll tell you, it starts when we’re really young. We play school, as kids do, and some argument breaks out. Or, maybe some horrible teacher failed us and we just wait for the day when we can dish it out, ourselves. In fact, for some of us, the only reason we got into the teaching profession is so we could have permission to fail hundreds and hundreds of students. Really, isn’t it perfect? Nothing bad will happen to us, of course, because it’s part of our job to fail students. So, try and understand, it’s not that we plan to fail you. We are trying to heal our own childhood wounds.

I’ll stop now because my response is as wild as the question.

Professors do not plan to fail students.

But, wonderful student, I’m going to give a dose of tough love as I say this: I think students need to believe that we do because it’s so, so much easier than looking inward and saying “What could I have done differently to change this outcome?”

I swear, during the course of my 14-year career, I have been blamed for students’ bad grades, despite the fact that they didn’t follow directions, didn’t show up to class, didn’t use my feedback to improve their work, didn’t check their grades, etc., etc. etc. I’m amazed by how much students perceive is my fault. What’s funny is that my plan for students is often loftier than students’ plans for themselves.

Say this:

“Why do most professors want students to succeed?” Because the truth is that the vast majority of us do. Then, do everything you can to partner with us to make it happen. Start by saying, “I am ready to work hard and achieve my grade goals. I am interested in meeting with you to discuss early review of work and making sure I fully understand the material. When are you available?”

Now that’s the sign of a student who plans to own an incredible outcome… and one who is intentionally and assertively communicating plans to make it happen!



  1. You make college sound so attractive…and I have my first son beginning his journey in the fall! I finished mine very quickly and couldn’t wait to get to work. Now, “they” seem to take forever and never get to work!

    • Hi, Bruce!
      You’re back!!!! College is very attractive :-) . I know your son is going to do great. Look at the role model he has!

      I’m glad to see you again and to read your comments.

  2. Incredible post. Thanks.

    • Thank you so very much! I appreciate your comment :-) . Ellen

  3. almost all professors are psychopaths and also incompetent hide their worthless credentials by failing students

  4. What would happen if a professor tells a student ” I dont want to give you a F”,just because the grammar was not all correct in the essay and by wanting his way

  5. If a professor isn’t trying to fail students, especially in math, why do they give you homework that contains problems NOT EVEN COVERED in the chapter, or previous chapters? You haven’t even gone over this material yet, and they expect you to know as much as THEY DO… hello, that’s WHY I’m here, because I don’t know it yet!

  6. My statistics professor in class today said that only 14 our of the 16 students did this problem set right. He said it was his intention to trick us and that many students, “fell into that hole.” He concluded his ego-stroking with “that was my objective and I believe I met it.”
    Additionally, he discounted those who were able to solve the problems correctly, with a statement insinuating that they got there answers “Passed-down through history” – essentially saying they cheated because they should have been able to solve them.

    Does this violate a code of ethicals for teachers? I want to know before I go to the Dean and file a complaint.

  7. I got my first college degree 10 years ago. Things have changed these days. I’d argue good teachers want you to succeed, bad teachers simply don’t care and the university loves bad teachers. Them failing you for their own incompetence is good for business if you think about it from a university perspective. Squeeze as much money (I mean blood) out of that student (I mean turnip) as possible. Anyway I’ve come to the conclusion most (not all) professors can’t hack it in the real world business market. There are good ones out there, but they’re fewer and further between these days. These poor soul teaching fellows (phd professional students) who lecture us in classes for pennies on the dollar for universities are a simply the largest culprits of the problem by far. I can honestly say, our quality of education is going down the toilet. I suppose the objective stance on that though would be go to a better school and spend more money right?

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