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I'm a first year student for a math degree. I'm very curious on how good students overcome their bad teachers in the journey of learning and grasping the courses material fully, all in the pressure of the semester.

Assuming many of you went through this roud - how did you overcome this obstacle, while still getting good grades and good understanding of the course material?

What do you think is the importance of good guidance?

I personally feel very discouraged by this fact; Maybe bad teachers are a good thing in the sense that it will filter only the best students who are truly gifted? Maybe only the brightest students should succeed in their journey at understanding the mystery of math at the academic level?

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Today at least there are tons of resources as an alternative, assuming you are self-motivated. If a teacher is not good, it really brings down the confidence of a student (Personally from what I noticed in my Son's case). –  Kirthi Raman May 6 '12 at 18:34
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Is your question specifically about mathematics? Or are you asking sort of in general? For the latter this is off topic and should be asked at academia.stackexchange.com instead. For the former, please edit to clarify. –  Willie Wong May 7 '12 at 7:45
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Converting to Wiki as this is basically asking for a bunch of anecdotes. –  Willie Wong May 7 '12 at 7:46
    
@WillieWong my question was specifically about mathematics. –  Anonymous May 7 '12 at 12:17
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3 Answers

I am graduating in December and have had my rough patches throughout my undergraduate years. When you have a bad teacher, it is more important than ever that you take it upon yourself to go get outside help, go to office hours, organize a study group, anything else you can think of.

Something I've discovered is that most professors who are terrible in the classroom are really good in their office hours, just make sure you go in with specific questions, going in blank won't help you and will annoy your professor. Do most of your homework, have an idea of what you don't understand and ask your professor to clarify.

Many schools offer some sort of free tutoring somewhere on campus, see if you can find it and go there for help.

Finally, get into a study group with your classmates, meet to work together on your homework and study for tests.

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Speaking as a retired teacher, I strongly endorse the advice in the second paragraph: do take advantage of your instructors' office hours, and do have specific questions, even if some of them are simply I don't even see how to start Problem X. –  Brian M. Scott May 6 '12 at 18:46
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This is an excellent answer, especially the second paragraph. Even when you do not know how to start a problem, at least write it down clearly, reread the definitions involved, think about similar problems you have seen. Studying with others can also be very helpful. A good teacher can be priceless, but in the long run we are all responsible for our own learning. –  Chris K. Caldwell May 6 '12 at 21:53
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As a student, I found there to be a remarkably similarity in the effect of good and bad teachers on my own learning.

In a lecture by a good teacher I thought, "Yes, yes, I understand." Then I went home and found that I didn't understand as well as I thought and needed to do some work.

In a lecture by a bad teacher I thought, "I don't understand. In fact, this seems to be all wrong." Then I went home and had to do some work to find out what, if anything, was wrong.

In either case, I found the most important factor was my own struggle, alone, with many good books at hand.${}^\dagger$

A good teacher is like a good guide on a trek. He/she is sure-footed, knows the landscape, takes you to the scenic views, points out the dangers, and gets you to your destination. However, your guide will not carry you. You are the one that must take in the views and put one foot in front of the other. And very soon you will be traveling this region without your guide, so you'd better remember the lay of the land!

One last remark on "good" and "bad" teachers. I found it useful as a student to give my professors the benefit of the doubt---I recommend trying to remain agnostic about how "bad" a teacher is. Ultimately, you must own the material and no matter how "good" your teacher is, he/she can't do it for you. (In fact, a "good" teacher may lull you into thinking that you understand something you don't.) Your teacher knows much more than you and is trying to instill that knowledge as best he/she can. If your teacher is covering the material and not making too many wrong statements he/she isn't half bad.

To succeed at university, you should know your goals (degrees, research projects, what happens after graduation, etc.) as well as the obstacles that you must navigate (university rules, etc.) to achieve those goals. A good advisor helps you to come up with a realistic set of appropriate goals and to navigate the obstacles, and may even give you a well-timed kick in the seat. An advisor can be moderately to very important depending on the person.

I wish you luck in your studies.


${}^\dagger$ This struggle is often more successful and enjoyable with fellow students. And, of course, make good use of your teacher's office hours and whatever other educational services are available at your school. Lastly, consider becoming a tutor yourself. You will be exposed to different ways of thinking about a subject and will uncover holes in your understanding that you will be strongly motivated to patch up.

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What I am doing (I'm a third year) is reading books - If you don't know what fits the course ask the lecture or take recommendations from freinds or even this forum here.

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