Picking Your Professor: When You Should Branch Out
By Dr. Randall Cuthbert
Associate Professor, Emergency & Disaster Management at American Public University
A student reminded me recently that she had taken eight of her 12 master’s courses from me. Although it’s flattering when a student does that, it’s really not a good idea for a couple of reasons.
First, if a student took every course from me, at the end of the program they would know less than I do–there’s no way to put everything I know about any subject into a classroom. I’m not bragging, that’s just transmission loss–an unavoidable feature of communication.
However, taking courses from as wide a variety of instructors as possible brings the knowledge from each into your knowledge base. The wisdom becomes uniquely your own and is greater than the sum of the parts. That’s a successful use of instructor resources.
Second, it doesn’t capitalize on the vast reservoir of knowledge wealth that’s present throughout the instructor corps–in the case of the Emergency and Disaster Management Program at American Public University, we have firemen, policemen, military personnel, FEMA and other government employees, and local officials of various stripes that are on the ground doing the work you want to do every day. And there are a couple of traditional professors who know more about academia than the career field.
Everyone adds value. However, if you choose one instructor to cling to for most of your program, you give away much of that value, simply because of the people you never get to meet.
My daughter notified me early in her life that she was going to be a teacher and never wavered throughout her life in that determination. She now is happily fulfilling her dream, and I admire her for her persistence when the going was rough.
One of the times that the going was rough was when she was in middle school and she had a couple of teachers with all of the personality of a turtle and the verbal presentation skills of an outboard motor. She asked: ‘Dad, what do I do?’ and I replied: ‘Look–you’re going to learn as much about teaching from a bad teacher as a good one, because now you know what not to do.’
So, take courses from instructors that don’t seem a natural fit for you. Push the opportunity! You just don’t know–don’t have any way of knowing–when that one instructor will push that one button that you didn’t know anything about that would completely change your perspective on your education and life’s calling.
I’ve pushed that button for a few and I’m proud of that. However, I also feel some regret that some of the folks that I couldn’t do that for nonetheless over-relied on me for their classes because I was a comfortable, known quantity. I regret what they don’t know because they didn’t take classes from some of my colleagues and push their buttons for perspective and inspiration.
So don’t do that! Shop for your instructors like you shop for anything else. They all have bios out there. Learn what each has to offer, engage them frequently, and use them to your best advantage!
Onward and upward!
This article originally appeared on our fellow APUS blog, Online Career Tips.
About the Author
Dr. Randall Cuthbert is an Associate Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He welcomes comments and suggestions for topics to explore in this forum. He can be reached at email@example.com