Why Can’t Professors Make a Boring Subject Exciting?

July 2, 2008

boring subject in collegeAh, this is the age-old question about teachers. My response will take a little bit of background information; so pardon this detour for a moment.

The difference between a scholar and a teacher

Simply put – and this an extremely general definition — a scholar is typically someone who is an expert in a field of study. A scholar dedicates his/her life to the pursuit of knowledge about a certain topic. Like an archaeologist, a scholar “digs around” for facts and details related to a specific field.

Typically, these scholars have had partnerships with colleges and universities. The school gives the scholar a steady teaching job, which gives him/her the security to pursue research. In exchange, the scholar teaches classes. However, just because a scholar knows a lot about a certain subject doesn’t mean they’re good teachers – or even that they like to teach.

That brings us to the very basic definition of a teacher. A teacher is someone dedicated to the craft and art of teaching students and expanding their knowledge. They see themselves as conduits to learning, and their core focus is on the students, coaching them to help build their skills. The teaching itself is their main endeavor. Teachers, of course, have subject matter expertise, but they are keenly committed to and aware of the craft of teaching itself.

So what?

Well, the lucky student gets the teacher-scholar – someone who is both a scholar and a dedicated teacher, interested in the education of student learners. These types of teachers are gifted individuals who do not often receive enough credit for what they do.

Make no mistake; scholars are wonderfully educated and talented individuals who are extraordinarily dedicated to sharing their research and discoveries with others. But sometimes, they simply aren’t as focused on the craft of teaching as they are at researching. Their strengths rest in different areas.

Getting to the Answer –– Finally

So, to answer your question, many students often find themselves in the classroom with a wonderfully talented scholar who simply doesn’t know how to convey the material in a way that’s accessible to students. Scholars might be enthusiastic about the material and the subject matter, but if they don’t know how to make that connection with students, it can get a bit dry and boring.

Many people call themselves teachers, but it’s actually a lot harder to be a skilled teacher than most people would think. A lot of that has to do with the way teaching as a profession is under-appreciated as a whole – but let’s save that topic for another day.

No excuses

On a final note, students should keep in mind that it’s up to them to learn all they can from every professor they meet. The information is out there — boring or not — and part of the training in college is to learn to adapt to many teaching styles. This is great training for the workplace when clients and managers will all have different styles and approaches to tasks. Work to succeed in any environment and at the end of your college career, you’ll find yourself to be versatile and stronger all around.

Also remember to reward good teacher-scholars by filling out the teacher surveys you get at the end of the term. Take the time to explain why the teacher was effective and, over time, this will send a message to the school administration that they should hire more teaching-focused staff members. Student surveys are extremely important; so take them seriously to make positive changes in the long run.

Thanks for your question. Keep them coming!


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Professor Kim
The Online Professor

Eson Kim has been teaching College Writing and Literature for nearly 10 years. In addition to her blog,, her work has recently appeared in flashquake. She is also a fiction reader for Ploughshares Literary Journal. She strives to improve the quality and accessibility of education for all students from all backgrounds.


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