THE BLOG
12/04/2013 02:46 pm ET | Updated Feb 03, 2014

5 Tips to Help You Become a Better College Professor

The reason that college professors are socially incompetent is because it takes a socially incompetent person to become a college professor. Normal people with friends and healthy social lives don't want to sit in a classroom when they're thirty-one years old; they want to live adult lives. Normal people want to have a job when they're twenty-nine years old; they don't want to sit at home doing research for their 300-page dissertation that nobody wants to read. If I'm Tom Hanks in Castaway, stranded on a desert island for years with nothing to do but read your doctoral thesis, I still wouldn't read your crappy, tedious dissertation. I might paint a face on it and befriend it, but I wouldn't read it. ("Wilson! Your bibliography is freakin' 16 pages long!")

Sure, your professors are boring and disorganized, and you still haven't gotten back the essay that you handed in three weeks ago, and these test questions have nothing to do with the lectures, and why are there twelve books assigned on the syllabus when we're not even using half of them? But don't blame your professors. They weren't hired to teach you. They were hired to publish scholarly papers and to enhance your school's academic reputation. You're thinking, "But I don't care if my professor is a renowned expert in his or her field of study. I didn't even know that this field of study existed before I came to college. Yet if they have no social skills, and they don't have the ability to coherently transfer this knowledge such that we're unable to grasp even the basic points, doesn't that mean college is a ridiculous, insane system?" Yes. It does. But, hey, we also live in a society where people have pet alligators and there's an app that lets you see how you would look with a mustache.

Nevertheless...

For those of you who actually want to learn some stuff during those five or ten minutes of class when you're not texting your high school friends about coming home this weekend, here is a list of tips you can print out and give to your professors. Your professors will appreciate the constructive criticism. Maybe they'll even give you extra credit!

1. NO 'GROUP ASSIGNMENTS'

The four words college students most dread? "Everyone get into groups."

Not since non-alcoholic beer has there been a more worthless addition to the college experience than group assignments, group projects, and group presentations.

Students are not in your class to make friends; that's what fraternity hazing is for. Trying to figure out whether or not to hug your girlfriend's parents when you meet them for the first time is nothing compared to the social awkwardness of being forced to ask the kid next to you, "Umm... so can I be in your group?"

Do you know the story of the Little Red Hen? In the story, the hen is on a popular Disney TV show. But then she gets older and discovers her sexuality and twerks on Robin Thicke's crotch during the MTV awards and the ladies of The View are shocked! But the other version is about a little hen looking for help to make the bread. With each stage of the bread-making process, none of the other animals will help the poor hen; they're lazy and they're happy to take advantage of the hen. But then, finally, the little red hen finishes her project and she takes a fresh, delicious bread out of the oven. Suddenly, the other animals show up and they're all-too-willing to help the hen eat the bread. The hen is like, "Uh, no. I did all the work. I'm going to eat the bread all by myself." The moral of the story is the hen really needs to watch her carb intake. That's a lot of bread for one person.

The story of the Little Red Hen is the story of every college group project ever assigned... except rather than eating the bread all by herself, the professor gives the same grade to every member of the group- the students in the group who did all the work and the students who didn't do sh*t.

You know who hates 'group projects' the most? The intelligent, 'A' students who work hard and make an effort. Because you've just doubled their workload. Now they have to pick up the slack caused by the jerk-offs who forgot to buy the posterboard and didn't realize the presentation was today. By assigning group projects, you're pissing off the few dedicated students who actually like you.

Note to the more economically liberal professors: If you want to teach your class the merits of socialism, don't give everyone in the group the same grade. It contradicts what you're teaching.

Oh, and nobody actually learns anything during group projects.

2. DON'T ASSIGN A PAPER OF MORE THAN 5 PAGES IN LENGTH

There is no undergraduate class topic that requires more than five pages to explain, and this includes the unnecessary long opening paragraph and the pointless closing paragraph, because undergraduate papers have two basic objectives- to strengthen a student's writing skills and to assess the student's basic comprehension of a subject or issue that is generally related to the course and this never takes more than five pages to accomplish, and when you assign an essay that forces the students to write seven or ten or twelve pages, rather than focus on strong writing and a grasp of the topic, their paper-writing goal switches to "filling up enough pages to complete the assignment" and this leads to ludicrously long quotes from other sources, hoping to fool you into thinking the paper is longer than it is by using wider indentations, and, worst of all, run-on sentences that go on and on and on and end up being, like, 167 words long... if you count "paper-writing" as one word.

Five pages are enough. Five pages are all you need to determine a student's ability to understand the topic and to determine a student's ability to write about the topic in a cohesive, intelligent way. Stephen Hawking is not in your "intro to Geology" course; these are nineteen-year-olds who can barely spell "C U laterz :)" Five pages are enough.

The students are on to you. A ten-page paper? The students know that you carefully read the first three pages, skim through the middle, and then read the final page. That's why page 8 has more grammar mistakes than a Chris Brown tweet.

Five pages are enough. When you assign a fifteen-page paper, you're telling your class, "Hey, kids. I have absolutely no life. I want to spend my entire weekend reading your fifteen-page papers." It's hard to relate to a teacher when you don't think he or she has a life outside the job. That's why Ryan Seacrest is a bad teacher.

Oh, and use one specific number when you tell your students how many pages to write. When you say "the paper should be 5- 7 pages", we all know that means 5 pages. People only care about the smallest number. We all agree that quarterback Tony Romo will finish his career with 0- 4 Super Bowl victories.

Oh, and nobody actually learns anything by writing really long papers.

3. TEACH WITHIN THE CONFINES OF THE CLASSROOM, NOT ONLINE

The Internet is for pornography, not for college. Speaking of which, did you catch Playboy Magazine's "Girls of Phoenix University" pictorial?

Years ago, college professors would stand in front of their classes and simply lecture. And back then, college graduates were knowledgeable. Now, professors use a wide range of multi-media tools: in-class movies, video conferencing, PowerPoint presentations, etc. And today, college students are much more likely to be able to name the Kardashian sisters than to name a single Supreme Court judge. See a connection? (Coincidentally, the Kardashian sisters are unable to name a single college.)

Go "old school." Talk. Teach. Get to know your students' names. Use regular textbooks, the kind with chapters and a general outline of the course material. Be passionate about the material. Whether you're teaching math or English or the anatomy of 80s hair bands, if you're excited and knowledgeable about the material, you can make it relevant to your students' lives.

'Learning' is an emotional experience. It's like watching a movie. You can't appreciate a film without being in the right state-of-mind to experience it. When you sit down to watch a comedy, your brain adjusts into an emotional state in which you're prepared to laugh. Think of the funniest movie you've seen lately. Two minutes before starting the film, if you found out your dog died, would the movie still be funny? Probably not. You'd watch the movie stoically and without expression, like when I watched Identity Thief. 'Learning' works the same way. When a professor talks, our minds adjust themselves into a learning mentality. Yeah, okay, you might fall asleep or play Angry Birds on your iPhone while he is talking, but we recognize this lecture scenario as one of "okay, now my brain is supposed to be taking in and processing information." But our brain doesn't understand "sitting at the computer and reading something on-line" as a learning activity. You don't learn anything by commenting on your cousin's Facebook posts. You don't learn anything by watching kitten videos on YouTube. And when you read an academic thesis on-line, your brain subconsciously thinks it's reading Taylor Swift gossip on TMZ. And you don't learn anything when you're in that emotional state... except that Taylor Swift gets dumped a lot. She seems like a sweet person, though.

Today, we rely on technology to do the jobs once held by human beings. Security guards have been replaced by cameras. Salesmen have been replaced by websites. Our spouses have been replaced by robots. And so if you're using a computer to teach the course material, then why do we need YOU?

4. NO "REVIEW SHEETS"

I know. This is a tough one because your students will tell you they want review sheets. They think they want review sheets. They'll beg you for them. But, hey, Larry King thought he wanted to get married eight times. Be careful what you wish for. (note: I wish I would be more careful.)

Review sheets are insulting. Review sheets are a way of saying, "Students, you've spent hours and hours listening to me tell you things. You've read pages and pages of material. But here is what I really want you to know -- conveniently typed on this single sheet of paper." Review sheets are a way of telling students that you've wasted their time. And nobody wants their time wasted. And nobody wants their intelligence insulted. That's why Green Lantern bombed at the box office.

You want students to study their notes, not memorize a review sheet. The stuff you talk about in class should be the stuff on the exams. Each class period leading up to the test should be one big "review sheet."

Review sheets are designed for the students who don't come to class. If you come to class, you don't need a review sheet. You already reviewed the material... in class. Why are you helping out the students who don't come to class? Once again, by handing out review sheets, you're pissing off the few dedicated students who actually like you.

In fact, take attendance! There's a famous quote, usually attributed to Woody Allen, that "80% of success is just showing up." Showing up should be part of the curriculum. Reward students who come to class. Anyone can pass out an exam. But only you can teach in the style that you teach... and to be in class to experience it should count for something.

And when a student misses a class, and he or she sends you an email the next day, and they ask, "Did I miss anything important?" always respond "no." That question doesn't warrant any other answer.

Oh, and nobody actually learns anything by studying your review sheets.

5. GO SHOPPING

If you're a nerd, embrace you're nerdom. If you're a hippy, embrace it. But change your outfit every once in a while. You don't want to be known on campus as "the one who always wears that green vest."

No, you're not there to entertain. But, whether or not you like it, to be a professor is to be a performer. To stand in front of people and talk is to give a performance. Hell, Jay Z tickets go for like a hundred bucks.

Students are watching you. They're looking at your pants. They're noticing your shoes. How can you tell your students to "work harder" when you can't make the effort to iron your shirt?

Wear different outfits. Wear clothes that you bought after 1990. Be relevant.

Professors, the rest of society is relying on you. Don't underestimate your responsibility. Our young people are in college to become smarter, wiser, to become tomorrow's leaders. So study, save, and remember this list of tips. Or just give it to your teaching assistant, who is probably doing all the work, anyway.