The Difference Between Teachers and Professors


First, I am your professor, not your teacher. There is a difference. Up to now your instruction has been in the hands of teachers, and a teacher’s job is to make sure that you learn… However, things are very different for a university professor. It is no part of my job to make you learn. At university, learning is your job — and yours alone. My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge. Whether you drink deeply or only gargle is entirely up to you.

That is Keith Parsons (University of Houston – Clear Lake), writing in the Huffington Post about a lesson he imparts to his first-year students. It’s a fun rant defending an “old-fashioned” approach to college education. He even uses the word “hogwash!” And he’s based in Texas. We’re talking true-grit, foot-stompin’, table-thumpin’, are-you-listenin’ professoratin’ here, folks.

I tease because I understand the appeal of this, I really do. And sometimes I talk to my students this way. Yet I can’t help but suspect that this kind of reaction is just too easy. Our students’ world is not the one we went to college in. We did not have the entire planet and all of our friends, always accessible at our fingertips, competing with our education. And more kinds of people are going to college, with a wider range of backgrounds, than in the past.  I agree with Parsons that there is a difference between college professors and high school teachers, and he is right that this needs to be explained to the students. Do you think he has hit upon the right differences?

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