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I am a master's student in the US studying international relations, and I had a negative experience in one of my classes last week. It is my last semester of my master's program, and I feel very exhausted from being a student. I have a story about what happened in one of my classes last week, and would like to know how I should cope in the class for the rest of the semester.

Situation

Last week, in one of my classes (in a subject I am not too familiar with), I had to give a presentation based on a paper I wrote. The assignment involved writing a paper based on the course readings for the week that we signed up for and presenting it on the due date. I presented, but I admit that my presentation was quite poor because of my lack of confidence in my paper. This was definitely a situation of the input being much greater than the output, which is definitely one of the greatest frustrations that anyone could ever have. I know that it is a stupid calculation on my part, but I was just planning to present in a dull way so that other people would not ask any questions; the presentation did not seem to be weighted much.

The professor attacked my presentation in front of the class and gave it as an example of what not to do. However, I would have preferred that I just receive a bad grade in private, as opposed to having to feel embarrassed in class. I could tell that the professor was quite disappointed. 'Humiliated' might seem like a strong word, but I felt very embarrassed and helpless for the rest of class.

Now, there are three weeks left of the course, and I feel like I would not want to stare at anyone in the remaining class sessions. I am considering training my mind to think of myself as a corpse for the two-hour duration of each of the remaining classes. The papers for last week are already graded, and based on what happened in the class, I am already mentally prepared for the worst in relation to my paper grade.

I am from an eastern culture, and in my culture, it is considered one of the worst insults to publicly embarrass someone; this is done in cases when the person is mean-spirited or it is likely that the people involved will never see each other again.

Questions

  1. Is the professor's reaction common and justified in the US or other western countries in situations like mine across different fields?

  2. How should I cope for the last few weeks of the semester?

I just can't wait for this course to finish. If such an experience were to occur, I would have preferred that it happen on the last day so that I would not have to look at familiar faces in the classroom ever again.

1 Answer 1

I'm sorry. What happened to you should be very rare, but it does happen sometimes. In US higher education I have seen otherwise good professors embarrass someone by accident (not realizing the effect of their words on the student, or saying something more extreme than they had thought through), and some extremely blunt professors who say this sort of thing on purpose (this group is mixed in whether they are otherwise kind people).

I highly doubt that what the professor did was "justified," but this may depend on the tone they used. In my opinion, intending to embarrass you for this would not be justified.

As for coping, I suggest you think about whether the professor has done this sort of thing to other people. If so, then other people know what you feel like. If not, then it is unlikely that the professor considered how his words would make you feel.

It may feel empowering to go to the professor with direct feedback that this was very embarrassing to you. I think that directness might help the professor learn but would even better free you from some of this shame. However, that's expert-level self-confidence and emotional intelligence, and not at all what I did when I was in a similar situation (grad student giving final presentation on my work, and the professor said a few slides in that my approach didn't make sense/wouldn't work; that sort of deflated me and I ended the presentation there--I was the last student to present, the class had already gone over time, and the prof was complaining before my presentation that he needed to leave.). In my case, I never brought it up, there was no direct feedback on the presentation, and I continued going to next term's class with the same prof even when I felt like I was going to cry. I felt embarrassed for a while when I ran into my fellow students from that class. But eventually I figured out my feelings, realized that professor is extremely direct (to put it kindly), and the pain dulled over time.

To prepare for your remaining classes, really be kind to yourself. If you have a friend in this class, try to arrange to come to this class with them so you're not alone at the beginning or end or class. Bring a comforting hot drink with you to class. (Or ice cold drink, depending on weather. :) ) Wear jewelry or put something in your pocket that reminds you of home & loved ones or a meaningful accomplishment. And try to remain engaged with the ideas right in front of you in the class, rather than replaying that class in your mind. If possible, finish a draft of what you need to do for the rest of the class as soon as you can, so you can mentally close the door on this class.

You are almost done with your program! I am sorry that there was this awful experience at the end, but please try to celebrate what you have done!