The Dos and Don'ts of Communicating with Professors
When making the transition from high school to college, it’s crucial to begin thinking about best practices for interacting with professors. The way you approach your professor/student relationships can guide how much or how little you’ll gain from a learning environment. Beyond the basics, like how to address them and how to effectively participate, you’ll need to think about what to do when you mess up. Because, let’s face it, the transition isn’t easy, and chances are, you will mess up.
- Mr. and Mrs. are thing of the past.
You may be used to addressing your teachers as Mr. and Mrs. but in college you’ll likely be addressing teachers as, “Professor.” However, take a look at their syllabus and see their preferred reference. If your professor lists themselves as “Dr.” then you should address them as such. Some professors will not actually be professors, but rather lecturers or adjunct faculty—meaning they’re hired on a contractual basis. Although their technical title might not be “Professor,” it’s still best to address them as such until they say otherwise.
- Introduce yourself.
Make it a point to introduce yourself at the beginning of the semester. Even if you’re in a large class and it seems pointless, helping your professor associate a face with your name makes it easier to ask for help later. It also shows them you’re engaged in the class and eager to learn.
- Sit where you’ll pay attention.
If you know you have difficulty paying attention, sit front and center. In fact, regardless of your ability to stay focused during class, sitting front and center helps a professor see your dedication and gives you a better opportunity to see, hear, and take notes. Staying fully engaged during class means you’ll get the most out of it.
- Leave your phone alone.
Tuning out distractions leads to better engagement. The first year of college is where you set up best practices for success. Learning to leave your phone alone in class not only helps you stay focused, it also shows your professor you care about the topics of discussion.
- Ask questions, but don’t waste time.
There’s always that person in class who talks simply to talk and be heard. Don’t be that person. Ask pertinent questions about the subject matter that will help not only expand your learning but that of your classmates. Not to mention, if you have a question about what you’re learning, chances are, one your classmates has the same question. Help your professor out by asking thoughtful questions.
- Go to office hours.
In a survey of 600 students conducted by researchers in 2015, it was discovered that only 8% of those surveyed actually attended office hours. Professors hold office hours to give you an opportunity for one on one time to ask any questions and get feedback. You don’t simply have to use office hours for the subject matter of your class. You can ask about campus life, extracurricular reading, study habits, whatever is concerning you about transitioning to the college environment. Also, attending office hours every once in a while demonstrates dedication.
- Don’t make excuses.
If you can’t finish an assignment, you’ve missed class, or you aren’t pulling your weight, don’t make an excuse. Remember, chances are your professor has been doing this for a while and there isn’t an excuse they haven’t heard. Instead, try being honest about your situation. This helps your professor understand, and gives them more information so they can better facilitate your growth. They might seem like taskmasters, but they really do want to help you.
- Admit when you’ve made mistakes.
Don’t lie to your professors when you’ve made a mistake. If you forgot about a deadline, be honest. If you missed an appointment, be honest. Most professors handle violations of the syllabus or class code on a case by case basis and actually have be shown to sympathize with student’s problems, if those students can be honest.
- Your GPA isn’t your professor’s problem.
If getting a B verses the B- that you earned makes a difference in your GPA, this is not your professor’s fault. When a professor hands out a syllabus in the beginning of a semester, they’re giving you a map to a high grade. Do the work, follow the guidelines, and ask for help. If you dedicate enough time to following these three steps, you’ll get the grade you want. If you’re coming to your professor at the end of the semester worried that the grade you pulled will affect your GPA negatively, remember, you did it to yourself.
- Ask where to seek help outside of class.
Don’t rely solely on a busy professor during office hours to give you all the help you need to succeed. Talk to your professor about attending existing study groups, finding helpful extracurricular reading, or seeking out campus services to supplement learning. This shows determination and initiative.
How do you communicate with your professors and demonstrate you’re invested in learning? Share tips and tricks in the comments below. We’d love to expand this list.