Ways to Get To Know Your Instructor

Instructors are a significant resource in college, not only because they handout grades, but also because they can play an important part in helping you reach your academic goals. Instructors can clarify course content, and they know about academic opportunities and events on campus. An instructor can also write you letters of recommendation if you want to further your education or apply for a scholarship, and they can be a reference on a job application. Unfortunately, many students talk with their instructor only if they have too, like when there’s a mid-semester conference about their writing, or when something goes wrong. Maintaining a positive relationship with your instructors can lead to opportunities you may miss out on if you don’t make an effort to communicate.

The truth is that many students feel apprehensive and tongue-tied when it come to talking with their instructors because instructors often have a lot of credentials, do research, and have power in the classroom. Many teachers are committed to education and have a genuine desire to share their knowledge with you. They appreciate students who are also committed and have a sincere curiosity and interest in the subject that they teach. Most instructors will go out their way to help if they feel you need it, but first you have to make a connection with your instructors and approach them through conversation and perhaps email. Here are some thoughtful hints to prepare you to interact with your instructors:

Call your instructor by the right title

A “Doctor” is used when someone has a PhD. Not all instructors have a PhD. So be sure to check your syllabus for your instructor’s title and use it. Don’t use the instructor’s first name, unless it was made it clear in class that using a first name is preferred. If you are not sure, it’s best to use a “Mr.” or “Ms.” Don’t use Mrs., unless the instructor herself uses it.

Use your instructor’s office hours

Even if there’s no problem in class, utilize an instructor’s office hours starting early in the semester. This is your chance to talk one-on-one with your instructor. You can get the instructor to know you, why you’re in the class, and what specifically your interest in, in the subject. You can ask questions and clarify points of interest, which may lead to interesting discussions. Many instructors encourage students to see them outside of class during office times, but most students don’t take advantage of this valuable time to connect with their instructors.

Think about how you want to convey your message

If there is a specific reason you would like to talk with your instructor, think about what your goal is and how to achieve it. What do you need from your instructor? Do you want to clarify a concept you just learned in class? Do you want to ask if you can turn in a paper late? Whatever the reason for the interaction, keep it in mind so that you use the instructor’s time wisely. Also, be sure to have any notes handy if you’re trying to clarify a concept or any documentation to support requests you might have.

Tell the truth

Even after only a couple of months of teaching, an instructor has pretty much heard it all. Students may have many excuses for why something wasn’t finished on time or why they did not attend class. It’s best to say, “I didn’t finish the assignment on time. Is there anything I can do to make it up?” Best honest, without having to give a lot of details. Demanding an exception never gets you what you want. Take responsibility and make a request with respect. Also, remember that an instructor does not owe it to you to agree to your request—be prepared to be disappointed or to to do the work, perhaps at a price, like a deduction in points.

Attend class regularly and sit in the front

Instructors enjoy seeing attentive and engaged students seated in the front row of their classes. It’s much easier to make a connection and get your instructor to remember you if you attend class regularly and sit in the front. Instructors do notice when students are not interested or are distracted in class. If you sit in the front of the room, it’s easier to hear the lecture and makes for better note taking. Make eye contact with the instructor, so you’ll stand out from the mass of students. And say “hi” to your instructor as he or she walks in. You’d be surprised at how this simple gesture can help build a relationship. If for some reason you are not able to attend class, be sure to send an email to your instructor, informing him or her of your absence, as this shows your instructor that you think class is important.

Keep your syllabus handy from day-1

A syllabus is a contract between you and your instructor, as to how you will attain your grade. A syllabus is the most important paper an instructor will hand out to you during the semester. Read it carefully, and notice information like what the procedures are if you hand in an assignment late, or if there are opportunities for extra credit. If you go to talk with your instructor about an issue, which the syllabus already has the answer to, your instructor is not going to be impressed. Also, your syllabus is an important document to look over throughout the semester, for if you instructor isn’t following the rules of the contract, and you would like to dispute a conflict in the syllabus, you can use the document to state your case. Furthermore, learn the college’s grading/drop polices and be aware of drop dates, which is your responsibility. If you feel that things are not going well in a class, talk with your instructor—don’t wait until it’s too late.

Email Etiquette

  • Ask in your email to schedule an appointment to talk about an issue that needs to be addressed face-to-face.
  • Give your instructor time to address your email.
  • Be careful about overusing email with your instructors, especially if the question can be answered by reading your syllabus or easily answered from a classmate. Find a classmate that you can exchange email addresses with in case you have questions, especially if you miss a class.
  • Stay away from fancy backgrounds on email or smiley faces. Instructors typically get a lot of emails, so keep them simple.
  • Always include a subject in your subject line so that an instructor can locate the email easily if it needs to be referred to again.
  • It’s courteous to include your name and the class in your email.
  • Always review an email again before pressing the ‘send’ button. Check for confusing sentences and spelling errors.
  • Avoid texting ‘talk,’ like shortcuts for spelling words.
  • Avoid “You” statements.
  • Be careful about forwarding long email trains and review all of the content before sending.
  • Be clear. Remember an instructor can’t see your emotions over email, so make sure information is clear so that it doesn’t get misinterpreted.
  • Remember that ultimately, email is not confidential.

“How to Talk to Your Professor.” Western Oregon University. Web. 10 December 2009. www.wou.edu/provost/aalc/learning/documents/HowToTalkToYourProfessor.pdf.