Communicating with Instructors
How to Communicate
Instructors want you to use them as a resource. They hold office hours for a reason, yet many students still avoid their instructor’s office unless required. Remember, unless you tell them otherwise, your instructors assume you’re doing fine (or at least that you’re fine with how you’re doing). They can’t help if you don’t ask! So overcome your fear, and start directly talking to your instructors outside of class.
Knowing the best ways to approach your instructors will give you that necessary confidence to step into the “dragon’s den.” Chances are, you’ll discover the “dragon” is human after all.
- Call them by the right title.
- Be prepared – instructors are not mind readers.
- The more open and truthful you can be, the more receptive your instructor will be.
- Don’t ask, “Hey, what’s on the final?”
- Your instructor is not Harry Potter.
- At the end, it’s too late.
- Get to the point – your instructor’s office is not a lounge.
- Don’t flirt, don’t threaten, and don’t be overly informal.
- Talk to your professors early and often.
Call them by the right title.
Most instructors let you know what they want to be called. When in doubt, go with “Dr. [last name].” If they’re not a professor, they’ll let you know; but they’re unlikely to be offended by the promotion.
Be prepared – instructors are not mind readers.
Unless you’re just stopping by to chat (which is fine, by the way), have your questions prepared in advance. You need to be able to clearly articulate what it is you need help with. Besides, planning your agenda in advance helps ensure you don’t forget what you came there to do. Also, be sure to bring any necessary materials with you.
The more open and truthful you can be, the more receptive your instructor will be.
When it comes to lies, instructors have no tolerance for deceptiveness and the twisting of actual events. Be honest. Whatever it is, they’ve heard it before, and if it’s the truth, they will listen again.
Don’t ask “Hey, what’s on the final?”
Be diplomatic. Instead, ask “How can I best prepare for the final?” See the difference? Avoid approaching your instructors aggressively or antagonistically, and don’t whine. Above all, don’t act entitled; your instructor is not your employee. Think about how you want to be perceived and act accordingly. Phrase your questions carefully, so as not to sound like you’re asking for special treatment or “inside knowledge.”
Your instructor is not Harry Potter.
Don’t ask the impossible of your instructors. They are here to help you, but they are also restricted by course and departmental policies. Whatever your circumstances, instructors have to hold you to the same standards and workload as the rest of the class. So go ahead and inquire about make-up work, extra credit, and other opportunities, but be prepared to do the work, and don’t expect easy outs. Brace yourself for disappointment, and if your instructor says “no,” follow up with damage control strategies.
At the end, it's too late.
You will not get far by approaching your instructor at the end of the semester and declaring that you will lose you scholarship, be kicked off the team, or get dismissed from school if you don’t receive a certain grade in the class. As you see signs of falling short of certain requirements as a UT student, member of an organization, or scholarship recipient, meet with your instructors. They most certainly agree that your grade is important, but in the end they cannot be held responsible for your earned grade or personal circumstances.
Get to the point – your instructor's office is not a lounge.
Even if you’re paying a social call, don’t use up more of your instructor’s time than necessary. Other students may be waiting, so be clear and concise; don’t beat around the bush.
Don’t flirt, don’t threaten, and don’t be overly informal.
In other words, be professional. Different instructors have different ways of interacting with students (some are casual, some are more proper), but ultimately academia is a professional arena, and you should conduct yourself accordingly. You might also want to consider your attire; if you’re dealing with an “old-fashioned” instructor, or if you’re there on a serious matter (such as asking for a letter of recommendation), it’s a good idea to dress for the occasion.
Talk to your instructors early and often.
This is a proactive and professional relationship. If you know you’re going to miss class, try to let your instructors know ahead of time. If you’re sick, contact them. If you need an extension, ask before the due date, not after. If you’re struggling, see them before it’s too late (after all, there’s only so much they can do if the semester’s almost over). Your instructors like you and want to help, but you have to meet them halfway.
Retrieved from https://studentsuccess.utk.edu/
How to Ask Your Instructor for Help
As a student there are likely many times in which you have thought about seeking assistance from one of your professors and/or teaching assistants, yet have failed to do so for a variety of reasons. You may even come from a cultural background that discourages interactions with authority figures. Whatever the reason, you are not alone. You can learn how to approach a professor for help by following the below four steps.
Step 1: Identifying Reasons for Seeking Help
You may have performed poorly on an exam, you may be unclear about the attendance policy, you may be considering a change of major, or you may need a letter of recommendation for a scholarship application. Regardless of the reason, be sure to communicate that to the instructor up front.
Step 2: Determining When to Meet
If you need to speak to your instructor as soon as possible, then a phone call, email, or face-to-face contact in his/her office may be warranted. Be sure to ask if this is a good time to approach the professor for your specific need. Also, keep in mind that a professor is typically less receptive to answering questions immediately before an exam is being distributed. One approach might be, "Professor Heart, I need to talk with you about ______ as soon as possible. When can I do that?" Try to meet during the professor's office hours. Check your syllabus for office hours and policies.
Step 3: Organizing Your Talk with Your Professor
Arrive prepared with your list of why you need to approach your professor for help. Any anxiety you may experience can be lessened if you are organized beforehand. Have all of your questions listed on paper to greatly minimize any chance of forgetting to ask a particular question of importance to you. Have paper and pen available. It is best to record all information provided from your professor rather than rely later on your memory. If you have a question about class material it is strongly advised to have your text, class notes and syllabus with you (in case you need to refer to such).
Step 4: Talking with Your Professor
Know your professor's last name and use it with his/her appropriate title. Do not assume an informal greeting unless the professor has specifically stated that a more casual greeting is preferred. Be sure to arrive on time and be mindful of possible (and likely) time constraints. Don't hesitate in asking to meet again if you did not receive all the information you needed. For example, "Professor Heart, I really appreciate you spending some time talking with me about graduate school as it will help me make some decisions. I would like to meet with you again to follow-up with some related areas. When can we arrange to do that?"