Five Tips to Make an Ally of Your Professor
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3. Take advantage of office hours. Heed the aforementioned advice, and office hours are your best resource for building and maintaining a relationship with your instructor. Meeting with instructors is more personal than an email, and is generally not under the time constraints of a chat after class. Again, be mindful of your instructor’s expectations of how office hours are to be used. Some instructors use office hours to work and don’t want to be disturbed. Others love interacting with students, and welcome a change to the routine monotony. Always come in with specific questions or concerns about preparing for an upcoming test, essay, or an unclear concept from a lecture or textbook. Take notes and be attentive. If you’re eyeing a letter of recommendation or reference, mention it only after you’ve established and maintained a relationship. If you’re raising concerns over a grade, be proactive, humble, and focus the conversation on what you can do differently moving forward. Most of all: Be friendly and concise. There are other students in your class who might need help, and your instructor’s time is likely stretched thin as it is.
4. Stand out in class. Some instructors have class participation as an outright part of the overall course grade, and others retroactively alter grades based on in-class performance. Not only does class participation make you stand out from your peers, but it displays the breadth and depth of your knowledge (a useful thing to showcase in the event of a poor test or essay). Be willing to take stabs at answers when no one else does, but don’t overstep your role in the classroom. Try and speak an average of once or twice per class. If you are going to try this route, you better be caught up on the readings and subject matter. Consistently voicing an uninformed voice can significantly hinder your instructor’s view of you.
5. Be honest. There is no faster track to making an ally of your professor than displaying a little sincerity. If you’re having trouble engaging with the course material, say so. Be open about letters of recommendation or references. If you didn’t perform up to your standard on a test, admit you should have studied differently. Be they an “A”, improving a specific skill, or just “getting through” a course, be candid about your goals for the course and ask your instructor how they can help you achieve them. Your instructor can’t serve as a very strong ally if they don’t know what you hope to achieve. Be open and earnest with your instructor, and they will genuinely care about your success.
Inside the classroom and out, an instructor is one of the strongest cohorts you can have on campus. Some instructors may become friends, some you may never speak to again once the course is over, but all instructors are interested in one thing: helping you succeed in achieving your upmost potential as a student, as a future professional, and as a person.
Matt has a B.A. in English and a B.S. in Marketing. He is a freelance writer and has been published in the literary journals of Iowa State University and the University of Idaho.