To start with, if you are to have good communication with your professor for any reason, it helps to attend class. Why? Well, if the professor recognizes you, knows your name, feels you’re interested in his/her course; you are likely to have better rapport.
Get the Basics
Make sure you know your professor”s name, yes! Also know where the professor’s office is located and what his/her office hours are. You should also have handy your professor’s email address, office phone, and even the home phone if that is acceptable.
Know the Professor’s Role
The professor is there to teach, and a main part of teaching is both connecting with and wanting to foster students in their education. If your professor is young, realize he/she is not so far removed from your experience. If the professor is older, don’t forget that she/he may well have children close to your own age and know what students’ issues are.
Creating the Appropriate Space
It is good to have occasional contact with a professor at the beginning or end of class, casually and easily. However, know that some discussion should be one-on-one and may best be arranged apart from class and classmates. This allows you your privacy, the professor’s attention, and time to discuss and consider. If you are worried about a divorce in your family or if you disagree with grading, these issues are usually more private and less volatile away from the classroom setting.
A rational approach works. When you allow emotions to control your behavior, you are less effective. Civility also allows an escape route. You and your professor may have disagreed, may not have resolved a conflict, but you will be working together throughout the remainder of the course and perhaps in the future. It is best to have an avenue for mutual respect in order to continue your relationship. Resentment, hostility and /or anger will not yield results, but a continued relationship, even if strained, may effect positive results.
Go to Your Professor Early On
It is best to discuss an issue while it is fresh for both of you. Memory can fail, and misperceptions can be created over time. Also things can fester so that what might have worked out earlier may get worse, or feelings may seethe and create an attitude that is not conducive to solving a problem. It is also better to be known as upfront, not devious or manipulative. If you are direct about your concerns, the professor may admire that.
Have a Plan
Before going to speak with your professor, make sure you have an outline and/or notes that outline the dates, times, incidents, stated policies, or written work which you wish to discuss. Being prepared is impressive and gives you a certain seriousness that seems more like a legitimate issue than a haphazard or ill-considered whim. Outlines and notes will also help you focus on your discussion and allow you less often to be at a loss for words.
If you can offer solutions, accept your own problems, and offer a plan for making the concern better, you are likely to get further than waiting for the professor to suggest something or simply fix it. Brainstorm before you go to the professor’s office.
Have an Attitude for Negotiation
You should know ahead of time that this should be a win-win situation. No one wants to lose. And, no one has to lose if you realize the way you see things is not the only way to see them. Also, you should be aware that real winning can be a compromise; then no one is upset and you’re better off.
Let your professor have her points and agree when you can. Let your professor have an excuse. S/he may have lost a paper, forgotten your participation, misunderstood the reason for your absence. Work with this idea of fallibility in professors and you can find there is no line in the sand because you appreciate each other’s weaknesses and strengths.
Finally, keep in mind that if you create an all-or-nothing situation, you may be able to go over the professor’s head to the academic dean or use an appeals process, but in the end faculty have final say about their class policy and their grading. Where does that leave you?
If You Need Help
It may be you have no argument or problem with your professor; you may only need help with the course. If so, all of the above still applies. What you might also want to do is attempt to figure out what your problem is; it will save time. If you go to your professor saying only that you can’t understand the information in the class and you don’t know why, you will spend a good deal of time trying to determine what you’re doing wrong.
It is better for you to make an honest effort to analyze why you are having trouble; it’s a good self-examination. Also it will allow you and your professor to strategize specifically so that you can begin as soon as possible to try the suggestions, see if they work, and get your grades up.
Ask yourself questions about your trouble with this class:
- Can you take class notes fast enough and clearly?
- Do you understand the reading?
- Have you been to the writing lab to have someone evaluate your writing problems and help you revise?
- Can you focus on class discussions or are you being distracted and are missing material?
- Is everything OK until you see the test paper in front of you?
- Have you kept up with your outside reading?
- How many classes have you missed?
Answers to these questions may help you and your professor to a speedier and better solution.