Interacting with Professors

The whole reason you’re at college is to do some learning.  Rather than just throw books at you, colleges offer these things called “professors” to guide you on your journey.  Here are some tips on making sure that you get the most out of your professors.


1.) Use Rate My Professors.

* On RateMyProfessors.com, students can evaluate how clear, how helpful, and how easy a professor is.  Be sure to check out a professor here before you take one of their classes. 

* Read the comments carefully to see why they’re receiving a certain rating. 
- For instance, a challenging professor is entirely different from one who’s just plain unfair. 
- You should also make sure they have qualities that matter to you, not just to other people.  If you value out-of-class individual help, see if other comments have anything to say about the professor’s ability to provide it. 

* Also, keep in mind that professors can change for the better, so check to see if the low ratings are mostly from old comments.  If so, the professor might have listened to their feedback and improved. 
- I had some professors do complete 180s on unpopular policies.  One professor received numerous complaints because students sometimes had to turn in an essay before they got the previous one back, meaning they wouldn’t know what mistakes to avoid for that latter essay.  He listened and gave himself the policy of always returning essays before the next one was due.  Plus, I had one professor who was notorious for giving ludicrous amounts of work, but she backed off after receiving loads of feedback about it.
- If a professor listens to student feedback and applies it to their teaching, doesn’t that say something good about them?

* People might give warnings about the professor’s quirks.  For instance, maybe they test you more heavily on the lectures than on the reading, or perhaps they drop your grade every time you miss a class.  Knowing these policies in advance helps, so look up professors even if you’re sure you’ll take them.

* Keep in mind that, while I often found a professor’s ratings and comments accurate when taken as a whole, I have disagreed with them before. 
- For instance, I had one useless professor who rambled most of the class, and nobody commented on that.  And I once had to take a professor with incredibly low ratings and harsh comments, but I thought she was okay.

* Be sure to look at which class the ratings come from. 
- Many comments will come from the lower-level classes.  This limits how useful the professor’s rating is to you because it’s very possible for a professor to be easy in the 100 classes but tough in the 300+ levels.
- A professor’s teaching style may also vary among courses, even if they’re roughly of the same difficulty.  For instance, one class may have lots of group work while another focuses on lectures.

* If RateMyProfessors.com has helped you, then you have a moral obligation to add your ratings and comments to professors you’ve had.  People helped you, so shouldn’t you help others?
- I’d recommend waiting a month or two after your time with a professor’s class is over before you rate them.  That way, the experience will have had time to soak in, and you’re less likely to be biased. 
- Don’t give ratings in the middle of the semester with them: you never know how things will change for the better or for the worse.

2.) Use your professors and treat them with respect.

* Remember, professors are people who have toiled for years and years and years in school, memorizing lots of boring facts and writing lots of papers nobody will ever read.  Every time you ask them a question, they get to feel smart and put all that trivia they’ve learned to good use.  So, they’ll enjoy helping you.  Besides, it’s their job.

* If you have a participation grade, then your professor might be more inclined to give you a good one if you contact them outside of class, especially for talking face-to-face during office hours.

* If you have to write an essay, then ask the professor to read over your rough draft to make sure you’re on the right track. 
- Just having them look at your introduction (with its thesis) can help a lot. 
- Not all professors will offer this service, but the worst they could do is say no.

* Although you could call or e-mail a professor for certain kinds of help, most prefer having back-and-forth dialogue without any distractions.  They usually put their office and office hours on the syllabus, so be sure to consult it. 
- Besides, if they see you as a friendly person, that could help your grade and make it more likely that they could write you helpful letters of recommendation in the future.

* Asking other students for help is fine, but remember that the professor knows the material best.

* You can also consult professors while scheduling classes for the next semester. 
- If there’s a class you’re unsure of, why not ask the professor themselves about it?  I’m sure they’d be more than happy to tell you about the class or even give you an old syllabus.  Comparing one syllabus to another could help tremendously when deciding which classes to take.
- If some people claim they can’t understand a professor’s accent, then asking them about their class would be a great excuse to talk to them in-person and hear what they sound like yourself, even if you already understand what to expect from the class itself.
- To find a professor, look them up on your college’s official website.  You can e-mail them to schedule an appointment (make it clear you’d like to have a talk in their office), or you can just write down their office number.  Most professors have their current office hours hanging outside their door.  If you plan on comparing professors, you can see if their office hours overlap so you can visit multiple ones quickly.
- Remember, though, that professors have a lot of work to do and need to talk with their current students.  So, be sure to respect their time.  Be prepared by having questions in your head beforehand.
- Asking your current professors what classes to take couldn’t hurt either.

* Whether or not your professor has a tricky accent, they won’t mind if you ask them politely to repeat something during a lecture.  Remember, they want students to learn about the things they’ve spent so many years studying.

* Do not write down only what the professor writes on the board.  They say important things in their lectures aloud!  And you’ll forget a lot of what they say before the day’s even over, so just imagine how much you’ll forget by the time finals roll around. 
- This might seem obvious, but some of my fellow college students sure needed this advice.  I had one professor who wrote on the chalkboard only to spell out names and big words, so some students only wrote down a couple names and big words during each class period.  Then they would complain about how useless the “professor’s notes” were!

* On a similar note, don’t assume the instructor’s PowerPoint slides cover everything. 
- Again, they’ll connect the dots in class, clarify important information, and add other facts.  You should write down these important details.  Professors aren’t there to read notes aloud; they want students to dig deeply into the material.
- If a professor lets you access their PowerPoint slides before class, then consider printing them out (multiple slides per page, please) and jotting notes in the margins.

* Don’t record your professor’s lecture and then listen to it later.  You have to sit there in class anyway, so that’s usually just a waste of time and energy.

* Do not browse the Internet or text during class, even if there’s nothing happening at the moment.  Professors aren’t a huge fan of this.  Besides, it might get your mind off track even when you put the phone away or close the Internet tab.

* Do not be in a huge hurry to leave class the moment the scheduled period ends.
- Don’t pack up your materials early as the end of class approaches.  I had a number of professors who admitted this is one of their biggest pet peeves. 
- Also, remember that the clock doesn’t dismiss the class: the instructor does.  Unless they’re running so far over the scheduled period that you’ll be late to something important, don’t leave just because the clock says you should. 
- Standing beside the door and waiting for them to shut up isn’t exactly polite either.

* If you’re absent from a class, don’t ask the professor later, “Did we do anything while I was gone?”  It makes it sound as if they sometimes teach periods when nothing of importance happens.  Instead, apologize for missing the class and simply ask what you missed, not if you missed anything.

* This isn’t high school, so don’t expect an instructor to put up with any disruptive behavior.  People are paying a ludicrous amount of money to be in the classroom, so if you’re preventing them from learning, the professor will kick you right out.

* If at all possible, do not leave the room during class. 
- One professor of mine prohibited it outright because it creates a distraction. 
- Aside from that, though, you might miss something important while you’re gone. 
- So, use the restroom before class, and make sure all your personal items are ready to go.  I, for one, always had chapstick, hand sanitizer, and a few tissues with me in my pockets.  I also refilled my water bottle between classes. 
- On that note, I’d recommend making water your only in-class beverage.  If anything else spills, especially without a lid, you’ll have one huge mess to contend with—and a professor who won’t stop class to wait for you.
- Long class periods lasting two or more hours tend to have official bathroom breaks, so don’t worry about that.

* Staple your own darn papers.  I’ve never understood why people always ask instructors for a stapler.  Get your own, or borrow one from the library!
- Oh, and make sure you have your own materials for each class period, such as a pencil and paper.  Professors don’t enjoy it when people waste time by begging other students for supplies.

* Although most colleges don’t have a clear dress code, be sure to dress appropriately. 
- For one thing, that gives the professor (and other students) a positive impression of you as someone who cares about the whole “learning thing.” 
- Secondly, staying dressed in your pajamas for class might make you look lazy or make you want to fall back asleep even more badly than you already do. 
- Thirdly, there’s no reason to dress in a sexualized way during classes when everyone’s goal is to learn.  If they’re looking for a date, then they’ll do so while hanging out somewhere else.
- You don’t need to look like you’re ready for a job interview, but use some common sense when getting dressed.  You are at school, after all.
- Don’t wear any t-shirts with images or text that could easily offend others, even if you don’t mean it to be taken seriously.  For instance, I have a beloved t-shirt that says, “Dyslexia makes reading NUF!  NUF, NUF, NUF, NUF!”  Rather than risk wearing it to school, I simply reserved it for my days off.

* I wouldn’t recommend openly cussing in class, even though there are rarely rules against it.  Falling back on vulgar language makes your vocabulary appear quite limited.  Instead, practice making your point using words that belong in a civilized setting.

* If you find yourself crying over a grade or something of that sort, don’t go into your professor’s office in that state.  That’s rude and counterproductive.  Pull yourself together first so you can have a real conversation with them.

* Asking professors to raise your grades is virtually never a smart idea.
- Absolutely never ask a professor for a higher grade just because you’re an athlete.  That’s unacceptable.  I would not be shocked if certain professors would choose to report your request to other authorities.
- But if your graduation is on the line, then consider asking the professor if there are any extra credit projects you can do “to really delve into the material.”  Make it clear you’re willing to work extra hard to earn the extra points.  If illness or some other situation ended up affecting your grade, then this is worth a shot too—just don’t ask for a higher grade without any work!  Thank the instructor profusely if they let you do this, because that’s very nice of them.  Heck, send them a handwritten thank-you letter after your final grade is in.

* Many colleges ask you to evaluate your professor at the end of the semester. 
- Unlike RateMyProfessors.com, this is official and private.  Usually, only your professor and a few authority figures will read what you’ve written.
- Evaluate your instructors fairly.  Let them know what they did well so they keep on doing it.  Calmly give constructive criticism in areas where they didn’t do well. 
- Your evaluation should be targeted at the class and how well the professor taught it, not at how much you like them personally.  Only mention their annoying personality traits if they directly interfered with your learning (for instance, if they enjoyed picking on students with different viewpoints).
- An accurate evaluation will help not only the professor but also their future students.

* College professors can be important people for writing recommendation letters. 
- This is important to know whether you’re heading to grad school or starting your career after graduation. 
- So if you performed well in one class and really connected with a professor, then stay in contact with them. 
- Just saying hi when you see them can go a long way, but you can go even further if you’d like. 
- For instance, if you see something on the news that might interest them, e-mail a link to them and explain why it’s intriguing.  Of course, be sure to ask them how they’re doing, too.
- If they have kids, then try to remember their names; all parents love that.
- On a related note, don’t burn bridges with professors you hated.
- If you think they’ve behaved unethically, you should calmly voice your concern to them or to the appropriate authority figure. 
- However, don’t even dream about giving them a hate-filled diatribe for being a tough grader or anything like that. 
- Even if you’re giving “anonymous” feedback, they may guess whose it is. 
- Revenge is immoral and, according to psychological studies, rarely makes you feel better. 
- Plus, if you directly tell your professor how much you hate them, then they might share the story of your outburst with their colleagues.  This may hurt your reputation among the professors you liked.  It might also give your future professors a horrendous first impression of who you are.
- Don’t badmouth professors online, especially not on social media networks.  No matter how secure your Facebook account is, it takes only one angry person on your so-called “friend list” to pass along slander to the professor.
- You never know how far down the road of life you may encounter professors again, so don’t think that it’s safe to somehow lash out at them later.

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Last Updated May 7th, 2015

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