As a college parent, you may wonder about the people at college with whom your student spends much of her time. Who will her classmates be? Who will her friends be? Who will her roommates or suitemates be? Who will her coworkers be? Who will her professors be? Students often head off to college with many of the same questions. They wonder, and then they discover their classmates, roommates, coworkers. They work at making and maintaining friendships. However, although students will see their professors in class each day, they may not think about the importance of working at establishing a relationship with these professionals.
As a parent, you can encourage your student to get to know her instructors. It will be to your student’s advantage to get to know her professors – and to help them get to know her. However, it is often difficult for many students, especially new students, to reach out to faculty members. Here are a few suggestions you might pass on that will help your student set herself apart as an individual. Some may require more effort than others. However, using even a few of these suggestions will help your student stand out in her professors’ minds.
Have a reputation for excellence.
One basic thing that your student can do is to make sure that he does all of his work carefully, thoughtfully, on time, and to the best of his ability. If the professor remembers your student’s name, it should be because of the high quality of his work – not because he has a reputation for careless and/or late assignments.
Participate in class.
Participation doesn’t always mean talking a lot. Good class participation can mean raising your hand and contributing to discussion or asking thoughtful questions, but it can also mean being on time, being awake and attentive, being supportive of other students in class. Obviously, some of these things are more difficult to do in a large lecture class, but professors do notice students’ behavior. Students who are alert and appear to be interested are participating in their own way. Again, your student wants to be noticed and remembered because of his engaged attitude, not his chronic late arrivals.
Know your professor’s name.
This may sound silly, however some students go through an entire semester and are not sure of their instructor’s name. The student who doesn’t know her teacher’s name has not made any effort to get to know her professor. She should know his or her name – and know how to spell it and pronounce it.
Introduce himself to the instructor.
Even in a relatively small class, there is a sea of student faces at the beginning of the semester. There is very little to distinguish one student from another as a new term begins. Students who take a moment or two after class early in the semester to introduce themselves to the instructor and perhaps ask a quick question, will give the instructor an opportunity to put a name and a face together. This is not the time for a substantive discussion, but is a good way to begin.
Make use of the professor’s office hours.
At most schools, professors set aside some hours each week during which they are available in their offices to meet with students. For many professors, these office hours are underutilized for most of the semester. Most professors welcome the opportunity to get to know students better, but class time does not allow this to happen. Encourage your student to make an appointment to visit her professor during office hours. She can stop by for extra help, to ask about an assignment, to share something interesting she has discovered about the material, or just to get acquainted. Doing this early in the semester is beneficial. Professors often receive numerous visits late in the semester when more students need help.
Make use of quality e-mail communication.
E-mail has become a useful tool for students’ and faculty members’ communication. This can be an ideal way for a student to ask a question, share a discovery, or explain an absence. However, your student should not necessarily expect an immediate response. Most faculty members try to keep current with their e-mail, but they may only check their mail once a day or every other day. Students should also approach e-mail as a professional – or at least semi-professional – means of communication. Your student should proofread and use full sentences.
Value the human qualities and professional relationship.
Students who remember that professors are people as well as instructors will value the relationship that they establish with them. Just as with any other individuals, some relationships will be more successful than others. There may be personality differences and teaching/learning style differences. Not everyone gets along. Not every relationship clicks. However, the student/faculty relationship is a professional relationship. Just as we may not choose all of our coworkers as friends, we can usually maintain a professional, and often amicable, working relationship. Just as with our coworkers, some turn out to be good friends and highly respected colleagues. Students who make an effort to get to know their professors will be appreciated by their professors and they will both be better able to maintain a good working relationship.