One of the proven keys to success in college is the relationships students establish at school – with peers, professors, mentors, or other staff members. But establishing social connections and real relationships can be difficult for many students – especially following Covid isolation and especially with people they don’t know well. They aren’t sure where to start.
Enter your student’s professors.
The student-professor relationship can be one of the most important connections your student makes. But students are often intimidated by their professor or may not recognize the value of that relationship.
Some students and their professors work together well and communication happens smoothly and productively. Other students and professors struggle to work together because of differing personalities or styles of teaching and learning. But if your student makes the effort to consider their professor’s perspective, that relationship has the potential to become a valued one. Making that extra effort also means that your student will know that they have done everything they can to reach out positively to help someone else. That’s always a good feeling.
Professors are people – and sometimes people need help
One of the essential keys to helping students and professors make connections is reminding your student that professors are people, too.
As a parent, you can encourage your student to get to know their instructors. This will help your student too, but suggest that they focus on how they can help their professor do their job rather than how they will benefit. The focus is on what your student can give rather than what they will get.
Ask your student to “walk” in their professor’s shoes, to think about what might help the professor – not because of the payoff in grade or value to the student, but to help establish a meaningful human relationship.
What does this mean? It has to do with sometimes small, everyday interactions that affect how students and professors interact with each other.
Communicating with professors
Professors and students communicate constantly. But good communication isn’t always easy. Some professors are better at it than others, and sometimes students’ communication with their professors can make the difference in helping their professors work with them. Although some things may seem obvious, they are often overlooked. Consider sharing some of these suggestions with your student.
- Identify yourself and your class in emails and office visits. This is especially important if you are in a big class or your professor teaches several classes. Most professors try to get to know who their students are, but they may need help. By identifying who you are, you help the professor avoid the awkward situation of having to ask.
- Chat with your professor occasionally before or after class. These small exchanges will help your professor get to know you and connect a face with the name on a class list.
- Respond to your professor’s emails. If your professor writes to you, respond as soon as possible. Even if it is just to acknowledge “I’ve got it” or “Thank you,” your professor will know that you’ve seen their message.
- Let your professor know if something is going on in your life that is interfering with your schoolwork. Most professors care about their students and understand that life happens. Let them get to know you as a person – especially if you are dealing with an issue. So often professors say “I wish I’d known . . .” when they find out later that you’ve been struggling with something in your life.
- Be honest. Professors have heard most of the stories before and frankly, they can usually tell when a student isn’t sharing the truth. Don’t make the situation more awkward for everyone by not telling the truth.
- Be respectful of your professor’s time. Do send an email or call or drop into the office if you have a question or something isn’t clear, but make sure first that you can’t find the answer in the syllabus or assignment. Don’t ask your professor to repeat what’s already there or fill in the gaps if you’ve missed class.
- Engage with the professor in the classroom. Make eye contact. Raise your hand and contribute to discussion. There’s nothing like asking a question or trying to initiate a discussion and being greeted by empty stares and silence. Even a small contribution can get a conversation rolling and your professor will appreciate that.
- Let your professor know their class matters to you through your actions. That means showing up – on time, (It’s distracting when students walk in late.) being prepared for class, not leaving early or during class unless you absolutely must, and minimizing time conflicts (such as work or appointments) with classtime as much as possible.
- Use your phone and/or laptop responsibly during class. When you are checking your messages, scrolling or texting, it is distracting to others in the room – including the professor. It also suggests to the professor that you aren’t very interested in what they are saying or doing.
- Take advantage of the professor’s office hours. This is the time set aside to work with students. When students use office hours, they not only get help with course material, the professor has an opportunity to get to know them better. It is easier to work with and support students you know better.
- Communicate early. It is difficult – and sometimes impossible – for a professor to help a student who has let things go too far. Getting help early not only helps the student but makes it easier on the professor.
Although communicating well establishes an essential connection with the professor, students can go beyond their direct communication to help their professor. Again, help your student focus on these behaviors and habits not just because they are good to do, but because they will be helping someone else do their job.
- Turn assignments in on time. Yes, this is good for student grades, but it is also distracting and time consuming for professors to grade assignments that dribble in late.
- Fill out honest course evaluations at the end of the term. Colleges often ask students to complete a survey or provide feedback at the end of a course. Professors do read these and they can help a professor know what works in the classroom and what is problematic. Completing these evaluations honestly will help your professor become a better teacher.
- Handle your own problems and don’t ask your parents to speak with the professor. Professors are restricted from sharing information with parents by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.) If parents call and ask for information or hope to intervene, the professor is in an awkward position because they cannot provide information. You may want to ask your parents for guidance, but then work directly with your professor if there is an issue.
- Remember that professors are people, too. They have individual personalities, feelings, experience fatigue, and have life crises and commitments – just like students. Sometimes, you just need to give them a break.