How to Talk to Your Instructor

Julia Glover, World Campus Academic Adviser
Julia Glover, World Campus Academic Adviser

For some, communicating with professors can be intimidating, but communicating with them can be beneficial for you, your education, and your career. Taking a few tips into account can help you to talk with your professors in an effective manner which may better your skills as a communicator in the workforce as well.

1. Introduce yourself to your instructor

Perhaps the course is in your major or you are particularly interested in the subject. You may want to ask a professor for a recommendation some day or perhaps you need some career advice or good contacts in your field.  Introducing yourself provides the perfect opportunity to make that first connection. It doesn’t matter if you do it in the beginning or middle of the semester, but it is important to make the introduction at some point in time.

2. Be sure to use all your resources before reaching out to a professor for questions

Before you reach out to your instructor with a question or a concern, check your syllabus. Professors are busy people and while many are very happy to help students, they should be called on to clarify information, provide feedback, or discuss assignments or material in more depth. If you need to speak with them, try to use the best mode of communication, and wait patiently for a response.

3. Be prepared when attending office hours

Office hours are an excellent time to connect with your professor. Online office hours are set aside in an instructor’s week just for student questions. Plan your questions ahead of time and make notes about issues or specific concerns while planning for your online or phone conference. Your time is valuable and so is your instructor’s. You will be frustrated if you forget to discuss a concern once you have sent an email or finished a phone call.

4. Be professional and patient

Your instructor is a professional and deserves to be treated as such. It is easy to slip into an informal tone or style when writing emails or having an online discussion. Remember that your class is a professional setting. If you are addressing a concern with your instructor and feel angry or frustrated, it may be helpful to “sleep on” your response. An instructor will be far more willing to consider your viewpoint if you can express yourself in a clear and respectful manner. Always allow a few days for your instructor to respond to your emails or phone calls. They are managing multiple roles too!

5. Communication will come in many forms

Each class gives you a new opportunity to interact with a member of the faculty. They are each individuals, so some enjoy a more informal style or may communicate with students more often. But you should be prepared for an instructor that prefers a more formal approach with a more detached demeanor. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will not have a good learning experience. Don’t take criticism of your work personally. The instructor is there to improve your skills and sometimes the learning curve feels a bit tough.

6. Reach out sooner rather than later

In the online setting, it is difficult for an instructor to know if you are having difficulty prior to a test or assignment. You are responsible for your education and academic issues are easier to address early on. Professors and instructors are teaching in the field they choose as their life’s work. Most are more than happy to help a student who is genuinely interested in learning more about “their” subject and they want students to succeed. “How will this affect my grade?” is probably not the best opening question. Remember, professors have helped students before so it is likely they will have some specific suggestions but focus on the learning and take ownership of your work.

In the end, it is all about the learning experience. If you feel contact will enhance your learning experience, then be sure to reach out. It is your education, so make the most of it!

Julia Glover
World Campus Academic Adviser

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