Successful Communication with Your Instructors

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guy talking realAs a new student on the Appalachian State campus, you’ve surely been told that attending class regularly and keeping up with homework are important strategies for success in college. But communicating with your instructors is another important success element.  Here you’ll find tips to communicate your academic needs appropriately and effectively.

Who are your teachers at Appalachian?  Professors are members of the faculty who have earned their doctoral (or terminal) degrees in their fields and who, in addition to teaching courses, engage in research and/or creative activities that contribute to the growth of knowledge in their fields.  They may also be writing grant proposals, supervising graduate students, and serving their profession.  You call those with their doctoral degrees Dr.” or “Prof.,” not “Mr. or “Ms.”  If you’re ever unsure how to address one of your college teachers, though, just ask them!  Instructors more often teach part-time and without the research and professional service responsibilities of tenure-line professors.  Sometimes these instructors have their doctorates, and sometimes they have a certain minimum number of graduate hours in the field they’re teaching.

Getting to know your instructors is important, but always be prudent, professional, and realistic as you get to know your college teachers.  Establish professional relationships with your instructors–you may very well need to ask them for a letter of recommendation in a few years.

Communicating in class is crucial, and doing so starts with arriving to class on time and being attentive.  It’s distracting to the instructor, and to everyone, when students walk in late, fall asleep, or keep checking their mobile devices.  Voicing disagreements can be done in a way that is respectful and conveys your desire to learn and process ideas.  Questioning is appropriate when there is something you don’t understand.  But don’t take valuable class time by asking questions that have been answered on your syllabus.  Use class time for concerns that no one but the instructor can help you with.  If the question is particularly involved, it might be best to see the instructor in her/his office hours.  Asking the instructor questions immediately before and after class is not the best way to communicate because you will not likely get your instructor’s full attention.  Emailing can be more convenient for you than stopping in at office hours, but before you use email to communicate with your instructor be sure this is the instructor’s preference.  Never email the instructor to ask ” did I miss anything on the day I was absent?” or request notes from a class you missed.  Your instructor is not paid to give individual tutorial sessions.  Further, the instructor owns the copyright to her/his lecture materials and as such has the right not to share them with you.   Should you run into your instructor outside of the class or campus setting, understand that this is not the ideal time to ask her/him questions about class.  Saying hello is polite, of course–and so is remembering that your instructor has other work responsibilities and a personal life.

Presenting your work professionally is also important in college.  Have your work done as instructed and submitted as instructed by the date and time it is due. Don’t come to class saying your paper isn’t printed because you ran out of money on your App Card, or come in asking your teacher for a stapler (when, let’s face it, you can make that handy-dandy little piece of technology your own for less than $6).  Always keep a copy of the work you hand in so that if you want to refer to it or it gets lost you will have it. If you are asked to email a paper to the instructor, cc yourself so that you have a date- and time-stamped copy of your submission.

Negotiating assignments and grades might be necessary at times, and is only appropriate if you approach this delicate matter with maturity and professionalism.  If you feel that you’d gain more from a modification of the instructor’s assignment, propose an alternative with a justification well before the due date. Your instructor might appreciate your proactive approach; but you should also be prepared for the instructor’s rejection of your request.  Even if you are ill or faced an emergency, it’s your responsibility to contact your instructor to request arrangements get made.  If you think there’s been an error in grading, let your instructor know.  If you are unsure why you received a particular grade on an assignment, you can request that the instructor provide you with more feedback. Asking during office hours or giving the instructor a week or two to provide you with more written comments is appropriate. If you feel that you were not given credit for a part of an assignment, the best way to get your instructor to consider seriously regrading your work is to provide a written statement that outlines what (and where and how) you said/did that was incorrectly evaluated. Marching into your instructor’s office demanding a grade change will not help your case.  Rather, your needs will best be served when you put your request and rationale in writing and kindly ask your instructor to consider your request.  If your instructor finds that your work was graded appropriately, find out how to improve.  If you are not open to learning more, it will only produce skepticism about why you brought your work in for a re-evaluation in the first place.  Likewise, don’t go to your instructor telling her/him that you “need” a certain grade or that you “can’t fail” the course lest you lose your scholarship, financial aid, or suchlike. Remember, you’re ultimately responsible for your performance in any college course.  If you are having a problem understanding the material, see your instructor immediately.  You should also utilize the many on-campus resources for students, from the library to the writing center to counseling services.

Giving your instructors feedback is an important role you have throughout the semester. If you are having a problem understanding the material or with the structure of the course, approach your instructor immediately and explain what you’re willing to do to help solve the problem. If your difficulties have not been resolved by talking professionally with your instructor, several individuals on campus can help you: a supervising faculty member; a departmental academic advisor; and the department chair.  You’ll also have the opportunity to fill out a formal course evaluation at the end of the semester.  Specific comments about what did or did not work in the class are always more helpful than curt remarks such as, “Get a new teacher.”  Finally, you can always provide positive feedback about excellent teaching. Each year, Appalachian honors a number of outstanding instructors, and you can nominate a great instructor for such awards online at: http://teachingawards.appstate.edu/bog-excellence-teaching-awards

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