How to Talk to Your Professor and Build Rapport
Getting to Know You....
Getting to know all about you!!!! Okay, that's enough of my bad Sound of Music impression. So you want to know how to build rapport with your college professor? First, what is rapport? Well as a former student and now Adjunct Professor at a four-year university and a community college I had to learn this too. My meaning of rapport is establishing a professional friendly relationship and dialogue with your professor.
This article is based purely on my own experiences. No charts, polls, or statistics were used in the making of this piece. I was like most of you reading this; shy, introverted, slightly in fear (very much in fear) of approaching the professor. Especially the one teaching the subject I hated the most! In this article, I will show you a few techniques to break the proverbial ice with your professor.
Why Do I Have To Do This???
Well besides you being the student and them being the professor, the relationship is reciprocal. No, you cannot barter with them to get an “A.” In reality, they get paid whether you fail or excel in their class. The majority of professors want to see their students excel; it ain’t bad to show off to your department chair that your class mostly passed or got high marks. Especially when contracts are up for the fall and spring semesters.
Besides all of that, your professor was once just like you. Struggling just to make it, and may still be, as quiet as it’s kept. I’m not advocating becoming BFF’s with your professor, but that wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. What I am suggesting is simply starting with an introduction and an appointment in their office during their office hours. OFFICE HOURS!!! It’s a thing and we, as in professors, prefer to meet you then. That time is set aside just for you. Any time outside of that allotted time is cool, too but may not be feasible if you are an Adjunct Instructor, which is part-time, like me, and work at one or more institutions.
Back to why we are here and the importance of building what can be one of the most important relationships of your collegiate career.
Who is My Professor???
Your professor is just a human being like you. They have, not literally, but mostly walked in your shoes as students; grade school, undergrad, graduate school, and beyond. They are not Santa Claus or the Devil; mythical to some, real to others. The fear you might have is usually misplaced, but can also help you to step to your professor respectfully. They are not to be worshipped but respect all they have gone through to achieve being in the position.
Most of your professors are at the bottom of the totem pole; the lowly Adjunct Instructor. I know, I am one myself and the life ain’t glamourous folks. There are usually few fulltime or tenure track positions in a department. Adjuncts are chosen to teach large freshmen and sophomore survey classes. Go easy on us, we’re trying here! Most students think we’re magicians that should and can have all of their assignments, papers, projects, and or tests graded and available in under a day. Let us look into what they really do.
What Do Professors Do Anyway???
Some students may believe that we just stand up there and use our lectures as a torture tactic, but I assure you this is not the case. I am a firm believer that just because a teacher is talking that does not mean they are teaching. Our first job is to construct or build a class based on the departments, college and states approval of curriculum for the specific subject.
I am a Historian who teaches college-level American History I and II. I have to teach thousands of years of history in just two semesters, which is just under thirty-two weeks. In order to do that I must read the textbook, my school's department has approved. Then read supplemental material to give a well-rounded viewpoint on the events that occurred in the past. Lastly, I put myself in the past to relay it to my students in the present. The present after all is just history yet to be told.
Besides that, we have to attend meetings, conferences, and professional development training. If we want that ever-coveted tenure position we have to go get the big P.H.D. This means more money towards our education, especially if we are not funded fully by the department we are accepted into; more debt. We care, but we are humans too guys, so give us some slack. Those who are tenured sometimes are underappreciated by the student body and department based on age, gender, and race. But why should you care?
You should always seek to understand something, before tackling the issue. I wanted to give you all insight into the very person you want to build a respectful rapport and relationship with. It’s mostly common sense and merely starts with a simple, “Hello, my name is…”
A Few Steps in Opening Dialogue and Achieving Rapport
No, seriously just say hello and give your name! Trust they won’t know it, especially for the first day, week, and month of the semester. Adjuncts like me teach hundred student occupant survey classes. It is very hard learning names of students in a class that size if you have never met them in a one on one level. So first say “Hi” and go from there.
Next, determine what you want the outcome of the semester to be for you. What letter grade are you aiming to earn? That is a great topic to start building rapport with. My goto as a student was simply introducing myself to my professor during their office hours. I would ask, “What can I do to make an “A” in your class?” after their initial chuckle and answer, “Just do your work and turn in.” The ice is broken and they usually go deeper into what their looking for when students turn in their work.
My number one pet peeve is students not following the instructions when doing assignments and writing papers. That is a point I try to get across to my students each semester. It is a big part of my students' grades. As I tell them when you follow the instructions to the assignment, paper, or project instead of going about it your own way, you have a better chance at making that ever sought after “A” in my class.
Information like that can be given by just opening up a dialogue with your professor. We always say on the first day of class, that some students feel is a throwaway, who we are, what we expect, and how to contact us. This information is always available in the syllabus. When I was a student my professors would always tell us to come to their offices to talk if we needed to. Trust me that was not perfunctory, or because they had to. As a professor, I really want to get to know you, and office hours give us the chance outside of the fifty minute or one hour and twenty-minute class.
I understand the fear associated with going to an important figure in your collegiate career. I was just as nervous and in fear, and it cost me as a student. There were a few occasions my grades could have been better if I just would have gone to the professor for help. Fear and the misplaced feeling of inferiority to your professor can hinder your progression. Jump and leap past that fear. You will not regret it.
Lastly, keep up the dialogue. Ask them about their lives and tell them what you have been up to. This is not ingratiating yourself on them, it is just treating them like humans. We won’t bite, but don’t try to pet us either. Remember one visit won’t get the job done. School is all about repetition.
Are Professors Important Figures???
In truth, your professor could be the mentor you have been seeking. I always take a few minutes out of a lecture day to advise my students on the importance of networking outside of their peer group and with their professors in and outside their major. Most professors are in the very position you aspire to be in after college or know someone who is.
Many have businesses or have worked in corporate America and have done all you are working hard to accomplish today. Most of us belong to organizations in our fields and can be the bridge between you and your next step. Those organizations usually have student memberships and with a nice word from your professor the door can be opened for you. Utilize us, we don’t mind, just don’t use us!
Your professor can be an important mentor and aspirational figure. Full disclaimer! You can and will come across some professors who have either been burned in the past by students and peers after helping them. And those who simply will not help you. That is okay, they are not the only fish in the sea. Your job is to go fishing for the right one.
Give them insight into your goals and some of your dreams. It is okay to keep the most precious of dreams and goals to yourself. Just do the work and you will get there.
I hope this article answered the question of how to talk to your professor and build rapport. In the end, the most important step is the first. It all starts with, “Hello, my name is…” You will be amazed at the doors that a simple line will open for you. Until next time, stay safe out there!