How to Talk with Your College Instructors
When I was a faculty member, some of the most important conversations I had with students didn’t happen in the classroom; they happened during my office hours, in the hall, or even the cafeteria. But I am always surprised by how often students never asked me, or other teachers for help, even when they really needed it.
Most instructors want to talk with their students.
I know a lot of students are nervous about talking with faculty members. Someone who is an expert in his or her field can certainly be intimidating, but it’s helpful to remember that most instructors are here because they love to work with students.
Sometimes students worry they are “bothering” their instructors by asking questions about material covered in class or by sharing something personal that relates to their class performance. Instructors usually want to know about things like this.
Have a purpose for your visit.
Still, even if you know your instructors want to talk with you, it’s often nerve wracking when you’re first standing in their office doorway. My advice? Have a purpose for your visit and think about what you would like as an outcome of your conversation. You can even write down your questions ahead of time.
It’s okay to be nervous.
Even if you are nervous or a little tongue-tied, it’s still okay. Every math teacher has probably had a student come to his or her office hours and say, “This quadratic equation stuff is so confusing!” and then burst into tears. Instructors are good at asking the right questions and helping you out when you stumble.
Take advantage of office hours.
All of our instructors have regular office hours, usually listed on their syllabus. So take advantage of the opportunity to ask your instructor to explain a difficult concept from class. Bring in a draft of your paper or ideas about your next project and ask for feedback.
If your instructor can’t help, they know who can.
Talk with your instructors about careers in their discipline or about challenges you may be facing in class. If your instructor can’t help you with a problem, he or she can almost always connect you with someone else on campus who can, whether it’s a tutor, a counselor, or a student services staff member.
A challenge: visit one of your teachers during office hours.
Once you have taken advantage of office hours once or twice, it becomes easier to talk with your instructors. I believe you will find meeting with your instructors outside of class to be a valuable and sometimes rewarding experience, so I challenge you to visit at least one of your instructors this semester during office hours, even if it’s just to say hello!
If you’re a student, what’s been your experience meeting with teachers? From a teacher’s perspective, what’s been your experience with office hours?