The old adage goes that you should give an apple to your teacher, but, in reality, it takes a lot more than some fresh produce to make a college professor love you. College can be a stressful in a lot of ways, not least of which is that you have a whole new slew of instructors—ranging from tenured professors to teaching assistants—whom you need to impress. Fortunately, getting on the good sides of your teachers is not that difficult, and it’s not even dependent on how well you perform on exams or how beautifully you write essays. As someone who has taught quite a few college classes, I can attest to the fact that what instructors really want is for students to be respectful, engaged, and present (both mentally and physically).
If your professors are worth their salt, then how much they like you will not affect your grades; You’ll be assessed by the quality of your work, not how personable you are. That said, there are very good reasons to try to get your instructors to like you:
- I lied—it can influence your grade (a little bit). In a lot of smaller, discussion-based classes, professors count a “participation grade” as some percentage of a student’s total grade. Profs calculate this grade in different ways, but usually it’s assessed by some combination of your attendance and how actively you participate in class. If you follow the advice below, then by default you’ll be participating consistently in the class, and you’ll have a high participation grade, which can help your grade overall.
- Your profs liking you matters for future recommendations. If you want to go to graduate school, get an internship, study abroad, and do lots of other things, you’ll need recommendations from professors. If you developed a good relationship with a prof during a class, then he or she will remember you well and be happy to write that for you. (Seriously, it’s very difficult when you get to your last year of college, realize you need three recs for grad school, and discover that none of your former professors know who you are!)
- It will generally make your time in the class more pleasant and engaging. If your instructor likes you, you’ll have a more enjoyable course experience. Simple.
- You might gain a mentor. A good relationship with a professor is something that can last beyond the end of the semester. When a professor really likes you, then he or she will be willing to support your academic career in the future, by giving advice and connecting you with other useful people.
Read on for twelve simple ways to become your instructor’s favorite student. (It just so happens that these tips will also help you to have a better, more productive classroom experience – not bad, right?)
1. Go to class
OK, I know that this one is really obvious, but it’s the biggest and most important step. If you don’t go to class, your professor won’t know who you are, let alone have an opinion about you. So show up—you might just learn something!
2. Use proper titles
Don’t call anyone in an instructor’s position by his or her first name unless you have permission to do so. For most professors, that means you’ll call them “Dr. So-and-so” or “Professor So-and-so.” If your instructor is someone without a doctorate, use “Mr.” or “Ms.” (Only do “Mrs.” if the person describes herself that way.) Most teaching assistants, and some professors, will tell you to call them by their first names. Until this happens, default to their formal titles.
3. Don’t use text-speak in emails
Seriously, don’t. Do you know how maddening it is to get an email from a student enrolled in your English class that goes, “i need help w/ my papr. c u in office hrs”? In emails, you should address your professors, teaching assistants, and anyone else giving you a grade the same way that you would address an employer: that is, with a proper greeting (such as “Dear Dr. XYZ”), complete sentences, fully spelled-out words, and correct punctuation and grammar. You want your professor to think of you as a meticulous, attentive student. How can he or she think that if you can’t be bothered to write a decent email?
4. Look to the syllabus for logistical questions
Your professor probably gets a lot of emails everyday, so, before you email him or her with a logistical question (i.e. When is the exam? How much of my grade is this paper worth? Etc.), check to see if that information is on your syllabus. It probably is. If it’s not, then go ahead and email.
5. At least act like you’re paying attention
When you’re in class, put away your phone, tablet, newspaper, and anything else that indicates that you’re not giving your full attention to what your instructor is saying. By the same token, face forward, with your eyes on the professor, and sit up. If you’re lounging back in your seat with your eyes closed, your instructor may just assume you’re asleep (which, honestly, maybe you are).
6. Speak up in class
In discussion-based classes, it can be a challenge for instructors to get the conversation flowing. So, as a student, speak up! Your professor will appreciate you coming forward with something to say. Don’t worry about whether your questions are stupid, or whether your comment is the most earth-shatteringly intelligent analysis ever—just do your best.
Professors love it when students are willing to actively engage in class discussion, but it’s important to keep two things in mind: First, stay on topic. You’re supposed to be contributing to the discussion, not taking everyone on a tangent about that time your Great Aunt Mildred met the Pope. Second, let other students talk, too. As an instructor, it’s great to have students who are enthusiastic about contributing their ideas, but when those students dominate the discussion to the point that other students can’t participate, the whole class suffers.
Professors are happy when they feel like students are reading the course materials and really thinking about the ideas they present. Demonstrate to your professor that you’re one of these students by showing your engagement with the texts and ideas of the course. Here are three ways:
- Make insightful comments. Professors love it when you make comments that show that you’re not simply doing the reading and assignments, but that you’re taking the time to think about them. When you’re asked if you have any questions or comments, think about how what you’ve read relates to other works in the class (“This article made me think about the one we discussed a couple weeks ago because it seems to me that the political viewpoint is really similar…”) or about how your reading connects to current events (“When I read what this writer had to say about feminism in the 1960s, it made me think of the Hobby Lobby case that went through the Supreme Court recently...”).
- Ask meaningful questions. Ask questions that show you’ve read the article or book. Instead of saying an empty “I don’t get it” (or simply not asking anything at all), it helps to be specific about what exactly is confusing you. An example: “The formula at the end of the chapter was really confusing to me because it seems to be saying the opposite of what we read last week. Could you explain that to me?”
- (Respectfully) disagree. If your instructor says something that you don’t agree with, it’s OK to say so (again, RESPECTFULLY), and maybe even a good thing, because it shows that you’re really thinking about what he or she is saying. Of course, you don’t want to alienate your instructor by being aggressive, but you can say something like, “You know, it’s interesting to me that you’re interpreting the character that way, because when I read the novel, I got a different message…”
8. Go to office hours
Professors and instructors are required to have office hours, which usually means they sit alone in their offices (until the last two weeks of class when everyone suddenly needs help). Go to office hours to ask questions, get feedback on work, and even just to chat about whatever topic you’re interested in. Your profs will be happy for the company, and you’ll get one-on-one attention that could really help your work. If you’re going in simply to chat, however, first make sure that your instructor has time to talk to you. (Simply say, “I would love to chat about X if you have time, but I can come back later if you have other appointments.”)
9. If you miss class, get notes from another student
Do NOT email your prof with “Hey, I missed class yesterday. Did I miss anything?” Yes, you missed something. You missed the CLASS. When you have to miss class (which is something that most instructors understand happens once in a while), get notes from another student. Don’t ask your instructor to fill you in on everything that happened; That is a waste of his or her time. Get the notes, look them over, and then go to office hours for any particular questions you have. If the prof sees that you’ve already done your best to make up what you missed, he or she will probably be more than happy to clarify anything that still confuses you.
10. Say "thank you" when the prof goes the extra mile for you.
Keep in mind that your professor, instructor, or T.A. does not get paid to make special appointments with you outside of office hours, give make-up exams, allow rewrites, grant extensions, read drafts, answer emails on a Saturday, or write recommendations. Most professors are happy to do (at least some of) these things for you, and a simple, sincere “Thank you” goes a long way towards making their extra effort feel worthwhile.
11. Do the work
I know that’s not necessarily “easy” to do your coursework, but that’s really the whole point of the course. You can be charming and engaged in class, but if you never show up for the exams and you never turn in papers, you’re not going to pass. Your professors may like you on a personal level, but if they have nothing to grade, there’s not a lot they can do for you. (But if you’re following these recommendations, your work is half-done anyway: you’ve been showing up to class, listening carefully, and engaging in the readings and discussion. You can probably pass an exam on the knowledge you’ve gained on that alone!)
12. If you’re enjoying the class, say so
Just like everyone else, professors like to know their work is appreciated. If you’re enjoying a particular reading or assignment (or the class as a whole), say so. Those kinds of comments will make your prof happy, and will give him or her useful feedback for when he or she is planning another class. You do have to be a little careful here – if you go overboard on the compliments, your instructors will think that you’re simply sucking up. But there’s nothing wrong with a simple, genuine comment or email that says you like the course.
Images: cybrarian77/Flickr; Giphy (6)