For students new to the college environment, classes can move quickly and seem overwhelming or stressful. They can also present a number of other challenges. Although these can often be resolved by talking with your professor, that isn’t always the easiest thing for students to do. Continue reading to learn how you can best talk to a professor about a problem:
Step One: Identify the problem
The first step in solving your problem is knowing what, exactly, the problem is, as well as who you should ask for assistance. Instructors are typically willing to help you with anything you might need, but you may be able to access assistance in a more informal way. For example, if you’re having trouble understanding the course material or have questions that weren’t addressed during class, consider checking in with other students first. Unlike professors, whose free time may be limited, your classmates may be able to offer assistance on a more flexible schedule. If your problem can’t be solved with the help of your classmates, or you’d simply prefer to speak with a member of faculty, that’s entirely understandable.
Step Two: Find the right time and place
As previously noted, most faculty members have limited time outside of classes to engage with students, which is why knowing exactly what you need will make the conversation much easier. However, you’ll also want to ensure you seek your instructor out at the right time and in the right place. For instance, pulling your professor aside during class isn’t appropriate, as it cuts into instructional time.
If your problem is fairly straightforward, like an issue with someone in your group or the need for a deadline extension, consider sending an email. Email gives you the opportunity to clearly articulate your need, and it gives your teacher the flexibility to address the issue at his or her earliest convenience.
Step Three: Learn to appropriately handle more complicated problems
If you feel as though your problem is too complicated for an email or requires a more immediate response, most faculty members have office hours for this purpose. Office hours are structured times during the week when instructors meet with students to discuss problems, ideas, or questions away from the classroom.
As with the other approaches, be sure that you’re able to identify and articulate your problem before going into your appointment. It might also help to have a possible solution in mind. If you’re having problems with a group project, for example, you might simply ask to be moved to another group. If, on the other hand, you’re struggling with the content or certain parts of the coursework, be as specific as possible about what you find challenging.
Step Four: Be confident
Approaching your professor for assistance can be intimidating, in large part because he or she is an authority figure with a limited amount of time to help students outside of the classroom. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that these individuals decided to become teachers for a reason, and a big part of their job is helping students achieve success in all areas of their academic lives. Although it may not always be entirely comfortable, it’s fair to assume that they will be more than happy to help you.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.