Two Secrets to Interacting Constructively with Professors
Make your professor your ally. Here are two student strategies for interacting with your professors that should have a positive impact on your grade.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
You probably know that you will help yourself get better grades if you make yourself visible to your professors -- even get to know them and cultivate alliances with them. You may not know, however, that two additional strategies for interacting with professors can do even more to advance the cause of your good grades:
1. Make the "halo effect" work for you. The idea here is to do so well at the beginning of a semester and to so impress your teacher with your studiousness and work ethic that, even if your work slips a notch later in the term, the "halo effect" from your earlier performance inspires the teacher to give you the benefit of the doubt and go a little easier on the grading than he or she might for a slacker who turns in an assignment of mediocre quality.
The trick, however, is to perform fabulously well early in the semester by showing enormous interest in the class, participating, and visiting your professor outside class.
This technique also works particularly well if you have a professor that you'd had for an earlier class. If you performed well in a previous class, you may have the luxury of resting on your laurels a bit in the next class you take with the professor.
2. Tell your professor your expectations. This concept might seem like the ultimate in brown-nosing, and if you were ever to ask a professor if this technique works, chances are he or she would deny it. But I've never known it to fail. It's very simple: Early in the semester, find an opportunity outside class to tell the professor that you expect to do well in the class. Explain that you are a serious student, and your grades are important to you.
This technique works optimally when you are already a good student. If that's the case, you can mention your GPA. Tell him or her that you expect to maintain your good average.
You must tread a very careful line between telling the professor your expectations and demanding of him or her that he or she not damage your GPA. Ask the professor for suggestions about how best to succeed in class. It never hurts to tell the teacher how much you enjoy the class, that you admire his or her teaching, and that you're getting a lot out of the class.
While it may seem totally improbable that telling the professor these things could result in a good grade, I've seen it work time and again. One student I know had received decent grades on most of the speeches she gave in a public-speaking class, but she had bombed badly on a particular speaking assignment. She went to the professor and told him that, despite the deficient speech, she felt she deserved an A because she had put so much work into the class. She got it. Another student did poorly on both the midterm and final exam of his religion class. Still, he had the audacity to ask the professor for a passing grade in the course because he had gotten so much out of it. He got a C.
Yes, some professors probably will not respond to this technique, but I haven't found one yet. As long as your performance is decent, and you don't ask for a grade that is totally unwarranted, you have little to lose by at least trying to approach your professor with your expectations.
Final Thoughts on Working With Your Professors
Don't wait till your grade is in trouble to make your professor your ally. Strike an alliance while you're performing well. But certainly don't hesitate to approach your professor if you're having difficulty.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for EmpoweringSites.com, including MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She curates, crafts, and delivers compelling content online, in print, on stage, and in the classroom. Visit her personal Website KatharineHansenPhD.com or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)astoriedcareer.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.