Building Relationships with College Instructors

One of the most important types of relationships you can develop in college is with your course instructors. The basis of such relationships is mutual respect. Instructors who respect students treat them fairly and are willing to help them both in and outside of class. Students who respect instructors come to class regularly and take their work seriously.

What Your Instructors Expect From You

Although instructors’ expectations might vary depending on a particular course, most instructors will expect their students to exhibit attitudes and behaviors that are central to student success. First, and quite simply, is to be in class on time. In college, punctuality is a virtue. If you repeatedly arrive late for class or leave before class periods have officially ended, you are breaking the basic rules of etiquette and politeness, and you are intentionally or unintentionally showing a lack of respect for your instructors and your classmates. Being on time might be a difficult adjustment for some students, but you need to be aware of faculty members’ expectations at your college or university.

Arrive early enough to class to shed your coat, shuffle through your backpack, and have your assignments, notebooks, and writing utensils or devices (only those that you need for class) ready to go. Likewise, be on time for scheduled appointments. Avoid behaviors that show a lack of respect for both the instructor and other students, such as leaving class to feed a parking meter or answer your cell phone and then returning 5 or 10 minutes later, thus disrupting class twice. Similarly, text messaging, sending instant messages, doing homework for another class, falling asleep, or talking (even whispering) disrupts the class. Make adequate transportation plans in advance, get enough sleep at night, wake up early enough to be on time for class, and complete assignments prior to class.

Your instructors expect you to come to class promptly, do the assigned work to the best of your ability, listen and participate, think critically about course material, and persist, that is, not give up when a concept is difficult to master. Instructors also expect honesty and candor. Many instructors will invite you to express your feelings about the course anonymously in writing through one-minute papers or other forms of class assessment.

Generally speaking, college instructors expect that you’re going to be self-motivated to do your best. Your grade school and high school teachers might have spent a great deal of time thinking about how to motivate you, but college faculty usually consider that to be your personal responsibility.

What You Can Expect From Your Instructors

The expectations you have for college instructors may be based on what you have heard, both positive and negative, from friends, fellow students, and family members, but you will find that instructors vary in personality and experience. You might have instructors who are in their first year of teaching, either as graduate students or as new professors. Other instructors might be seasoned professors who have taught generations of new students. Some will be introverted and difficult to approach; others will be open, friendly, and willing to talk to you and your classmates.

But no matter what their level of experience, personality, or skill as a lecturer, however, you should expect your instructors to grade you fairly and provide meaningful feedback on your papers and exams. They should be organized, prepared, and enthusiastic about their academic field, and they should be accessible. You should always be able to approach your instructors if you need assistance or if you have a personal problem that affects your academic work.

Make the Most of the Learning Relationship

Contrary to what you might have heard, most college instructors appreciate your willingness to ask for appointments. Although it might seem a little scary, the best way to establish an appropriate relationship with an instructor is to schedule an appointment early in the term. At this meeting, introduce yourself, tell why you are taking the course (besides that it’s required), and say what you hope to learn from it. Ask about the instructor’s academic background and why he or she chose college teaching as a career. You can learn a great deal about your instructor from simply looking around the office at pictures of family members or animals, posters of favorite movies or travel locations, or sports banners.

The relationships you develop with instructors will be valuable to you both now and in the future. People who become college faculty members do so because they have a real passion for learning about a particular subject. If you and your professor share an interest in a particular field of study, you will have the opportunity to develop a true friendship based on mutual interests. Instructors who know you well can also write that all-important letter of reference when you are applying to graduate or professional school or seeking your first job after college.

Understanding Academic Freedom

Colleges and universities have promoted the advancement of knowledge by granting professors academic freedom, the virtually unlimited freedom of speech and inquiry as long as human lives, rights, and privacy are not violated. Such freedom is not usually possible in other professions.

Most college instructors believe in the freedom to speak out, whether in a classroom discussion about economic policy or at a political rally. Think of where education would be if instructors were required to keep their own ideas to themselves. You won’t always agree with your instructors, but you will benefit by listening to what they have to say and respecting their ideas and opinions.

Academic freedom also extends to students. Within the limits of civility and respect for others you will be free to express your opinions in a way that might be different from your experience in high school or work settings.

When Things Go Wrong Between You And An Instructor

Although there is a potential in any environment for things to go wrong, problems between students and instructors that cannot be resolved are rare. First, ask for a meeting to discuss your problem. See whether the two of you can work things out. If the instructor refuses, go up the administrative ladder, starting at the bottom: department head to dean, and so on. If the problem is a grade, keep in mind that academic freedom includes the right of an instructor to grade you as he or she sees fit and that no one can force the instructor to change that grade. Above all, don’t let a bad experience sour you on college. Even the most trying instructor will be out of your life by the end of the term. When all else fails, resolve to stick with the class until the final exam is behind you. Then shop carefully for instructors for next term by asking fellow students, your academic adviser, and others whose advice you can trust.

academic freedom The virtually unlimited freedom of speech and inquiry granted to professors to further the advancement of knowledge as long as human lives, rights, and privacy are not violated.