Having a good relationship with your professor is invaluable. Knowing your professor will not only help you succeed in the classroom, professors can be great resources outside of the classroom and can potentially write you a great recommendation. Let’s face it: a recommendation from an accredited professor is a great addition to any job application.
For many students, one large difference between high school and college is their relationship with their professors. In high school, there are no 300 person lecture halls, and every teacher knows you by name. In college it can seem difficult to establish these relationships with your professors, but really it can be accomplished by following 4 simple rules.
1. MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN
- On the first day of class take the time to introduce yourself to your professor. Distinguish yourself from the masses!
- Especially in large lecture halls, resist the temptation to gravitate towards the back of the classroom. Sit in the front and you will become a familiar face to your teacher.
- If you see your teacher outside of the classroom or around campus, make sure to wave and say hello.
- Say hello and smile when the teacher enters the room. Although this may seem trivial, notice how many students avoid personal interaction with their teachers at all costs.
2. BE PRESENT
- Attend class everyday! If you are going to miss class for a valid reason, send your professor a quick email ahead of time to let them know that you will be absent.
- Ask insightful questions in class and join in on discussion. Do not try to take over the conversation, but concisely and articulately contribute to class discussions. Share personal experiences, if unique and relevant, to explain a different point of view or understanding of the topic. Sharing personal information gives you an individual identity in the eyes of the professor.
- Make eye contact with the professor and look interested and engaged. Professors are people too, and they do not like to feel like they are preaching to themselves. By appearing interested and making eye contact, you can become a comforting focal point for the professor during lectures.
- Connect. Professors want to feel like they are connecting with their students and sparking interest and understanding past just getting the student to pass the test. When a light goes off and understanding is achieved, let the professor know.
- Go to office hours, but not without reason. Few students take advantage of professors’ office hours, and this can be a great time to have a real conversation with your professor and really separate yourself from the masses. However, you should not go without pre-meditated questions and conversation. Your professor’s time is valuable: DO NOT waste it.
3. DO THE WORK
- Take notes in class.
- NEVER work on outside material during class. Even if you think you are being sneaky, professors notice your lack of attention.
- If you are going to take notes on your computer, avoid getting on facebook or the Internet. If you are typing and clicking when you are not taking notes, the professor will assume that you are somewhere in cyberspace and not really present in the classroom.
- Show that your interest in the material extends past just acing the test.
- Turn in all assignments on time.
- Especially if your professor offers guidance on an assignment, take a draft of the assignment to their office hours ahead of time for feedback. This shows that you are not procrastinating and want to produce the best work that you are capable of.
- Read the assigned reading BEFORE the class period! Instead of waiting until right before the test to read the textbook, read as you go along. This will allow you to have a fuller understanding of the material as he teaches it. Ask questions that reference the reading, but do so only when relevant (you do not want to appear like you are showing off). This will show the professor that you are willing to put in the extra effort outside of the classroom, and that you respect their time. By gaining a foundational understanding of the information from the book before class, you allow the professor to use his time exploring the more complex aspects of the subject without having to waste the entire class period explaining the basics.
- Read over your class notes periodically throughout the semester. This will eliminate the all-night cramming session before the test, and the material will be fresh on your mind during class as well. Professors like to see that you have retained the information from previous class periods.
- Ask for help when you don’t understand something!
- Take advantage of all extra credit opportunities.
- Volunteer to participate in activities in class.
4. FOLLOW UP
- If your professor is speaking at an event outside of the classroom, GO! Afterwards, take a quick minute to show your face, say hello, and congratulate if appropriate. Do not dawdle: know that the professor probably has many other people to talk to.
- If you are doing relevant work outside of the classroom, let your professor know. For example, if you are writing for a local newspaper, bring a copy of it to your journalism professor. Professors’ ultimate goal is to give you the information you need to succeed outside of the classroom. Your accomplishments are their accomplishments.
- If you find news or information relevant to your class, share it with your professor. They may find it useful and interesting, and it shows that you are thinking about the subject outside of the classroom.
- Seek your professor’s council for future courses to take or activities to become involved in. This interest can potentially open doors; if the professor is involved in an exclusive activity, perhaps they can help you get your foot in the door.
- Ask if your professor is teaching any future classes that you can take.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, after the semester is complete and grades have been turned in (you don’t want to seem like you are just trying to get a better grade), send an email to your teacher thanking them for a great semester. Point out specific aspects of their course and teaching style that you appreciated, and explain what you learned and gained by taking their class. Professors like feedback and affirmation too. If they did a good job, let them know.
In college, unlike high school, students are young adult. The relationships with your professors can be more peer-like, but it is important to remember appropriate boundaries and remain professional, but friendly too.
Follow these steps in moderation and humility. Professors can detect a brown-noser from a mile away. Staying on top of your work and seeking the council of your professor will inevitably help your grade, and establishing this relationship and showing extra effort will motivate your professor want to help you if you are ever in need.
It is not necessary to become close to every professor you ever take a class from. Seek out the professors that you really respect and teach a subject that you are genuinely interested in. If you do not like the professor or the topic taught, these steps would be excruciatingly daunting.
Especially by initiating contact after the course has been completed, you are establishing and sealing a relationship with your professor outside of the classroom. This makes a big difference when you ask for a recommendation a year later. If you follow these steps, you are bound to receive an incredible recommendation because now your professor remembers you and likes you, and you really did put the effort into the class: Your professor won’t have to make anything up to give you a great recommendation.