What did the professor say?
She just wrote "Needs more support" next to my grade.
No, I mean, when you met with the professor, what did she suggest you do to improve your grade?
Oh, I haven't actually...I've been really busy and she's never available and she seems really mean and I'm worried that if I tell her I don't understand she'll just give me a bad grade because she acts like I'm supposed to just, like, KNOW EVERYTHING she does.
Stop Making Assumptions
Here are just a few reasons students avoid extra interactions with their professors:
- Afraid that by admitting you are struggling, you are singling yourself out as a bad student
- Find the professor hard to track down
- You are too busy to go meet with the professor
- You've heard he is really mean to students
- He told you at the beginning of the semester all grades are final, so what's the point?
- She seems to prefer female / tall / funny students and you are male / short / quiet.
You're only making things harder for yourself by letting your professor remain an enigma.
If she's hard to get a hold of by email, wait for her after class and set up a meeting in person. If you're afraid to mark yourself as a struggling student, control the conversation. You're not asking for mercy or easy A's. You are requesting information about how you can improve - because you want to improve.
And so what if he seems to favor one type of student, and you don't fit the profile? You're not in a pageant; you don't need to win Best Dressed, Nicest Smile, Best Handwriting. You just need to pass. So get in there and figure out how to do it!
Keeping the following 3 things in mind will help you be significantly less intimidated by professors:
1. Professors - They're Just Like Us!
Jennifer Aniston takes out her trash!
Matt Damon shops for cereal!
Oprah ties her shoe!
It's enough to make you roll your eyes, but the psychological impact is still there. You also put your trash curbside, buy Cheerios, and deal with unruly shoelaces.
Realize the same can be said for profs. They have homework too: major deadlines for grants, publications, and research agendas. They worry about someone evaluating their work. They have to stay up late and get up early to get everything done.
They are sometimes grumpy before their first cup of coffee. They have significant others, children, and cherished pets that they want to go home to and spend time with.
They go shopping at Costco and like watching football on the weekends.
Do you see my point? You aren't approaching some mystical, mythical creature. Your professor is just another person, whose job happens to be educating students.
2. They Aren't Mind Readers
Similarly, if a student sits through class without ever participating in the class discussion, there are a few possible explanations. Maybe the student didn't do the homework and doesn't know what everyone is talking about. Or, the student is recovering from a late night and is just trying not to barf all over his textbook. Or, the student read every page, but suffers from crippling shyness and can't figure out how to insert herself into the conversation.
If you know you could be doing better in some way - participating in class, writing stronger papers, volunteering your opinions - tell the professor you know this is something you struggle with, and want their assistance with.
The key is telling them - they can't read your mind.
3. Office Hours Are Genuine
So you can walk around and talk about how you have "no clue" about what your Government prof is talking about these days. Or you can carve time out of your Tuesday afternoon to sit with your professor for 20 minutes and tell them where they lost you, and ask how you can get back on track.
Office hours are offered for a reason. It's a chance for students to receive extended, one-on-one counsel, explanations, and attention from their professors.
It's not an inquisition. You're not in trouble. You're just having a conversation with another human (see point 1 above).
And finally, I recommend you stop by every single one of your professors' office hours at least once a semester, preferably towards the beginning. Make up a question or reason to talk with them. By just introducing yourself, you already stand out as someone who cares about doing well. And sometimes professors hand out little tips in these meetings that they aren't sharing in class.
Go see your professor during office hours.
But the truth is, you need to dismantle whatever perception you have of the professor if you have yet to actually go in and meet with him or her one-on-one.
Realize professors are normal people. They eat sandwiches for lunch, love their dog, and want to help the students who want to be helped.
So let them help you. Stop making assumptions about why your professors should be avoided and start finding ways to relate to the person who is grading you.