Why You Should Talk to Your Instructors

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss the benefits of communicating with instructors

Of all the teachers you’ve had in your life, which one do you remember most fondly? If you’re lucky, you’ve got someone in mind—a teacher who encouraged and inspired you and perhaps played a role in shaping the person you are today. That same teacher could well be thinking similar thoughts about you! Because for every favorite teacher, there is also a favorite student. The satisfactions often go both ways.

In this section, we look at ways in which you can cultivate rich and rewarding relationships with your instructors, and also resolve conflicts, should any arise. Solid student-faculty relationships can be foundational to a successful college experience.

The following video, from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, looks at the value teachers and students place on connecting with one another.

You can view the transcript for “Student/Faculty Relationships at Dickinson College” here (opens in new window).

Methods of Communicating with Instructors

College students are sometimes surprised to discover that instructors enjoy getting to know students. The human dimension of college really matters, and as a student you are an important part of your instructor’s world. Most instructors are happy to work with you during their office hours, or talk a few minutes after class, respond to digital messages, talk on the phone, or engage in online discussion forums or perhaps course wikis or personal journals. These are some of the many methods of communication you and your instructors can use.

The following video, from the University of British Columbia, shares faculty perspectives on some of the many reasons why students might want to talk to their faculty or to teaching assistants (TAs).

You can view the transcript for “Profs and TAs” here (opens in new window).

Working with Instructors: Key Points

  • Go the extra mile: Talk to your instructor when you
    • need an extension,
    • need clarification on course material,
    • are experiencing challenges in your personal life that impact your academic performance, or
    • are considering pursuing a major or graduate degree in their subject area.
  • Visit early: Building rapport with your instructors early in the semester will pay off if you need an extension or extra help later on. Instructors like it when you visit during office hours, but they don’t appreciate it when panicked students ask for an extension an hour before an assignment is due. Most instructors will be very accommodating if you ask for help well in advance.
  • Show your interest: Instructors want you to be as interested in their subject as they are. Nothing excites them more than knowing you are passionate about what they teach. You can show your interest by participating in class, attending office hours, and emailing your instructors if you have questions.
  • Meet your instructor: Instructors have many responsibilities to juggle including research, teaching, traveling to conferences, and administrative tasks. However, they DO want to talk with you. Go to office hours and meet your instructors!
  • Build relationships: Believe it or not, your instructors are really interesting people. You might just enjoy their company. They can also open doors to academic research, serve as mentors, and may write you a reference letter down the road. Build strong relationships with your instructors while you have the chance.

The following video from NC State University is a good summary of the ideas and guidelines shared in this section on working with instructors:

Benefits of Communicating with Instructors

One of the many benefits of communicating with instructors is that it can help you feel more comfortable in college and more connected to the college culture. Students who communicate with their instructors are less likely to become dispirited and drop out.

Communicating with instructors is also a valuable way to learn about an academic field or a career. Maybe you don’t know for sure what you want to major in, or what people with a degree in your chosen major actually do after college. Most instructors will share information and insights with you.

You may also need a reference or a letter of recommendation for a job or internship application. Getting to know some of your instructors puts you in an ideal position to ask for a letter of recommendation or a reference later on.

Because instructors are often well connected within their field, they may know of a job, internship, or research opportunity that you wouldn’t otherwise know about. An instructor who knows you is a valuable part of your network. Networking is important for future job searches and other opportunities. In fact, most jobs are found through networking, not through classified ads or online job postings.

Think about what being educated truly means: how one thinks, understands society and the world, and responds to problems and new situations. Much of this learning occurs outside of the formal class. Communicating with your instructors can be among your most meaningful experiences in college.

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educated: a status where one effectively thinks, understands society and the world, and responds to problems and new situations