Wondering How You Will Manage Professor-Student Relationships? 6 Suggestions to Help You Along the Way

When you enter college, one of the major factors to consider is the difference from the high school classroom environment and norms.  Small classes can now be big lecture courses, and the high school teachers you knew so well are now college professors you barely know.  Don’t get too anxious, there are many variations to this. In addition to the large lecture course ,many colleges have courses with low numbers of enrolled students.  Some colleges create many opportunities to get to know your professors, even those that teach courses with 100-200 students enrolled. The important question to ask is, “how do you develop and manage a healthy relationship with your professor?” Hopefully these 6 simple suggestions for managing your relationship with faculty will help.

How to manage a healthy professor-student relationship

1.Be respectful in class and in communications

 It is always good to be more formal when communicating with faculty and trying to develop a strong professor-student relationship. Refer to them as “Professor Jones” or “Coach Smith.” If you are sending a note or email don’t address it, “Hey Prof”; instead, write the note or email as you would a more formal letter. This respect should carry over into classroom behavior as well.

2. Speak up in class and use office hours

It is good practice to take advantage of your professor’s office hours.  This gives you the opportunity to discuss issues like term paper topics, previous lectures that were confusing or unclear, or research on topics that may interest you. Professors enjoy students who take an active interest in their coursework, but try not to use up too much of their time.

3. Go to study sessions

When your professor, or teaching assistant (usually a graduate student) runs a study session, it is a good idea to go. You can get a feel for what is being emphasized and what areas to spend extra focus on from these sessions, and your professor will notice your attendance and attention.

4. Be prepared

If you are going to speak in class or visit the professor during office hours to discuss a class topic, be prepared.  Try to have prepared questions in advance or have an idea of what you’d like to discuss. It isn’t fair to ask the professor or TA to explain or discuss work if you haven’t made a minimal effort to learn the material yourself.

5. Be respectful of boundaries

In the beginning of the year, professors will set guidelines for communicating with them outside of class and during office hours. Respecting those guidelines is a key element of fostering healthy professor-student relationships. It isn’t appropriate to email your professors at night or on a weekend and expect a response before the work week has begun. If a problem is urgent, make that clear in your note. If it is an urgent personal problem, you should probably contact the Dean of Student’s Office or counseling services.

6. Be aware of relationship boundaries

Professors and TAs may be cordial, informal, and friendly as you get to know them.  However, it is not appropriate for faculty and students to have a social, intimate, or physical relationship with a student. If you feel that a faculty or staff member is acting outside of acceptable boundaries, let someone know. The Dean of Student’s Office or the campus office on sexual harassment would be good places to start to discuss your concern.

Remember, your faculty are real and regular people. They are there because they enjoy teaching and mentoring young people.  They have expertise and interest in their area of concern. Faculty and staff have lives, families, friends, good days, and days when they are cranky or not feeling well. You should start by relating to them.  These ideas can take you far in having healthy professor-student relationships and a positive and educationally rewarding experience with your professors and other university staff.

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