I’m going to start this one off with an anecdote. I was at a fencing meet with my team just the other day, and there was this whole incident in which one of our fencers was fencing a girl from an opposing university (who shall go unnamed). For one reason or another, the referee was refusing to call anything her way; this went on for awhile until, at the end of a frustrating 3-minute period, she lost 4-5. Said fencer form my team then proceeded to be relatively riled up, exclaiming, “I swear that referee is out to get me.”
And it was that statement that kind of got me thinking. Whether or not you’re a fencer, or an athlete in general, there’s still a good chance that you’ve felt, at one point or another, like someone was “out to get you.” And I’d bet a lot of the perceived antagonists that come to mind are teachers.
It’s commonly recommended to get on a teacher’s or professor’s “good side.” But what it takes to reach that point is not only highly variable from class to class, but sometimes impossible altogether. In light of this (and in light of me starting second semester tomorrow, with a whole new set of “good sides” to get on), I wanted to offer some fundamental steps that can be taken:
The first impression a professor will have of you each day will be your arrival to his or her class. So try your hardest to get there five minutes early. Find a nice seat towards the front (it doesn’t have to be the first row), where you can both see and be seen, hear and be heard. The same goes for email responses and assignments. The more you put those small things off, the more it comes across as indifference, laziness, or an inability to handle responsibility.
It’s probably not a shocker to you that this one is listed; participation and simple listening skills go a very long way. Do whatever it takes to stay engaged in the lecture or lesson in front of you – take notes, ask questions, throw in some head nods here or there.
For one, it’s going to, you know, actually support your learning of the content. And on top of that, the professor will notice. Having had this gig for awhile, they tend to be pretty perceptive with things like that.
It’s a relatively straightforward exchange: if you demonstrate that you care, they will reciprocate in caring about you (or, perhaps better put, your grade). Go to office hours, think deeply about their material, and try to dig into those big essays or assessments with a passionate fervor. Doing so helps validate a lot of what (good) professors want to accomplish: sharing their aptitude and knowledge with those from the up and coming generation.
This is my way of urging you to remain as approachable and interesting and real as you always are – whether it’s around a professor or not. They are always dealing with a fair share of know-it-alls and “teacher’s pets,” and it can be exhausting to have people following you around all the time, trying to prove themselves.
So don’t feel like, to earn your professors’ respect, you need to become anyone you aren’t. Holding genuine conversations and possessing the self-confidence that you are a valuable contributor to their class will come across as quite refreshing.
At the end of the day, as beneficial as it can be to connect with a professor – it’s important to realize that there does exist a line, across which it’s no longer worth the effort. As soon as you feel yourself compromising what you believe in for the sake of recognition, or else fighting a draining up-hill battle for attention, it’s better to let things be. The caliber of your work can speak for itself.