Tips for Success: How to Ask a Teacher for Advice

Knowing how to seek advice from a professor can be crucial to your overall academic success. Learning to communicate with your professors is a valuable skill that can help you long after you graduate!

Strong teacher-student relationships are correlated with better academic achievement, according to Education Week. Nurturing a relationship during office hours — or at the start of school — could pay off even more when you start looking for a job.

Here are some tips for starting productive conversations with your college professors.

Take fear out of the equation

Many students say they feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the prospect of talking to a professor one-on-one. But if it is a common concern, it is not necessarily rooted in reality.

After all, teachers choose to work with young adults and direct them to earn a living. The vast majority of them enjoy helping, talking and getting to know their students.

You can eliminate the fear of meeting a teacher by thinking of it as a way to build relationships. You could enjoy potential outcomes such as better grades, a deeper understanding of an important subject, and even potential academic or spiritual mentorship.

If you still feel overwhelmed or scared, consider asking a friend to come with you.

“I encourage students to come with each other and organize office hours as a group or in pairs,” said Amy Tauati, MSW, assistant professor and director of the BSW program in the University’s Department of Social Work. Azusa Pacific. “I find it helps students feel more comfortable and they often continue to use office hours individually as needed.”

Connect with your teachers in class

If learning how to ask a teacher for advice seems daunting, you can try starting to build a rapport in class. Talking to professors in the presence of other people might help you bridge the gap and make a one-on-one situation less daunting.

Active participation in class could also provide useful conversation starters. You can refer to an event that took place in class, raise a question you asked during class, or confirm something you heard from another student. Additionally, sitting in the front row for a while (or permanently) can give you more opportunities to connect with your teachers.

Get ready for meetings

If you’re not sure how to start talking with your teacher, create a roadmap of how the conversation might go. It doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Just spend a few minutes jotting down bullet points or even mentally wandering through the meeting.

To help you gain clarity, ask yourself questions such as:

  • What problem do I have that meeting with my teacher could solve?
  • What is the ideal outcome or goal of sitting with my teacher?
  • What questions do I hope they can answer?

If you start with the end in mind, you can understand why you seek help, and knowing your “why” can help you understand how to ask a teacher for advice more easily.

Approach conversations with empathy

Empathy can be a game-changer for any conversation you have with a teacher, especially if the topic might lead to a difficult or embarrassing situation.

“I often remind students that we were once where they belonged, and some of us continue to be students in graduate, continuing education, and professional development programs,” Tauati said.

An empathetic approach helps you get out of your own immediate wants and needs. This lets you see the situation (for example, a bad grade or some kind of miscommunication) from the teacher’s perspective, which may lead to ideas or answers that you hadn’t thought of before.

Think about other opportunities

Talking to your professors to see how they can help you is a great way to help you get out of your head and muster up the courage to schedule that meeting or show up for office hours in person or online. A teacher who knows you and sees you take initiative is much more likely to serve as a professional reference or write you a letter of recommendation that speaks to your individual qualities.

“I find getting to know a student beyond the classroom very helpful when writing letters of recommendation for graduate school, jobs, or other post-graduation opportunities,” Tauati said.

So take a deep breath. Map things out on paper or in your head if you think that will help. Then schedule that appointment or show up during office hours – it will be worth it!

Want to learn more about building relationships with your professors? Check out these five tips for connecting with professors in an online learning environment.

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