Fall semester at many colleges is just getting started. This is the point where you need to make the best impression on your teacher. This post contains five of the most helpful strategies for impressing your professor.
Why Is a First Impression Important?
Believe it or not, even with high credentials, doctorates, post docs, graduate degrees and all levels of certification, college professors are not inherently unbiased and non-judgemental. In all honesty, the judgment begins in the first class. I know because I am a professor; I’m not immune to being human as much as I try.
As a professor who spends a majority of the time overlooking the class and the students within, I easily pick up on small gestures students make that show their distaste in the class, tiredness, or boredom. These students often end up with the worse outcomes in the course than that of students who demonstrate the best classroom etiquette who often come out on top.
Why would your impression on the teacher affect your grade? Basically, if your professor isn’t brand new to the classroom (which they most often aren’t), they have often seen certain “character-types” a number of times to profile you into a certain category. It’s sad but this bias is mostly subconscious.
So, if you truly care about your grade, continue reading.
Why Pander to Your Professor?
Like almost all in power, professors are similarly influenced by pandering. It’s easy to roll your eyes at other classmates who are already demonstrating a level of suck-up to your teacher, but it’s the grade you receive at the end of the semester that will stick with you (on your transcript forever), so it’s best to get it right the first time.
How to Make a Great Impression
1. Come to class a few minutes early.
This shows your teacher respect and that you value the class. It also gives you time to set up your laptop or notebook for notetaking. Moreover, it shows that you want to prepare for this course. I always tell my students that the class starts at the start time which means you are sitting in your seat and ready to go at the time class starts. Even if your professor doesn’t have a policy like this in place, it still shows a great deal of respect that you are ready to go from the beginning and that each moment of the class is important to you.
Note: if you are coming 20 – 40 minutes early and just sitting there and the teacher is there too, there could be an awkward silence. If you don’t have anything to talk about or a reason to be there, don’t get there this early as the teacher often needs to gather their materials and make sure that the class will transition well.
2. Show that you are actively listening.
This seems like a pretty straightforward step, but a lot of students sit through class shuffling papers, typing in laptops, sifting through their belongings, putting on makeup, etc. Unless you are taking avid notes, show that you are actively listening to what the teacher is talking about with consistent eye contact. If they are asking you to refer to a certain page in the book, refer to the book. Respond accordingly to their directions. Don’t stare at the teacher. Ask questions when appropriate. Show that you are thinking through the information you are given. Your eye contact should involve a gentle smile and occasional nodding. Always laugh when the teacher tells a joke, just don’t make it an obvious fake laugh.
3. Don’t leave for bathroom breaks often.
While teachers understand that you need to leave the class from time to time, they may not actually know the reason, and may still subconsciously judge you for it. Your engagement in the class is crucial, and leaving often for the bathroom can be detrimental to your impression on the teacher. Also, if you are a student who constantly interrupts the teacher either by calling out or raising your hand and asking to use the facilities, your teacher may be even more perturbed. However, on the first day of class, they might mention how to proceed about leaving the room, whether you need to ask or just leave quietly.
If you have an overactive bladder/ IBS or any condition in which you need to use the facilities often, please tell your teacher at the beginning of the semester. This seems weird, but here’s how you phrase it:
“Hi, Professor. My name is [your name]. I’m really looking forward to this class. I just need to make you aware of a medical condition that I have that causes me to require the use of a bathroom often. I anticipate that I will need to leave the classroom [#] times due to my condition. While I really regret the lost class time, I’m ready to make up the work or anything that it will take to make up this time. Also, I will do my best to keep these visits to the facilities as short as possible, but the closest bathroom is about a [#] minute’s(s’) walk away.”
If you have a letter of accommodation from the campus office of disabilities, be sure to submit this letter during this conversation if you have not already submitted it to your teacher. See my post about the letter of accommodation and who can get one here.
4. Don’t Badger your Professor with Emails.
“Is there anything due today?” “I missed class last week, can you fill me in on what I missed?” Remember that your teacher is not your personal assistant, and messages like these send a signal to your teacher that you are lazy. Unless there is a question about an assignment or grade that can’t be sorted out on your own or with another student, try not to bother your teacher. When you do need to write an email, keep it very professional. Always start with, “Dear Professor [Last Name],.” After that, tell your teacher which class you are in with them and what you need. Be clear and respectful.
You will get the best responses from your email if you send your email during regular business hours. Most teachers can access their school emails on their smart devices and home computers, but getting emails at odd hours can distract them during their home lives and be an annoyance. If you must email after hours, make sure that it is a worthy cause. Also, keep in mind that you can save an email as a draft and send it first thing in the morning. Alternatively, you can use a browser extension like Gmelius that will help you schedule outgoing messages (and a lot of other features).
5. Memorize your Syllabus.
This step seems drastic, I know, but bear with me. The syllabus is really the holy grail of attaining a high grade. Teachers get tired fast of saying, “It’s in the syllabus.” Personally, for each class I teach, it takes about 24 hours to write a syllabus, not including updates. So the teacher has carefully written it, why not show your teacher that the syllabus matters to you by getting to know it very well.
One of the first things you should do once you get a syllabus is to enter all dates into your calendar. I personally use Google Calendars because they send updates. I also set up a list of reminders to tell me when to get started with an assignment and make a folder full of empty MS Word files with titles of assignments so once it’s time, I’m ready to start writing them. If possible, I also add your heading, title, and some preliminary ideas you have for the assignment.
Not only is preparation important, but teachers often include assignment rubrics in the syllabus. These rubrics are imperative to follow for high grades on your assignments.
Don’t skimp on any part of the syllabus. Take time to read the learning objectives for the course. This should be an indicator of what content/skills you will master in the course. You can tell pretty clearly if this course is going to be even worth your time by reading this blurb.
Add your teacher’s email and other contact information with the rest of your digital contacts. This makes it easy to get communication early and not have to dig up the syllabus in your bookbag in case of an emergency.
By memorizing the syllabus, it’s also pretty easy to pick up on your professors’ quirks by reading through their rules. If they mention no food or drink on the resume, respect it and live by the rules. If you have an objection, bring it up with them privately.
Not only should the students pander to teachers, but many teachers (especially adjunct professors, or part-time professors) deeply value excellent course evaluations. In other words, they want to pander to you, the student, to get great ratings. Their continued contracts with the university often depend on these evaluations. Despite their standing in the university, it’s always a good idea to impress upon your teacher that you have exemplary behavior and consistently follow their directions.
What are some of the ways you have impressed your teacher? How did it go? I’d love to hear your experience in the comment section below.
Are you looking to get a job on campus this semester? See my post on interview ice-breakers and start your interview strong!
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