Devon Joyce: Improving the Student-Teacher Relationship

The essay below was written by DCTE Student Fellow Devon Joyce, and represents the third post in our 2018-2019 series of Student Fellow essays. Devon is a senior double majoring in chemistry and biology with aspirations to become a physician’s assistant in the field of pediatric medicine.

Having a positive relationship with professors can have a huge impact on a student’s entire college career. I find that I perform the most effectively in classes where I have the best relationship with the professor.  Such positive relationships encourage students to do their best as they don’t want to disappoint someone whose opinion they value. A less than positive relationship with a professor can have a detrimental effect on a student’s college career. Studies have found that stress levels are heightened when a student does not feel adequately supported by a professor.

Several aspects of a relationship between student and professor can make it successful. This post will aim to provide tips that can be used to improve the student-teacher relationship.

Office Hours

One of the best ways to develop a positive relationship is to have thoughtful and constructive private conversations between student and professor outside of class. The most common way this is done is through the use of office hours. The first step to getting students to come to office hours is to make it known students are welcome and encouraged to come. I have had professors give bonus points on tests and quizzes for stopping by their office–even if it is just to say hi. Not only does this build upon the professional relationship, but it also shows students where a professor’s office is located, so if they do have future questions, they will be more likely to show up. There is a lot of anxiety built up in going to a professor’s office for the first time, and much of it is based on not knowing where to go, or if a professor really wants students to come.

Once a student comes to the office, professors should pay attention to how they are behaving towards the student. I have had professors continue to answer emails, grade papers, etc. while I am trying to ask them questions. Not only is this unwelcoming, but it makes students feel like they are disrupting the professors time, and as a result they will be less likely to return. A simple solution is to give students a couple minutes of undivided attention. I would rather wait a few minutes for a professor to finish what they are doing before answering my questions than to feel like I am disrupting them the entire time I am there.

Question and Answer: “It’s on the Syllabus”    

When a student asks a question, it shows that they have been thinking about topics and want to further their understanding. I have always been taught not to fear questions, but value them. That being said, it can be very intimidating for students to ask a professor a question, whether it be in front of the class or privately. Therefore, no matter what the question may be, it should be valued and taken seriously. The reaction received once a question was asked can determine if that student will ever ask a question again.

Even if a question asked seems simple and/or obvious, professors should answer each question in a considerate manner. I recognize that it must be frustrating when a student asks a question that was answered merely seconds ago, but one must remember that students are making an effort to retain lots of information in a given class period. It is possible that while the answer was previously being stated, the student was writing down other relevant information, or thinking about the material, which is why they missed the answer the first time around.

One of the most belittling statements a professor can say to a student is simply “It’s on the syllabus”. Students do not purposely read the syllabus and then ask questions knowing the answer is right in front of them. If a student asks a question where the answer may be easily found, professors should take a moment before responding with a demeaning answer. It is possible that the student is confused with the wording on the syllabus, or maybe the professor did not include the correct information. In fact, it would be beneficial to ask the student to pull out their syllabus and have the professor show them where the information is located. Not only would the professor be answering the student’s question, but they would also be teaching them skills that can be utilized in other situations.

The First Day of the Semester

The student-professor relationship begins on the first day of classes. Like any professional relationship, the first step to show the relationship is valued is learning each other’s names. Assumption College is advertised for its small classes in which professors get to know their students. From a student’s perspective, it can be extremely frustrating and discouraging when a professor makes no effort to know their students. I would encourage  professors not only to know each student’s name, but also to memorize a fact about them, which can aid in easy conversation and shows students that they are not relegated to a number in a classroom.

Conclusion

 As I prepare to graduate in May, I am confident that there are several professors I plan on keeping in touch with after I end my time at Assumption. These professors are the ones that successfully supported me at Assumption, whether it was in their classroom or preparing for graduate school. Not only did they make my undergraduate experience enjoyable, but I am confident that they helped me become the professional that I am today.