As someone who has been called a “teacher’s pet” from about first grade on, I knew that writing about how to get professors to like you would be my specialty topic. And it’s not about sucking up or brown-nosing, as some might say. Over the years I have learned a lot about communication and interacting with people from different backgrounds, and I have found as the years go by that there are simple ways to be the student that professors are excited to have in their classes and the peer classmates won’t roll their eyes at every time you pipe up in lecture.
I never truly realized how human professors are until I came to college and heard them speak about their personal lives, from their spouses to their kid’s food allergies, in class. In high school students aren’t allowed to be “friends” with teachers on any social media outlet, and the worlds of teachers and students are kept extremely separate. That’s not really the case in college. There will be students who babysit for their professors, have dinner with their entire class at their professor’s house, and more. I believe that this makes for a much better relationship between students and their professors. One of my professors would be very open in class, admitting things to us like, “Hey, I had a late night, and man, I did not want to drive here this morning.” It may not be the height of professionalism, per se, but it’s honest and it makes professors a whole lot more relatable.
This all leads to my first point: professors are human, and they are just like us! They feel tired, they get sick, and they have stressful, bad days. Instead of treating a professor like some mysterious entity who just shows up and assigns papers and group projects, try thinking of them like the professionals they are and simply give them your respect. When you view them as such, they will know that you are looking at them like another person, and you will reap the benefits. Something like offering to babysit for them when they bring up how stressed they are that the sitter cancelled in class will show them that you respect them and want to form a positive relationship with them. And this works whether you go to a large school and will only have them for a semester or if you go to a small school and will probably have them nine more times before your college career is over.
This “treat-others-how-you’d-like-to-be-treated” approach works with your fellow classmates too. I used to be very . . . Type A+, let’s say . . . with things like group projects, blowing up GroupMe to make sure my partners were finished well before the due date. But people don’t respond well to that. Again, if you put yourself in their shoes and come to terms with the fact that everyone operates in their own way, you’ll find that more often than not, things will get done and get done well. Have faith in your peers, and you will give off a much more pleasant vibe. In fact, people will want to work with you. And not be scared of your wrath.
I’m a communication major, so this is my jam, but really, communicating well is so important, no matter who you are or what your major is. A student who communicates effectively is a blessing to professors—who are expected to be mind readers half the time. Sometimes, communicating what you need or communicating a problem is especially difficult.
I found this to be the case when I got myself into a rough patch involving grades. (I started from the bottom but worked my way back up to a 4.0—it’s possible!) Was it embarrassing admitting to my teachers that I had a poor GPA and was at risk of losing my scholarship? Yes. Was it rewarding to have productive conversations with my professors about how we would work together to make sure that I was learning and accomplishing my goals of improvement for the upcoming semester? Yes. And from that point on, they knew how important each and every assignment was to me because they knew the boat I was in. If you expect professors to look at you and know what’s affecting you and your performance in class, you will be sorely disappointed and in for a rough semester. There is nothing wrong with communicating with your professors to share important information about yourself. As long as you’re being respectful of their time (hello, office hours), you should advocate for yourself and your education. How you’re doing physically, mentally, and emotionally can impact your class performance, and professors get that. For example, if you’re late to class a bunch of times because you were in a car accident and you have to use a bike now, I guarantee that a professor would rather you explain the situation from the get-go instead of facing you later in the semester, disputing why you lost participation points due to tardiness (yes, schools care about tardiness).
The same principals of communication apply to your peers as well, from your closest friends to the random people you’re assigned to a group project with. If you are open and communicative—explaining why you’re being quiet one day (because you have a cold) or why Monday meetings at 9:00 p.m. don’t work for you (because that’s your sacred gym/me time)—at least you are giving them the explanation they deserve. And they will be more inclined to work with you. As long as you don’t confuse being a good communicator with over-sharing or making excuses, the people in your life will appreciate your honesty.
I’m not perfect, and I’m still working on following the advice above myself, but I’m learning that everyone deserves respect and openness—and you deserve that as well! Professors aren’t scary monsters, and your peers aren’t as judgmental as you think. Try it and you might be surprised by how smoothly your college years go. Oh, and smile! A smile goes a long way. It can brighten someone’s day and it will make you feel better on your bad days too. You got this.