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Student-Teacher Conflict

Maybe you’re usually a straight-A student but can’t get a grade higher than a C+ in English Lit. Maybe you’ve tried to talk to a professor but feel like you just don’t speak the same language. Maybe you’re convinced that a professor just doesn’t like you.

Miscommunication is a common reason for conflict between two people. The good news is that it can often be prevented, sometimes simply by getting to know your professors. To avoid conflict in the classroom, it helps to get off on the right foot. Try these techniques:

  1. Figure out what your professor expects from you by reading the syllabus. In every class you are expected to read the syllabus, turn in every assignment on time, express interest in the coursework and participate in class discussions. Plus there may be other requirements specific to each class.
  2. Know your rights and responsibilities as a student. Read through the WVU Board of Governors Rule 2.5 which outlines WVU Student Rights and Responsibilities.
  3. Attend and participate in class. Even if your professors say they don’t take attendance, they notice who’s there and who’s not. Plus, professors often cover material not in the readings during class time and it is an opportunity to get to know (and learn from) your classmates. 
  4. Be on time. Walking into a class late can be disruptive to everyone. Plus the first few minutes of class are often used for important announcements regarding changes in the syllabus or assignments—don’t miss them.
  5. Complete your work promptly. There are many reasons that students fall behind in their coursework. If you’re struggling with understanding a new concept or starting a project, go to your professor's office hours as soon as possible and talk to them about your concern.
  6. Communicate. Your professor will not know if you are having a problem unless you tell them. Talk to them in a way that you're comfortable (whether in person, email, etc.) so that you can address any potential issues with the coursework before they occur.  

Resolving Conflicts Early

The best time to resolve a brewing conflict is right now—before a small misunderstanding becomes a big problem. The earlier you address an issue, the more time you have for intervention and solution.

Request a meeting with your professor as soon as you encounter an issue, whether you’re confused about the material, feel overwhelmed or don’t understand a grade. Saving a complaint until the end of the semester when you fill out the class evaluation form may help another student, but it won’t help you.

When you meet, be sure to…

  • Be on time.
  • Come prepared to discuss specifics. Rehearse or write down what you want to say. 
  • Express your concern in a professional, non-confrontational manner.
  • Be precise about your particular problem and what might help you understand or do better.
  • Refrain from blaming your lack of understanding on your professor’s teaching abilities.
  • Stay as calm as you're able. It's okay to be upset, but you still want to communicate your issues clearly. Present your concerns courteously and offer reasonable solutions—don’t expect miracles.

Remember: professors want to see their students do well—if you show you care about the class and your work, your professor will want to help.

More Serious Solutions

Almost all academic problems can be resolved by speaking with your professor directly—but not always. If a problem persists, the next step is to talk to your student advisor or another professor who would be willing to intercede on your behalf. When you make your case, stay calm, stick to the facts and provide any documentation you may have.

If a professor’s behavior appears to be arbitrary, motivated by ill will, made in error or not indicative of academic performance, students can file a complaint. Students should start with the Chair of that academic department, but if that does not resolve the issue, then the complaint should go to the Dean of that particular college. This is exceedingly rare, so make sure you’ve exhausted all other steps before you proceed with a complaint. Keep in mind that, after a complaint has been filed, you may have to appear before an individual or committee that will listen to you and your professor and attempt to resolve the conflict fairly.

Long-Lasting Rewards

Over the course of your college career, you’ll encounter many different professors with many different styles. You don’t have to love them all, but managing your relationships with your professors smartly can really pay off —you can build your communication skills, experience more enjoyment of the class and be more assured of good letters of recommendation. Plus, learning to resolve or prevent conflicts will serve you well throughout your life.

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