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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. 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. Show up for class. Even if your professors say they don’t take attendance, they notice who’s there and who’s not. And you can be sure they’ll remember you’ve been a no-show should you need to ask for help.
  3. Be on time. Walking into a class late is disruptive and rude. Plus the first few minutes of class are often used for important announcements regarding changes in the syllabus or assignments—don’t miss them.
  4. Be respectful. It pays to be courteous to someone whose letters of recommendation and contacts can help you land a job, summer internship or place in the student honor society.
  5. Turn assignments in on time. Short of a genuine emergency—which does not include the big game or a big sale at the mall—there’s no excuse for not completing your work on time. If you’re struggling with a project, go to office hours as soon as possible and talk to your professor about your concern.

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.
  • Address your professor appropriately and be polite.
  • 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 whining or blaming your lack of understanding on your professor’s teaching abilities.
  • Stay calm. Acting angry or upset doesn’t convey that you take this class seriously. 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 the department head, your student advisor or even 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.

Every student has the right to file a formal complaint if a professor’s behavior appears to be arbitrary, motivated by ill will, made in error or not indicative of academic performance. This is exceedingly rare, so make sure you’ve exhausted all other steps before you proceed with an official complaint. Keep in mind that, after a formal complaint has been filed, you and your representative will probably have to appear before a 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—with better grades, more enjoyment of the class and good letters of recommendation. Plus, learning to resolve or prevent conflicts will serve you well throughout your life.

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