Know Thy Professor: Building Student-Teacher Relations for College Success

07/11/2017

Professional athletes are fond of saying "championships are won in the offseason!" But what does that mean? Athletic success takes hours and hours of preparation and planning outside of the grind of performing during the season.

Being a successful student is no different.

The summertime gives you a great opportunity to reflect on the previous school year ? to make changes to your habits and routines to ensure you're consistently improving. Do you need to tweak your study habits? Your note-taking strategies? How you plan your schedule? How you interact with your professors?

In recent interviews with students from teacher preparation programs around the country, we asked what advice they would give future students on how to engage with professors in and out of class. Here are the top five suggestions.

1. Go To Office Hours 

All of your professors set aside a few hours each week to meet with students outside of class: take advantage of these to build a relationship with your professor! In instances where classes are large or students are less comfortable speaking in class, office hours can make it easier to engage with your professor. Haydn Lambert, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana School of Education, shared that he understands it can be difficult to approach a professor. But as Haydn points out, teachers need to know how to be courageous in initiating relationships and engaging with professors can nurture that skill.

2. Cooperating teachers are "professors" 

Your college professors are not your only instructors: the classroom teachers who guide your student teaching experience are as well. Make the most of that critical experience by building a mentor relationship with your host teacher. Lennon Audrain, a 2017 graduate of Rio Salado Community College in Elementary Education and soon to be student at Arizona State University, encourages students to "engage with the classroom teachers they're working with because they understand their class culture best."

3. Professional Organizations

Your professors' professional affiliations can be a springboard for building your own professional network too. Many professors are members of professional organizations that connect them with other professors, researchers, and practitioners. You can learn about these organizations by taking advantage of office hours. Who knows? Expressing an interest in such an organization can open up other opportunities as it did for Carolyn Goodill, a 2017 graduate of University of Dayton Ed School who traveled to TESOL International Association conference with her professor and later supported the organization's work.

4. Mentorship Matters

Professors can be extremely helpful in mentoring you through a project or supporting your professional development. The more you engage with your professors, the more you'll learn about their professional interests, network of colleagues, and career experiences. This knowledge will help you choose a mentor, as Carolyn did when she chose a mentor to guide her through her required undergraduate thesis.

5. Agree to Disagree

The student-professor relationship is what you make it. It's not unusual for students to be careful about what they share with professors, but being direct is also encouraged. Rebecca Duitsman, a 2017 graduate Dallas Baptist University Ed School, University where students are encouraged to disagree with a professor, the curriculum, and their teaching style. Challenging a professor, respectfully, can be an excellent way to engage with your professor but also build your own argument and ability to defend your positions on innovations in public education.

Becoming the best student you can be is not so difficult; you can learn from what has worked for others.

Your offseason is halfway done and there is no better time than the present to prepare for the upcoming school year. What will you work on for the rest of this summer?

Good luck! 

— Curtis Valentine
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