Tips for Talking to Your Instructors

Check the syllabus.

Many of your questions may already be answered on this document. The syllabus usually includes:

  • The instructor’s contact information
  • Office hours (if any)
  • Preferred method of communication

Policies with regard to missing class and late work (if accepted).

Be timely and plan ahead.

If you know ahead of time that you are going to miss a class meeting, let your instructor know in advance. Check the syllabus to see how the instructor handles late work.

  • Remember that your instructors have the authority to set their own rules about late work, extra credit, missed classes, etc.
  • If you have an emergency notify your instructor as soon as possible, using their preferred method of communication.
  • Remember that your instructors have other responsibilities and commitments in their lives just as you do. Usually, the course syllabus will tell you what you can expect-- in terms of how long it takes for them to respond to emails, grade assignments, etc. If the syllabus does not contain this information, ask the instructor to provide it to you.
  • If you have a concern, question about your grade, or a class-related issue, contact the instructor as soon as possible. Being timely may provide you with options that will not be available if you wait too long.
  • Be prepared to explain or show evidence related to your grade concern. For a class issue, be prepared to talk about the issue.

Set up an appointment if possible.

The instructor may have designated office hours or appointment times available, but this may not always be the case; consult the syllabus for more details.

  • If you are unavailable during designated office hours, ask if he or she would be willing to meet with you at another time that is mutually agreeable. You may be able to approach the instructor before or after class, but, be sure that this is okay with him or her. Be respectful of the instructor’s time if they are not able to meet with you at that very moment.
  • When meeting with the instructor, be sure to take all relevant materials with you (for example: assignment/tests you wish to discuss, handouts from class, text book, etc.)

Be clear, concise and respectful.

  • Consider their title when addressing them. Use Dr., Professor, etc. Never use a first name unless they have told you that this is acceptable.
  • Think about what you want to say ahead of time, and make sure your emotions are under control even if you are frustrated or upset. 

When communicating by email, remember that tone and intentions can be difficult to interpret when the recipient does not have the benefit of body language or additional context.

Take responsibility.

If you missed a deadline or made a mistake, taking responsibility for your action or inaction is important.

Refer to the course syllabus to get valuable information, such as your instructor’s office hours, policies on late work, and making up exams.