Your College Student’s Relationship with Professors

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Most college students get along with most of their professors.  The relationship between a college student and her professors, is often an important mentoring opportunity.   Of course, having a good working relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that each professor will be on your student’s list of favorite people, but hopefully she has at least found how to make each course work.

But what happens if things go wrong with your student’s relationship with his professor?  What does he do then? Sometimes he picks up the phone and calls home.  This would be a good time to provide that important listening ear, but it is definitely not the time to pick up the phone and call the school.  This is an important time to help your student think through the situation, consider his alternatives, and create a plan..

First of all, realize that this type of very difficult situation is rare.  Although not every student/professor relationship is ideal, and some are quite far from ideal, most students and their instructors work through difficulties, or simply wait them out and move on. 

However, if your student feels that a problem exists, here are a few suggestions you might help her consider:

  • First and most importantly – talk to the professor.  Encourage your student not to just try to grab him after class, but to make an appointment during office hours and have a serious talk.  Help your student think carefully about how to explain the problem as she sees it.  Encourage her to listen to what the professor has to say from his perspective.    Most problems between students and professors can be worked out at this level.
  • If your student feels there is a problem that can’t be worked out, or that is too serious to bring directly to the professor, suggest that he go to the department or division chairperson. Have him talk to his academic advisor.   Investigate whether your school has a Student Advocate or Ombudsman or someone designated to work with students with problems.  Finally, if nothing else works, and only after he has exhausted other options, suggest that he make an appointment to talk to the Dean or Provost.  (Your student should handle this, not you.)
  • Be sure to have your student handle any problems herself.  Don’t intervene or call.  Your student needs to take charge and advocate for herself.
  • Remember that academic freedom means that a professor can determine her own grading system and scale.  Your student should not ask someone to ask a professor to change a grade unless he has absolute proof that an error has been made or that discrimination has occurred.  These are serious charges and should not be made lightly.
  • Remind your student that the term will be over soon.  Depending on the problem, your student may need to stick with the course, get it done, and move on.  (Of course, if the problem is extremely serious, such as discrimination or harassment, don’t ignore it.  Report it.)

Classroom lessons are an important aspect of the college experience.  However, in addition to the subject matter lessons learned, your student will be learning important lessons at college about interpersonal relationships, handling conflict and uncomfortable situations, and self-advocacy. 

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