tnAchieves Tips: Professor Communication and Etiquette

With your first semester of school being more than halfway over, hopefully you’ve had a few interactions with your instructors by now. Whether you’ve had the chance to speak one-on-one with your professors or not, you will at some point in your higher education career need to communicate directly with one of your instructors; and you should want to!

All professors hold different expectations and standards for students, but they all appreciate respectful, professional communication. Before you get to know your professors, it is especially important to approach them with the same etiquette and mannerisms you would show towards any other boss or supervisor. Afterall, for the next few years or so you do, in a way, work for them. tnAchieves has created the guidelines below to help you build professional, helpful relationships with your instructors.

  1. How to communicate in-person

For simple questions, or to set up a meeting with your professor, follow these etiquette tips:

  • Approach your professor before or after class begins, not during class time.
  • Introduce yourself if you’ve never spoken to this instructor before.
  • Refer to your instructor as Dr., Mr., or Ms.
  • Ask them if they have time to speak with you.
  • Politely explain your question or concern.
  • Thank your instructor for their help before you leave.

If you have an issue that might take more time to discuss, schedule an appointment with your instructor during their office hours. Instructor office hours can typically be found on the class’ syllabus, or on your higher education institution’s website after searching the instructor’s name.

  1. How to communicate in an email

Sending an email to one of your instructors is very similar to sending a business letter. The text of your email should include:

  • A salutation with a courtesy title, specifically Dr. if they have a PhD. If you are not sure of their highest degree, simply refer to them as “Professor.”

Ex: Dear Dr. Smith, Hello Professor Smith, Good Afternoon Dr. Smith

  • A friendly, straightforward email body.
  • A polite closing signature.

Ex: Thank you,    Sincerely,   

        Jane Doe          Jane Doe

Here is an example of what an email to your instructor might look like:

Hello Dr. Smith,

I hope you’re having a great week! I am emailing you in regards to the grade I received on the last paper we submitted for English 101. I have a few questions on some of the corrections made on my paper and would like to know how I can improve my writing in the future. Do you have some time this week to meet with me and discuss my current grade?

Thanks so much,

Jane Doe

While some professors won’t expect emails to be in this format, others won’t respond unless they are formally written. It’s better to be safe than sorry by sticking to this format when sending all emails.

  1. What if your professor is not responsive or helpful?

Instructors are busy and human. If you send them an email and they take a few days to respond, they could have forgotten, or have not had the chance to respond to you yet. If you have an immediate concern to discuss with an instructor, then your best option is to visit them during their office hours. If you asked them a question via email that has not been answered within a few days, it is acceptable to send a reminder email as long as you remain polite and cordial.

If you find yourself in a situation with a professor where they are completely unresponsive both in and out of class, or you have already spoken to them and did not get the answer to your question, the next person to speak with is the dean of the academic department. This may be necessary if you and your instructor have discrepancies regarding your grade. You should, however, try to work out academic issues with your professors first.

Communicating respectfully and professionally with your instructors is not just a good habit to have as a student, but it could help you in the long run. Remember, professors are not just there to help you academically; they can easily become mentors, as well as guides to internships, jobs, job shadowing opportunities and advising. Follow these tnAchieves tips and your professors will look forward to working with you in class and in the future!

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