How College Students can work with Professors to Achieve Academic Success

How College Students can work with Professors to Achieve Academic Success was originally published on College Recruiter.

A Washington college professor is shaking up the world of education and helping students get better grades like never before. Using a progressive teaching style that breaks down barriers, Ellen Bremen, a tenured professor of Communication Studies at Highline Community College just outside of Seattle, Washington is teaching students things that no one ever dreamed of telling students before.

Ellen Bremen

Ellen Bremen

“Succeeding in college,” she says, “is not just about studying day and night to get good grades on the tests. The real key is learning how to talk with professors, so that you express exactly what you need in order to learn, and then deliver what they are asking for. Communicate your goals and intentions, not your remorse. ”

Students wonder, “How can I get better grades?” Many students go all the way through college and never figure out that what they really need to learn is how to effectively and professionally communicate with professors, people who work in the institutions, and other students.

In reality, most professors feel frustrated by the way students bungle communication over class-related issues. Sadly, those same professors won’t take the time or believe it is their responsibility to enlighten students about how the interaction could have been improved.

Ellen Bremen’s amazing new book Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success cuts through the fog and offers up hard hitting advice and tactics that focus directly on exactly what students must say in the encounters they have at school. Ellen Bremen, in fact, makes it easy by telling them exactly what to say… and what not to say.

“It’s not what you do! It’s what you say and what you don’t say.”

On day ONE after you’ve gone over the syllabus and any introductory material, go right up to the professor and say, “I am trying to get an A (or B, C, whatever) in this class. Can I meet with you to create a plan?”

During the meeting: You say “Do you review work in advance? How early would you like me to submit that? How would you like me to turn it in? Can I deliver it in person? Or by e-mail?

As the term continues:  “I would like to meet with you to discuss how my grades are going.” Or “Do I have any missing grades?” Or, well in advance of the term ending—not a week before the term ends: “I’m at a 2.5 and striving for a 3.0. I’ve calculated that if I achieve ____ on these upcoming assignments, I can achieve this goal. Can we schedule some checkpoints to see how I’m doing?”

Too few students even check their grades during the term! What if your professor accidentally transposed a number or, worse, entered a zero?

What should students never say?

“Why’d you GIVE me that grade?”     (Grades are earned, never given!)

“But I worked SO hard!”         (Your prof can’t grade you for effort… unfortunately)

“I really NEEDED to get a 4.0 in this class!”… in week 10 (Then you should have had a grade goal conversation in week 1 when you and your prof could have actually hatched a plan!).

How do students handle the two peskiest, but common, everyday college issues? Late work and absences!

Use a Three Step Approach:

1) Know your prof’s policy ahead of time by reading the syllabus;

2) Formulate your own plan based on the policy and figure out if you can stomach the existing penalty/consequences;

3) Approach your prof with a proactive proposal: “Professor, I’ve had a situation arise that caused me to be late with my work/absent. This was unavoidable. I reviewed the syllabus and understand that I will face __________ penalty. I’ve figured out how this affects my standing in the class. I see that you covered Chapter 6 and 7, and I will be responsible for those on my own. I will have my assignment to you on X date. Are you comfortable with this timeline/plan?”

Never give an excuse: The reasons don’t matter. Your prof cares about you, but time is short and needs to solve your problem.

Never ask your prof to go over everything you missed. You wouldn’t ask your clergy to redo a sermon for you in your living room, right?

Don’t force your prof to be reactive. You have a far better chance for a creative solution and for latitude if you are proactive!

How to not make your professors cringe: Two common clueless statements students make:

“Did I miss anything important today?”

Hours of research and planning goes into prepping for a class session. Even days that may seem “boring” or uneventful are taken seriously by your prof.

Instead, say this:  “Professor, I have to miss next Thursday and I apologize for that. I’ve tried to keep my absences to a minimum (only say this if it’s true). I looked at the schedule and I see you’re covering Chapter 11 that night. I know we’re taking our quiz a few days later. I believe I’ll be able to stay on track. Is there anything I’m not thinking about that may be covered? I’d be glad to do the research on my own or ask a classmate to help me with notes.”

“Will this be on the test?”

Look at the title of your course. There is bound to be material that will be on a test, and some that won’t be on a test. But, really, if you walked in on the first day of class and your prof said, “Okay, class, everything you need to know is on page 4, 8, 12, 15, 16-19, 22, 24, 30, 35-42, and review all of the chapters in section 3 of your text. You can leave now,” would you really be happy? Believe it or not, you wouldn’t feel like you were learning very much…. and you’d feel short-changed in your education.

Instead, say this:

“Professor, I see we have a couple of major tests coming up. I’ll be working on my own study guides, but I’m also wondering if you’ll be giving us a study guide or offering a review session in class?”

How students can survive the things professors do wrong

“This class is boring!”

Students have a right to be engaged in their classes, even if they don’t feel entertained. What can you do? Talk to the prof privately and say, “I’m struggling with the format of this class.” (Often lecture format is the culprit). Then, make some concrete suggestions:

“Could we:

  • allow some group discussion?
  • add a question-and-answer period after each section?
  • ask questions during your lecture? (most profs will take questions during a lecture, but the prof could possibly add questions or quick “are you getting  it?” checks into the PowerPoint material)
  • submit anonymous questions before class that you can answer during class?
  • do activities related to the material?
  • assign a section to students and allowing them to present the material?
  • or any of your own ideas … think of a teacher whose class you enjoyed and in which you learned a great deal

A 14-year classroom veteran, Ellen Bremen is tenured faculty in the Communication Studies department at Highline Community College. She has previously taught at Darton College, University of Nevada Las Vegas, and the College of Southern Nevada.

Ellen has received national recognition for teaching innovation by the Sloan-Consortium (2011), the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development and the National Council of Instructional Administrators (2003). She received degrees in Post-Secondary Education and Communication. Ellen blogs as The Chatty Professor.

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