December 20, 2014

Get Your Prof to “Notice You” for the Right Reasons

Get your prof to notice you - photo copyright 2011 Rick Sherrell

Many college success guides and blogs include this advice: “Get your professor to notice you.” (I’ve also seen this variation: “Get your professor to like you.”).

From a student perspective, getting a prof to notice and like you sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? If a prof “notices you”, maybe you’ll get better grades, or the class will be easier. If the prof “likes you”, maybe you can turn in work late or you can be absent more, right?

With those benefits that will likely not happen (sorry to disappoint!), should you take the advice that you read on becoming noticed or liked by your professor? I say that some of it could use a reframe… a tweak, if you will. I’ll explain as I discuss three tips I’ve come across:

Tip #1: Sit in the front row.

I have seen this one more than any others. I struggle with it. Why?

Because history tells me that my most incredibly engaged, contributing students can–believe it or not–sit anywhere in the room, including the very back! And guess what? I “notice” students with their hands raised and their enthusiastic/thoughtful participation in activities and discussion, regardless of their location. I don’t even need a GPS to find them!

Likewise, I’ve seen some students in the front row:

  • fail to make regular eye contact
  • text
  • doodle
  • study for other classes

See what I can see in the front row?

Now, granted, I don’t teach 300-student lecture classes. However, even if I did, I find it hard to believe that professors give preferential treatment or more favorable grades to students simply because they recognize them as the front row crew. Also, what if your prof walks around the classroom a lot? Then, that front row is ever-changing, isn’t it?

I totally get that some students in the front row are there because they pay closer attention and they want their profs to see them paying close attention. Other students think about participation points and how it will be easier to receive them in the front row. If your prof has a participation policy, then the onus is on your prof to know who you are and to track your interactions.

The magic isn’t in your seat position; the magic is in you doing what is required to earn those points.

Bottom line? If you love to sit at the head of the class or prefer it for personal or practical reasons, then pitch your tent and stake your claim. But, rest assured that the prof seeing your face isn’t what will get you better grades. Being an active in-class participant will.

Tip #2: Get to know your prof’s interests, even take a jog with him/her on the track. They might become a good friend.

I have seen the term “friend” and “professor” used in tandem too many times for my comfort. This concerns me on two levels: First, the question of whether students and professors should be friends, and second, the idea that befriending the prof and aligning your interests with theirs will grant you better grades.

I believe (and practice in my own career) that there are and should be some personal boundaries between students and professors, and I believe those boundaries stand to greatly benefit students while the professional relationship is in place.

I’m not saying your professor can’t get to know about you on a less-superficial level, and even in some aspects on a deeper level, such as your career aspirations, your concerns about college, as a whole, other professors, your interest in their teaching area, etc.

By all means, if you are having a personal struggle that threatens your classwork, you may choose to share that with your professor. For me, if a student discloses that they are having a major crisis outside of class, I don’t necessarily need details about the issue, but I can help with the in-class ramifications. Likewise, I can guide the student to free counseling services on campus, which, sadly, so few who I have referred actually knew about, but were incredibly thankful once they did!

If you perceive that befriending your professor will improve your grades because you each know each other on a different level, ethically, that should never be the case. In fact, while you look at your professor as a mentor, it is often far, far easier to take their constructive criticism and feedback when you believe that is his/her job.

When your prof is suddenly your jogging buddy, the lines of what their job should be can feel blurry and uncomfortable. Even worse is when you’ve suddenly formed an interest in jogging for the sole (no pun intended!) reason of befriending your prof.

You have all the time in the world after your class to get to know your professor on a different level–if that is agreeable to and comfortable for both of you. But while you’re in class? Let that person be your mentor, your guide, your teacher. Be a professional just like you would in any other work-related setting.

Tip #3: Send your professor an e-mail, even if you don’t know what to say.

Keeping the lines of communication open with your prof is a key recommendation, and I believe that can start even before you enter your first class. The introductory e-mail can make you more comfortable about starting, and provides a springboard for the face-to-face introduction i.e., “I’m the student who e-mailed you.”

However, don’t force a conversation or ask a question just because you think e-mailing your prof is going to get them to remember you or like you. Professors–most people, really–have a sixth sense about when someone is cozying up just to get on their good side. You don’t want to be “noticed” for the wrong reason, like being insincere.

If you want to connect with your prof before your class or after your first class, do it genuinely. You can say one of the following:

  • “My name is Ellen Bremen. I wanted to just say hello and tell you I’m looking forward to your class.”
  • “I wonder if you have a syllabus I can take a look at before class. I don’t mind if it is one from last term.”
  • “I am wondering if you have a policy about early review of work? Are you willing to look at drafts? When should I turn that in?” (this information could be on the syllabus, but definitely ask if it isn’t).
  • “I have a concern about this class. What are your office hours so I can come discuss it with you?”
  • “I was looking at the content/syllabus/schedule and I have a specific question about _________.”

These are all legitimate questions and, sure, you may earn your professor’s early respect for being proactive. But if you don’t send the e-mail, this does not mean you will not have a good working relationship with your professor.

Remember, while you are in class, your relationship with your professor is business. You don’t need to be “noticed” to get strong grades.

Be engaged.

Be respectful.

Be proactive.

Be diligent and dedicated to excellence in your class work.

And remember, you can do all of these things and sit wherever you feel most comfortable.

About the Author: Ellen Bremen (17 Posts)

Ellen Bremen is tenured faculty at Highline Community College and the author of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success (NorLights Press, April 2012). Ellen stops at nothing to help students strengthen their communication skills: Peanut butter and jelly to illustrate problematic messages, pipe cleaners to teach communication models, and Post-it notes to reduce speaking anxiety. Ellen holds degrees in Post-Secondary Education and Communication. As an interpersonal communication expert, Ellen has watched students struggle to navigate their classes, especially their communication with professors. Ellen's goal? To help students correctly--not cluelessly--speak/deal with those who teach them. The outcome? Better student-prof relationships, improved grades, and confident and competent communication skills for college and beyond. Ellen's philosophy: College is THE safe training ground for students to practice and hone assertive and professional communication skills. Then, students can transition this sought-after skill to their professional and personal lives. Ellen looks forward to answering students' simple and complex questions about communication in college, and particularly professor-related challenges.


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