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How to Communicate Effectively with Teachers

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

by Jacob Connell

Build a Rapport Early in the Year

Make an effort to get to know your teachers early in the first quarter of the school year, before any problems crop up.

Pop by office hours, attend study circles, or stay after class for a just to introduce yourself, ask a clarifying question, and make a connection. Doing so will also give your teachers a chance to get to know you as a student and a person. In addition to benefiting you in the classroom, a solid rapport with your teachers allows them to write exceptional letters of recommendation.

(Politely) Ask for Extensions

For the first two years of high school, when I was swamped with assignments I would either turn in some of the assignments late and receive partial credit, or I would haphazardly finish all of them on time. This undermined my learning and my grades. By junior year, I realized that teachers are likely to provide an extension so long as you ask politely, in person, and at least a couple days in advance (not with an email the night before!).

In order to ensure that I don’t use extensions as a “get out of jail free” card for when I procrastinate, I do my best to limit myself to two extensions per semester. That being said, don’t be afraid to ask for an extension if you truly feel that extra time would result in an improved paper or smoother presentation.

Provide Feedback Throughout the Year

Most teachers ask for feedback at the end of the school year through surveys. While helpful, these surveys don’t help your teacher better understand how to teach you specifically.

Thus, it can be valuable to provide your teacher with meaningful feedback throughout the year. It can be something as simple as asking for a couple of extra seconds on each PowerPoint slide so you can copy down the notes or something more impactful such as requesting a different format for tests and quizzes. Just be sure to make your suggestions politely and anticipate that the teacher may not fully incorporate your feedback. Also, don’t forget that positive feedback—letting your teachers know what you find most helpful or what you appreciate about a class—can be powerful as well.

Ask Questions Using “How”

As a student, teachers supplying insufficient answers or explanations is understandably frustrating.

However, students can help by asking open-ended questions that encourage teachers to answer comprehensively. For example, rather than asking, "Did I miss anything in class yesterday?" ask "How can I make up the work from yesterday?" The answer to the former question will most always be a simple yes. However, the latter question will generate various responses depending on what material the teacher went through in class. It allows the teacher to answer both what was missed as well as how they prefer you make up the material. Additionally, when preparing for a test, rather than asking “What material should I study?” ask “How can I best prepare for the test?” This question not only clarifies what material will be on the test, but also leads the student to consider the most effective ways to prepare for that material.

Jacob Connell is an International Affairs major and Spanish minor at George Washington University.

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