Teachers' Resource Web

Impress the Teacher

Jennifer Thompson, UCI

Let's face it. Part of succeeding in the university is pleasing and impressing teachers. It's a high-stakes game, and we're all stuck playing it. It's easy to get cynical and careless: "Why bother? I bet she doesn't read these things anyway." Or to make a couple of silly slips and reduce your grade to a C. What do professors want? It's pretty simple, actually. Take it from a longtime student. You can...

Impress the Heck Out of TAs and Professors (Without Being a Genius or Kissing Up)

First, do the obvious stuff. Show up on time, every time. Turn in the assignments the day they're due, unless you've made other arrangements in advance. Sit near the front of the class and listen. These are basic signs of respect and commitment, and teachers notice them. If you do this stuff, your chances of passing are greatly improved. I can't emphasize enough how much it irritates and depresses teachers when students straggle in at 20 after the hour, mumbling lame excuses about parking problems--consistent tardiness is the simplest way to rile your professors and drag down your grades.

Proofread your papers carefully before you turn them in. Make sure they're free from typos, and from obvious errors, like omitted pages, weird computer freak-outs, and so on. If you don't, you come off looking careless, or at least like you don't care about the class. If you tend to procrastinate, you must break the habit. There are several excellent books available on how to stop procrastinating; I recommend the "Prescription for Procrastinators" in David Burns' Feeling Good Handbook.

Even if the class isn't your number one priority in life, never admit it. Never say, "My O-chem professor always keeps us late, so I can't get to your class on time." It suggests that O-chem is more important to you. That may be true, but it's tactless to rub your teacher's face in it, and unreasonable to expect her to share your priorities. If you can't meet the basic demands of a course, drop it.

TAs have this one-liner at the expense of students: "Will that be on the test?" Teachers perceive their students as being entirely grade-motivated. So, by all means, ask procedural questions, but ask about the content of the course, too. If you really want to impress a teacher, jot down a couple of questions in advance, and bring them up during class. Remember, employers are much more likely to hire people who ask clever questions during job interviews. Practice that skill now.

If a teacher prepares and distributes handouts, read them. Also, read and remember course policies so that you won't have any unpleasant surprises later. If you have questions about course policies, particularly about standards of academic honesty, ask. If you're not comfortable speaking up in class, call, email, or stop by office hours.

Speaking of office hours, those two or three hours a week are probably the most under-exploited resource at any university. Every quarter, come up with a couple of questions and visit each of your instructors. This helps you to establish a human relationship. No matter how cruel or diffident an instructor may seem in class, most are pleased to receive office visits from students who show enthusiasm about the class. Once you've met outside of class, don't hesitate to ask for help--providing it is part of the job. Finally, you're more likely to get your instructor's undivided attention if you schedule visits for days when no major assignments are due.

If you have complaints or suggestions, bring them up as soon as possible. For instance, if you think peer-editing could be handled more efficiently, say so. If the syllabus is badly structured or the textbooks are unhelpful, mention it. It's extremely unlikely that your grade will suffer; in fact, most teachers change assigned readings and course policies from quarter to quarter. Not only do you have the power to rescue future students from boring books, if you raise a problem soon enough, the instructor may well make the requested changes right away. Of course, if an instructor ever harasses you physically or sexually, speak up immediately; if the unwanted behavior continues, contact the department or the ombudsman's office.

It is always difficult to criticize someone who has power over you. However, it's frequently necessary, and often gets results. You'll be expected to make suggestions and raise problems on the job; as with asking questions, start practicing this crucial skill now.

If you must miss a day of class, notify your instructor in advance if possible. Remember, showing up is your responsibility; a teacher is doing you a favor if she summarizes the day's events for you. Never, ever say, "Did we do anything on Thursday?" Your teacher is unlikely to say, "Oh, no, Thursday was a total timewaster." Tact is important here. Try this approach: "I'm really sorry that I had to miss class on Thursday; I had a couple of questions about [whatever--the assignment, the readings]. Could I make an appointment to discuss what I missed?"

If serious personal problems impair your academic performance, let your instructors know what's wrong. You needn't go into a lot of detail, but it's important to tell them why you've been unable to attend, or why your concentration has been poor. Every teacher has spoken to other students with serious problems, and they have all, no doubt, had their own problems--if you're really in trouble, your instructors will almost certainly help you out by renegotiating deadlines, or even issuing incompletes.

Don't hesitate to ask for letters of recommendation, but make it as easy as possible to provide them. Allow plenty of time--at least several weeks--and supply as much information about yourself as you can (for instance, a resume or rough statement of purpose). If it's been a while since you took an instructor's class, remind her what you took when, and mention the topics of any papers you wrote.

To summarize: teachers are happy to help polite, attentive students; they dislike and avoid disrespectful ones. If your behavior seems disrespectful, your instructors will be much less likely to cut you slack when you need it (for instance, in case of a serious illness). On the other hand, responsible, assertive behavior in the classroom will impress your instructors, improve your grades, and help you to develop important professional and intellectual skills.