Stand up, speak out, get help: Instructor, student rapport needed

Published by Rachel Arceo on

Building rapport with professors may sound challenging to some students or inconsequential to others, but this communication is considered a tool for student achievement.

 “By forming a bond with a professor, students are more likely to access the informative, helpful guidance most teachers are willing to offer,” reports an article by Florida National University.

Building relationships with instructors as a student can take many forms. It can be established in active listening, to asking comprehension questions regarding material or assignments, to sharing personal challenges or successes. However communication is approached, both teachers and students agree this communication is helpful for learning.

“Having communication with my teachers has been key to my success in school,” Alicia Merker, a second-year transfer student, says.

Merker contends that building relationships is easier than many think because many instructors encourage student engagement. “Most teachers actually want their students to reach out and let them know if you have something personal going on,” Merker says.

Alex Maxwell, a first-year student and Success Center peer tutor, feels that communication between students and professors is helpful for comprehension.

“I think people struggle the most when they are not engaged with the material or the professor,” Maxwell says. 

Why take initiative to reach out?

Instructors are human too.

“It’s easier to be less understanding of someone that’s just a name,” says Destiny Hunt, Transfer Opportunity Coordinator and student advisor. “That’s not because people are inherently mean, it’s just that we are human,” Hunt says. 

Destiny Hunt advises transfer students to be communicative, especially with instructors.
Rachel Arceo / The Mainstream

“If you know the face and you know their story and what they are going through, you are naturally inclined to be more understanding of that. If it’s just a name and you’re not turning things in, it’s easier for instructors to grade harshly” Hunt says.

Hunt regularly reminds the students she advises, “Ultimately, you are paying for this experience, and you deserve the experience you need to have. So if you are sitting in class and you have questions and they are not getting answered, and you’re sitting there uncomfortable, you deserve the experience you need and the only way to get that is to ask those questions. 

 “You don’t have to start by raising your hand in front of fifty people, but maybe start out with an email or hang back after class. Start with that safe place, but ask,” Hunt says.

Writing associate professor Brent Lewis says, “The reality is that most students who come to college, come to get a better job. And when I am in my professional life, I have to take the initiative. My boss isn’t going to come to me to ask a bunch of clarifying questions; I am expected to ask and make sure I comprehend what is expected of me.

“I like to think of college as professional prep; you are here to work on those soft skills as well as the hard skills, and they are just as important,” Lewis says.

Writing professor Brent Lewis enjoys engaging with his students, and regularly asks how their weekend went.
Rachel Arceo / The Mainstream

“You are here because you wanted to learn something, so I am treating you as an adult who has made a conscious choice to enroll in a class. Part of that choice is taking responsibility and initiative,” Lewis says.

Speaking out and conversing with instructors can help other students as well. Lewis regularly begins the week by asking each student to share what they did over the weekend. “This helps, not only me, but it’s about getting them out of their shell, and often helps build their networks of peer support,” Lewis says.

Active communication with instructors does more than make learning easier; it can also help with future job prospects. Career and technical training consist of courses and programs that aid students in gaining the certificates and training required to enter the workforce.

John Blakely, associate professor of automotive, explained over the phone, “I believe professor/student communication is important for all disciplines, but especially for those involved in CTE programs. The reason is that the goal of most students in the programs is to get a job or career in that area (of study).” 

Blakely explains his job as automotive coordinator regularly involves dealing with employers and manufacturers to ensure the program aligns to the needs of future work opportunities.

“For an instructor to help a student achieve what their desires are as far as moving forward into the field, the instructor has to know where the students are heading,” says Blakely. He explains that education and instruction in CTE program is often tailored to the future plans of students.

Science professor Sean Breslin shares a laugh with his student in between classes.
Rachel Arceo / The Mainstream

“I think it is very important for the instructors and students to have a relationship where the instructor knows what they are trying to achieve,” Blakely says.

Letters of recommendation are another reason to build relationships with instructors. “Students will need letters of recommendation for future scholarship and job applications as well as for applications to some military and graduate school opportunities. Instructors you know are great sources for those letters of reference which can be very difficult to acquire from other professionals,” Melinda Benton, associate professor of writing and journalism, said.

Sean Breslin, associate professor of science, reflects on the mutually beneficial activity of building rapport with instructors.

 “In reference to student success, I think it is absolutely vital to have an idea of the audience you are teaching to,” Breslin says. “I think getting to know your professor and sharing little bits about your life, helps them see you as more than just a number. If nothing else, it helps them have empathy.”

“When you get down to it, a teacher is a communicator and facilitator and those jobs are made easier and much more enjoyable by getting to know one’s students,” Breslin says.

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