Interacting with your professors and asking for assistance can seem nerve-wracking, especially in an online learning situation where you aren’t able to meet face-to-face. Fortunately, instructors are often happy to hear from students. Keep these tips in mind when approaching your professor for help, and you’re likely to have a positive, mutually beneficial experience.

Remember Professors Want to Help

Professors are people who also happen to be teachers, and it’s their objective to communicate with you and help you succeed. They want the very best for you and your educational experience. Keep this thought in mind, and you’re more likely to relax when you approach your instructor with a question.

Introduce Yourself Early

Avoid waiting until you have a problem to introduce yourself to your instructor. Send out a brief introductory email when class starts with some basic facts about yourself. That way when you have a question, the professor will already know who you are and it should make your interchange go more smoothly.

Consider Communication Preferences

Most professors will let you know in their syllabus how and when they prefer to be contacted. Many professors prefer email, but some may also be open to phone calls or texts during specific hours. Whatever you do, keep these preferences in mind when contacting your instructor. When you follow the rules in this area, your professor will appreciate it and be more inclined to help.

Look for Answers in Class Materials

Avoid approaching your instructor with a question that has an answer clearly explained in the syllabus, online, or in an introductory email. Asking a question that already has an answer makes you look careless and is likely to irritate your professor. Take a good look at all of the course materials before approaching the teacher, and if you still don’t have an answer, include a note to let them know you tried to resolve the issue yourself first.

Be Polite

Electronic communication is generally archived or saved. Email can be seen by other students, faculty, and even the administration, so it is critical that you always act in a professional manner when writing to your professor. Being polite when expressing your question or concern is much more likely to elicit a polite and helpful response. Even if you feel that the professor is being unfair, stay civil.

Avoid Suffering in Silence

Remember that your professor has no way of knowing what is bothering you, unless you approach them and ask. Rather than continuing to wonder about something when the answer isn’t available, take the initiative and contact the professor with your question. Clearing things up as quickly as possible will help ensure you’re set up for success.

Request a Phone Meeting

If you are having difficulty with a particular issue, and it isn’t being resolved by the back-and-forth of emails with your professor, request a phone meeting. Ask if the professor is able to spend a few minutes with you on the phone at his or her convenience. Having a conversation is likely to clear up any confusion quickly.

Keep in mind that professors are people just like you. When you approach them about your coursework, they likely will be very happy to respond and help you have the best educational experience possible.


Written by University Staff

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