1. You’re not an adult in training. If students act maturely, professors will treat them as such, says Cohen. “Students will claim that a professor is a tyrant for being inflexible with deadlines, as if everyone merited flexible deadlines, as if the work world had suggested days for task completion rather than do-or-die days,” he says.
It’s not easy for students to accept this kind of responsibility, Cohen admits, but being a grown-up can be difficult. “Better to learn all that in a supportive environment, where your teacher is very much on your side and wants you to realize the potential you have,” he says.
2. All classes are important. When students know they will need to miss class, many ask the professor if they will need to make up anything important—or, after the fact, if they missed anything important. Those are both mistakes, because professors work hard to prepare for every class.
“If students want to clarify what they missed after an absence, they can say—preferably in person and with notes in hand—’Professor, I was absent last Thursday. I saw on the schedule that you went over chapter 11. I read that chapter and worked on the assignment. I asked a classmate what else you covered that day, and I believe I have all the notes. Have I covered all my bases?” Bremen says.
3. Your GPA isn’t your professor’s problem. The most egregious mistake students make is waiting too long to discuss their grade goals with their professors, even if they know they need to maintain a certain grade point average to keep a scholarship or financial aid, according to Bremen.
“They finally turn their attention to grades in week 13 of a 15-week term, and then the situation is a crisis,” she says. “Instead, students must proactively initiate grade goal discussions on day one, or at least by week one.”
4. Be respectful. Timmian Massie, a professor at marist college in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., readily admits that he’s the age of many of his students’ fathers. But Massie, who served as the Marist spokesman for 17 years, is very active on social media and communicates with students via Twitter and text messaging. (He requires all of his students to provide him with their Twitter handles and cell phone numbers.)
When Massie alerted one student that an account the student was encouraging his Twitter followers to read was particularly offensive, the student used “the common refrain of young people, who do not like to be corrected: How dare you be so condescending to me!” A frank conversation later, the student saw things Massie’s way.
“A student needs to realize he or she is talking to an authority figure—whether it is a teacher, a parent, or a boss at work,” Massie says. “Flippant or insulting comments won’t help.”
5. Grades are earned. Just as arguing strikes and balls can get coaches thrown out of baseball games, students will find that insisting they earned a better grade because they worked hard is likely to fall on deaf ears.
Grades are earned, not given, explains Bremen, who blames the “everybody wins” high school philosophy with confusing students about the objective nature of college grades.
“After receiving a grade, students can say, ‘I’m concerned about the grade I received. I expected it to be higher and believed I followed the requirements. Can we discuss exactly what I needed to do differently?'”