How to Talk to Instructors: Tips for Success

Introduce yourself!

Before you start talking, introduce yourself and identify what class you are taking with the instructor.

Be respectful.

Instructors interact with dozens of students every day. It is important that you continue to restate your name and keep your communication specific and concise to help them to focus on your individual needs.
Communicate specific concerns (i.e., indicate you are having trouble understanding a specific assignment, state why, and what you have done to try to understand the assignment on your own). Avoid saying you don’t understand the topic or subject in general. Also, ask for strategies that will help you prepare for class and perform well on assignments and tests.

Be prepared.

Try to find the answers to academic questions on your own before asking the instructor. Often, the answer is already in your textbook or class materials.
If you are having trouble understanding a concept or formula, bring your textbook, problem set, and/or syllabus to show the instructor an example of exactly what is giving you trouble.
If you are having trouble with several items, bring a list to your meeting to be sure you covered all topics of concern. It is helpful to bring a list of questions to the meeting as well.

Ask what you can do to improve.

There is a big difference between asking what you can do to increase your grade in class and asking how you can better understand the course material. It is best to focus your questions on ways to enhance learning, and the grade will follow.
When you ask what you can do to improve, write down the instructor’s suggestions and follow through on them. If the suggestions work well for you, send a “thank you” email or note to the instructor. They really like to hear when their advice works, and it helps in providing advice to others.

Go to office hours.

An instructor’s office hours are usually included on the class syllabus and posted on their office door. If the posted hours don’t work for your schedule, politely email to ask if it is possible to meet another time.