Developing Positive Relationships with Your Faculty Members


The Counseling Center surveyed JMU faculty and asked them to identify the student behaviors or statements that they view most negatively.  According to the survey, the Top 10 things to avoid doing or saying are:

  1. Prioritizing a vacation above the established course schedule.
  • “I have to miss your class for the first week because we are going on a family cruise.”
  • “I have to take the final exam early because I have nonrefundable tickets to the Bahamas/Maui/Switzerland/some other exotic location.”
  1. Failing to address faculty in a respectful manner. 

When emailing a faculty member, students should not use the same manner (“Hey!”) that they use when messaging their friends.  A professional, formal style is more appropriate, especially if a student does not know the faculty member well.  Further, when a faculty member has earned a doctoral degree, students should address her/him as “Dr.” or “Professor” not “Mrs.” or “Ms.”

  1. Requesting to come late to/leave early from class.
  • “I will be late each class because parking is just impossible!”
  • “I have to leave class early every day because my professor in my next class really hates it when I am late!”
  1. Repeatedly asking questions which could be easily answered by reading the course syllabus or the information posted on Canvas. 

Such questions include:

  • Do you have an attendance policy?
  • What are your office hours?
  • When is this assignment due?

Most course syllabi are fairly comprehensive and answer these and other common student questions.  When students ask questions for which clear-cut answers have already been provided, it is clear to faculty that the students have not made an effort to review the information at their fingertips.

  1. Making excuses for incomplete or late assignments. 

Faculty do not typically respond favorably to excuses like:

  • “My printer ran out of ink, so I don’t have my assignment with me.”
  • “I had an important exam in another class, so I didn’t finish my paper.”
  • “I’m really busy, so I wasn’t able to complete my assignment.”

The reason that faculty publish paper and project dates on syllabi is to provide students with the opportunity to plan their workload and schedule far in advance so that all course requirements are completed on time.

  1. Assuming faculty will tell you in detail what you’re supposed to do. 

For example: 

  • “Will this be on the test?”
  • “How many sources do I need for my paper?”
  • “What exactly are you looking for?”

Faculty attempt to provide clear guidelines and expect students to translate these into some type of finished product.  They are looking for and hoping to nurture the type of initiative and independent thinking that will be required of students in their lives after JMU (e.g., in professional working environments, assignments that are specified "exactly" are normally given to computers or to employees without a college education).  When confused, its better for students to attempt to formulate an general idea of what is being requested and to then ask the faculty member if they are on the right track.

  1. Failing to realize that faculty are people, too. 

Faculty have feelings, personal lives, outside interests, family problems, worries, etc., just like students do.  They are human beings who react (positively or negatively) to the manner in which they are treated by students and who appreciate courtesy and consideration when requests are made of them.

  1. Having unrealistic expectations regarding grades. 

Some students make the mistake of viewing assigned grades as mere suggestions and attempt to argue with faculty for something higher.  Faculty are understandably annoyed by students who don't attend class, don't participate, and don't submit assignments, then complain that their semester grade is lower than they expected.  Statements likely to draw a negative response from faculty include:

  • “What do you mean I didn't get an A?  I did all the work!”
  • “I spent a ton of time, like three or four hours, studying for that test!  Why did you give me such a bad grade?!”
  • “That’s not fair!” 

Similarly, college professors expect more and will not appreciate being compared to high school teachers and standards:

  • “I got all A's in high school, and I did exactly the same thing in those classes, so why is that a C?"
  • “What do YOU want? My high school teacher loved my work.”
  • “My high school teacher didn't worry about whether the answer was right/wrong, just that we did it.”

FYI, not every straight-A student in high school will be a straight-A student in college.  In fact, the average high school GPA of freshmen entering JMU is 3.7.  At the end of the freshman year, the average GPA has dropped to 2.9, a B average.  The drop in GPA is likely to be even greater for students in the College of Business and the College of Science & Mathematics.

Although it may seem too obvious to be worthy of mention, experience suggests having parents contact a faculty member to demand a grade change is a particularly unproductive way of dealing with such academic issues.

  1. Expecting faculty to rescue you from a problem that you created. 

Examples include: 

  • After missing a class, a student comes to a faculty member’s office hours and expects her/him to teach the entire lesson on an individual basis.
  • “I know I haven't been here for a month, but can I do some extra credit to make it up?  I have to pass this class to graduate!”
  • A student does not register on time, is thus unable to get into classes that s/he “needs,” and expects the faculty advisor to “fix it.”
  • A student has never utilized a faculty member’s office hours but expects her/him to be available 24-7 when an unaddressed issue predictably becomes a crisis.

While faculty typically strive to accommodate the needs and reasonable requests of students, they understandably recoil when students treat them as some form of customer service hotline or drive-up window.

  1. “I wasn't in class today. (Insert reason here)  Did I miss anything important?” 

Faculty expect students to realize that important information will be a part of every class.  Asking if you missed anything important can cause even the most understanding faculty member to think, “No, we never do anything important in class; but whatever we did will be on the exam and may have cost you participation or in-class assignment points.”  If missing a class is unavoidable, it would be better to ask, "Would you tell me what sections we'll be covering today so that I can keep up?"


Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Last Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2018

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