When/how do you speak to the professor?
When do I speak to the professor?
When students are having trouble in the class, almost always they wait too long before they turn to the professor.
On the other hand, you should not turn to the professor the moment you start having problems.
College is where you learn to become independent of others, that is you learn how to learn. And so to turn to the professor right away is premature, you have to try to get the material on your own or in your group.
But if your normal ways of studying are not working, if you have tried new ways to study and they are not working, if you have worked in your group and you still do not understand - then it is time to talk to the professor.
And this cannot be too far into the semester. You cannot go to the professor toward the end of the semester and say "I am having trouble in the class" when you have been in trouble all semester.
Most courses at the college level are not focused on things to memorize, rather the course is designed to change the way you think, the way you view the world. And to do that you will need lots of practice.
So the moment you start to have trouble, you give it your top priority. You work on how to study well in this course, you try new things and old things, you work on your own, you work in groups, you ask if the college provides tutors. You try everything. Some things to try are given on the sites referenced on the main study page. And your campus may have more resources.
Generally, in most semster long classes, you cannot afford to be lost for more than a week or two before paying a substantial penalty. So after trying all you can, if you still don't get it, go speak to the professor.
How do you speak to the professor?
Actually speaking to the teacher is not a big deal. Most will want to work with you so that you will do well in the course.
But you have to do your work before going.
Do not show up and just say "I don't understand."
Be ready to talk in detail about what you specifically do not understand about the material, about what is expected. It will help if you have worked on the lecture notes or the problems and you can show how you are approaching things. Be sure that you have written things neatly, clearly, fully - so that the teacher can follow what you are doing and how you are thinking of the problem.
Also be ready to talk about how you are studying. Unfortunately, most faculty may not be able to offer advice on study techniques but some can, or will be able to direct you to campus resources.
Go during office hours if you can. But if you cannot then explain why you cannot and ask what would be a good time to come in.
Do not expect a faculty member to be available the moment you walk through the door. Most will try to accommodate you but whole chunks of their time are already committed.
If you are in a study group and several of you are having the same problem then see if the professor can meet with several of you at a time.
Back to INTRODUCTORY PHYSICS:A Learner's Guide
Last updated 4/21/2008.