10 Tips for Talking to Your High School Teachers
There’s no denying that teachers play an integral role in any student’s high school experience. Of course, first and foremost, they are the ones responsible for delivering the educational material that you’ll need to learn. Beyond that, they can serve as advisers, coaches, and mentors throughout your high school years.
Maintaining good relationships with your teachers is important for a few reasons. First, if you find yourself in a position where you need help or extra support, a teacher who knows and trusts you is more likely to go to extra lengths to lend a hand. Next, teachers can help you with important networking needed to find jobs, scholarships, and even connections at colleges. Finally, it’s your teachers who will be writing your college recommendations.
Of course, it’s hard to connect with each and every teacher whose doors you pass through during your four years at high school. There will inevitably be some disagreements or times when you don’t see eye to eye with teachers; after all, they’re people too. But it’s important that you make the effort to get along with all your teachers, whether they are your favorites or not.
Inevitably, at some point during your high school career, you will need to reach out to a teacher to arrange a formal conversation. Perhaps you need an extension on a homework assignment, an extra credit opportunity to make up for a poor grade, or the chance to air your concerns regarding the amount of homework you receive. Some of these conversations may not be easy to have, but self-advocating is an important skill to develop now, while you still have somewhat of a safety net.
In college, you will need to take much more initiative to talk with professors, who often have hundreds of students. High school is the time to learn how to have important or difficult conversations with your teachers, especially if you’re an introvert or naturally less comfortable talking to adults in positions of authority.
In this post, we outline ten tips for talking with your teachers.
Your teacher is busy. Even if he or she only teaches a few sections at your school, many teachers have second jobs, families at home, or other obligations outside the classroom. It’s important to be respectful of your teacher’s time.
If you need to have a conversation with your teacher that is any more involved than a few quick yes or no questions, you should always make an appointment in advance.
Some teachers have set times that they are available for help or conversations. These are often listed on the course syllabus that you receive at the beginning of the school year. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to email your teacher or stop by briefly after class to confirm that he or she will around and available to you during that time.
If your teacher does not have times formally set aside, it’s best to email him or her to arrange a convenient time that works for both of you. You don’t need to tell your teacher specifically what you want to talk about, but you should give some idea of a timeframe and the general subject matter.
For example, you might write:
Dear Mr. Doe,
Would it be possible to arrange a time this week to discuss my latest exam? I am available any day after school. It should only take about 15 minutes.
Keep in mind that when you do finally meet with your teacher, you should stick to the timeframe you agreed upon. If it becomes clear that the conversation is going to last much longer, apologize for the inconvenience and ask if it would be better for you to come back another time to finish your conversation. Most of the time, your teacher will be more than willing to finish your talk, and will appreciate you respecting his time.
Respect Personal Boundaries
When you start to get to know your teachers a little better, the line between professional educator and friendly mentor starts to blur. This is usually a great thing since it means that you are comfortable enough to be yourself and that your teacher is relatable and friendly. You need to be careful, though, to respect his or her personal boundaries.
Never ask your teachers about their personal lives unless they bring up the topic first. Even then, be careful to only ask questions directly related to what they’re specifically talking about. For example, if your teacher mentions that she enjoys kayaking with her husband, an appropriate follow up question might be something along the lines of where they like to go, not where she met her husband.
There should always be some professional distance between you and your teachers.
Respect Physical Boundaries
Obviously it is never alright to touch your teacher, but physical boundaries extend beyond that. Your teacher’s space is important to him or her, and teachers often have very little privacy in their workplace.
Never go behind your teacher’s desk during the course of a conversation (or otherwise), unless you are specifically asked to do so. You should also never touch things on their desk unless you’re invited to.
Go Into Your Conversation With a Goal in Mind
Before you start any serious conversation with your teacher, create an end goal to keep in mind. If you and your teacher disagree about something, your goal should not be to “win” the conversation and convince him he’s wrong. Instead, your goal might be to come up with a compromise.
Similarly, if you have received a poor score on a recent test, your goal may be to come up with a plan for extra credit or to gather study tips for next time. Always know your end goal before the conversation begins.
Plan Your Conversation In Advance
Talking with an authority figure is intimidating for everyone. It’s not unusual if you’re feeling a little nervous. One way to calm your nerves is to plan your conversation in advance.
Practice how you’re going to start the conversation. You can even practice in front of a mirror if you want. Imagine how the teacher might respond, and then think up what you would like to say for each possible response.
For example, you might start by explaining to your teacher that you misunderstood the directions on the last problem set and that your misunderstanding led you to leave several questions blank, even though you knew how to solve them. You might then ask whether it would be alright to complete the questions now and receive half credit for them.
Your teacher will either agree, in which case you will obviously thank her and then move on, or she might disagree. Maybe she will say that it is your responsibility to read the directions clearly and ask ahead of time if you have any questions about them. If that’s the case, you should agree that it is indeed your responsibility, and then you can suggest an alternate solution. Maybe you can complete an extra credit assignment to bring your grade back up.
Practicing the conversation and having responses prepared for various scenarios will help you to feel more confident going into it.
Bring Solutions, Not Problems
No one likes to hear about a bunch of problems that they are expected to solve for someone else, which is exactly the position you’ll be putting your teacher in if you show up to talk about your problems in the class without brainstorming any solutions first.
Instead of having a conversation about your problems in the class, have a conversation about your ideas for resolving them.
For example, if you are having trouble completing the weekly homework readings because you work both nights between when they’re distributed and when they’re due, outline the problem for your teacher and then suggest an alternative. Maybe he could give you the weekly reading assignment before your morning study hall so that you can complete it then.
The bottom line is that you should take some responsibility for solving your problems. Don’t rely on your teacher to come up with all the answers.
Focus On You, Not the Teacher.
Often when we talk about problems or obstacles we’re facing, we frame them as being caused by outside factors. In the case of a high school class, that factor is often the teacher. Try to flip your thinking to frame the problem as your own rather than the teacher’s.
Instead of saying, “When you distribute problem sets, you expect us to work on them with no explanation. I don’t know where to start,” say “I’m having trouble getting started on the problem sets distributed in class. I need some more guidance on how to begin them.”
Using “I” statements makes your conversation less confrontational, and your teacher will naturally react less defensively. Not to mention, taking ownership of your problems is a true sign of maturity.
Remember That Your Teacher Is Not a Mind Reader
If you’re having a lingering problem that affects your work in or out of class, your teacher probably has no idea about it until you tell him or her. Don’t assume that the issue is simply being ignored until you’ve had a conversation about it.
Many times a teacher is so involved with the class as a whole that he or she doesn’t have much time to consider each student individually. Unless you know otherwise, go into the conversation with the assumption that your teacher hasn’t heard about this issue until you bring it up yourself.
Remember That Your Teacher Is a Person Too
It’s easy to forget that at the end of the day, your teacher is just another normal person, not that different from anyone else. Try to envision your teacher outside of school, with family, doing day-to-day things like laundry and watching TV. Remember that he or she has a sense of humor.
Try to approach your conversation in a personable, friendly way. It sometimes comes as a surprise to students that what they say about a teacher and his or her work can hurt that person’s feelings. Not only does personalizing your teachers make it easier to approach them, but also it makes it easier to give them the benefit of the doubt.
At the end of your conversation, whether you get the result you were hoping for or not, you should express gratitude to your teacher for having taken the time to meet with you. A simple “thank you” goes a long way.
If your teacher spends a substantial amount of time with you or meets with you repeatedly to help address a particular issue or concern, you should also consider writing a quick email or, even better, a brief hand-written thank you note. Everyone enjoys knowing that their work has been appreciated.
Discussing issues, problems, or concerns with a teacher can be an intimidating prospect, particularly if you’ve never before been in the position of initiating these types of conversations with authority figures. While there is no easy way to get over your initial trepidation, these discussions will get easier the more you prepare for and practice them.
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
For more information about building strong relationships with your teachers, see these CollegeVine posts:
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.