What Not to Say to Your Professor

One of the things that we talk about a lot in leadership is trying to be empathetic and understand the perspective of those you lead.  I normally have a pretty easy time putting myself in other people’s shoes and I really value diversity, so this is typically a fairly easy exercise for me.  In fact, sometimes I think I make concessions that I shouldn’t make because I feel for the other person.

But today is not one of those days!

Today, I’m tired and busy.  And one too many student has said one of those things that really, really frustrate me.  So, since this is supposed to be a reflective blog…I’m going to reflect aloud to the world in an attempt to gain some empathic perspective.

Here are the things I’ve heard today that have just nearly sent me over the edge (along with my personal interpretation & my attempt at an empathic hearing):

1.  Did I miss anything in class on Monday?

  • What I hear: I couldn’t be bothered to come to class on Monday, but now I’d like you to do double the work by teaching all of it to me again.
  • What you probably mean: I’m trying to make sure I haven’t missed anything and would like to double-check that with you.

2.  I’m not going to be in your class because I’ve got to prepare for another class.

  • What I hear: Your class is not as important as this other class I have.
  • What you probably mean: I’m making the effort to tell you that I’m not going to be there because your class is important to me and I’m hoping you’ll be understanding.

3.  What do I have to do to pass this class?

  • What I hear: I’m looking to do the bare minimum in your class, but want to make sure that I come out okay in the end and I need you to make sure that happens.
  • What you probably mean: I’m just trying to survive!

4.  Is there extra credit?

  • What I hear: I can’t be bothered to do my work, but I’d like you to do extra work to create some way for me to get the grade I want.
  • What you probably mean: Ouch! That test was harder than I expected it to be and I just didn’t prepare adequately.

The reality is that as a teacher or a leader, I often do understand where you are coming from…but I have feelings too.  And sometimes the things that are inadvertently conveyed to me begin to pile up and take their toll.  I think there’s a lesson for all of us here as both leaders and followers:

Think twice about what you’re saying and how it might be received. (Tweet This)


P.S. And for any students reading this who want to ask the questions above, I’d suggest the following instead:

1.  “I’m going to miss class on Monday (meaning you’ve contacted your professor several days ahead of time), I see in the syllabus that we are covering ___________, how can I best make sure that I learn the material you’ll cover in class?”

2.  Please, just don’t say this.  Prepare early enough for your other classes that you don’t have to tell me that my class is insignificant and unimportant!  Professors do understand what it’s like to balance multiple classes and that everyone has a crazy day, but because we too go to multiple classes & have to be prepared for each of them every day, it’s really hard to hear this from you.

3.  “I have struggled up to this point in the semester and would like to see this through and really learn the material.  How might I adapt the way I’m studying/writing/preparing? And do you think it’s possible for me to get out of the hole I’ve dug for myself?”

4.  Okay, so I can’t think of any other way to say this, so maybe go ahead and ask.  Maybe just don’t count on extra credit all of the time. :)