(I finished my last post really late at night on Friday, and I don’t usually blog on Mondays, but I did promise a sneak peek into the book. Amazon doesn’t have these pages in their Look Inside, but I do! The book is formatted into 36 very short chapters with the same headers throughout, which is explained below. I mentioned in this post that I had a conversation with a student, one that really hit me, and that was the reason why I started the list. The list started the book. So, my wonderful blog audience… here is the introduction to Say This, NOT That to Your Professor. Tomorrow, Tuesday, we are really back to the usual blog material! Here’s the intro that’s in the book…)
The Real Story
Nicole, a student advisee, sat in my office, firing off complaints about her professor.
(Quick disclaimer: Throughout this book, you’ll read many examples like this one. I’ll tell you when the student has a valid point—and when the student doesn’t.)
In this case, Nicole was pissed because she couldn’t follow what was happening in class.
I said, “So what have you told the professor about this?”
Nicole replied, “Nothing. I don’t know what to say.”
I said, “Well, how can the professor help you if she doesn’t know you’re struggling?”
Nicole shot back, “I’m just going to fail. I know it.”
“Well, you don’t have to fail. You could go talk to the prof.”
“But I don’t get what’s going on. She doesn’t really care, anyway. If she did, she’d know I’m struggling. It’s not like my grades have been good.”
“Do you want her to come to you?” I asked, sincerely, but firmly.
Nicole didn’t answer.
“Seriously, Nicole,” I said, looking right into her eyes. “What’s your role in getting your needs met here? Isn’t this your education?”
Nicole still didn’t say anything.
Just reading our exchange, you may think I was being confrontational, but Nicole and I had an excellent relationship. She’d taken classes with me before, and I knew I could speak to her straight. But my words weren’t making an impact.
I realized Nicole just didn’t know what to say. I made a mistake by not coaching her with the right words. What’s sad is that I knew with every fiber of my being that if Nicole said nothing at all, she could easily slip through the cracks and fail the class—all because she couldn’t or wouldn’t communicate with that professor.
After our meeting, I started keeping a little list in my desk drawer. A “What Your Professor Wishes You Knew” list. I didn’t have any plans for the list. I didn’t even know why I was keeping it.
As time passed, I noticed changes in the way students were communicating. I saw students all over campus staring at their phones and texting, rather than engaging in conversation while hanging out or waiting for class to begin.
Then, my own students had other issues that required discussion: A late paper, an absence, a failing grade. And I found myself going, “What, what, wha?” in my head over crazy things students would say. Sometimes, I’d want to slap my forehead (that’s right, I’d want to slap myself!) in frustration because students were doing nothing to help their academic issues (remember Nicole?). Instead, they were sabotaging their education when a simple early conversation and a continued connection with me could have salvaged their grade and made them feel a heck of a lot better about their classes and their college experience. Bottom line: Students’ communication was changing, and not necessarily for the better.
The bigger problem? Most professors, including myself, won’t usually sit the student down and say, “Hey, do you realize you aren’t handling this well?” So the disconnect and poor communication continues.
(For the sake of length of this post, I’m going to skip the few paragraphs here talking about the importance of communication in college; you can see these pages on Amazon).
How to Use This Guide
Say This, NOT That to Your Professor is meant to stay with you at all times, either in your backpack or on a digital device. You’ll want to have this information accessible so you have the right words to deal with an immediate class-related crisis.
Before you start your classes (or as soon as you have this book), take a quick look at topics in the Table of Contents, such as Absences, Grades, Late Work, etc. When one of these situations hits home (or, better yet, even before you have that problem), skip to that section and learn…
The Real Story: Examples of actual students who’ve faced this situation (whose names and identifying information have been changed for anonymity) and how they handled it—or more likely, mishandled it, and…
The Back Story: A rare glimpse inside a professor’s mind. You’ll learn what a professor really thinks about the way students speak or behave in that situation. Better yet, The Back Story takes you behind the scenes of college policies and class procedures that may hurt you if you don’t know how to navigate them. But the right words can empower you, which is exactly what we want to happen.
Once you’ve gained background on your situation, the next sections will move you into positive verbal action.
Ask Yourself This and Think This, Not That will help you evaluate current communication patterns and encourage you to change unproductive thoughts you may have about your situation, then…
Say This (the brass ring!) gives you an actual script to practice—or a guide to use and then substitute with your own words—before meeting with your prof to resolve an issue.
The words I’m giving you here are professional, proactive, and effective. They are the words that a prof wants you to say, rather than some of those other, less productive things you might say. Use these phrases and you’ll earn respect from your professors. You’ll have a far greater chance of achieving the outcomes you want. You’ll even have early practice dealing with similar issues when you replace your professor’s title with that of a supervisor or boss. Isn’t that awesome?
Not That shows the ineffective, clueless statements many students use when dealing with a particular class-related problem—things you may be tempted to say yourself.
Are you ready to give yourself an amazing class and college experience?
Are you ready to find your voice? Let’s begin the conversation!
(Psst: This is in the book, too, but I’m going to start doing some inside the book tweets with the hashtag #STNT (Say This, NOT That). You can also “Like” The Chatty Professor on Facebook and start dialogue or ask questions there).
PS: Like I said in this post about breaking down the barriers and just being vulnerable, what should Nicole have said? “Professor, I’m struggling in this class. This is a difficult discussion for me because I have a lot of fear that I’m just going to fail the class. I haven’t wanted to bring this up because I’ve been trying to figure things out for myself, but I definitely need some help with what we’re learning. I’m falling behind.”
Bottom line? And I say this a bunch of times in the book: The onus is always, always, always on the student to seek out the professor for help… not the other way around! Best news of all? I’m giving you the words to say to start those conversations!
Okay! More tomorrow! Back to regular business. But if you ever have any questions about the book, or anything else, you can always e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org!