You don’t want a grumpy teacher. It’s as simple as that. A grumpy teacher grading your paper is like a dentist with a migraine working on your teeth: painful for both of you.
So, as you get this near school year started, it makes sense to spend a little time reflecting on how to keep the professors in your life happy. You could always try some of the more time-honored techniques for maintaining professorial happiness–e.g.
bribes gifts, flattery, random acts of service. And those might work on some professors. But if you really want to worm your way into the heart of your favorite teacher, here’s what you need to do.
1. Nail the Easy Stuff
The first step is to take care of business: hand your work in on time, don’t be late for class, at least pretend to be interested in the lectures–try to look up from your laptop on occasion so they think you’re actually listening–and, for the love of all that is holy, don’t text in class! Seriously, even if you hold the phone where you think we can’t see it, we know what you’re doing.
There’s a whole range of relatively easy things you can do to make your new prof happy. If you can master the easy stuff, you’ll have a strong foundation for a good relationship. Miss the easy stuff and you’re doomed.
2. Participate, But Don’t Dominate
When we had our first child, I developed a way of quickly putting people in one of two categories: genius or jerk. If you saw my daughter, smiled at her, and commented on her obvious amazingness, genius. If you glanced at her and walked by with neither smile nor comment, you were obviously a terrible person that I wouldn’t want my daughter to be around anyway. Jerk.
One of the fastest ways to anyone’s heart is to be interested in what they’re passionate about.
The same works in class. If you’re engaged in discussions, asking questions and responding to ideas, I’ll get jazzed as a teacher. If you miss the conversation because you’re too busy texting, I’ll let the air out of your tires and make you walk home.
The trick, though, is not to overdo it. If you find that you’re participating three times as much as any other student, tone it down. At that point, and probably before, you’re interfering with other people’s ability to interact and learn. That is the not the path to professorial happiness.
3. Learn Something You Didn’t Need To
Really showing that you’re excited about a class, though, is more than just getting animated during an interesting discussion. For me the surest sign that a student is fully engaged is when the student starts pursuing topics on their own: when they’re interested enough to get curious and excited enough to pursue new learning beyond what is required.
Now I realize that life can be a problem here. Sometimes you just don’t have enough bandwidth to chase things that aren’t required. And we understand that. But when you can, do. It’s good for you, and it’s exciting for us.
4. Connect Your Learning with Your Life
Few things make a teacher happier than hearing a student connect what they’ve been learning with something outside of class. It could as small as suddenly realizing that math helps in the grocery store or as complex as connecting the image of God to life and death issues as a pastor. It doesn’t really matter. Either way your professor will get excited because it shows that (1) you’re thinking about your coursework even when you’re not in class or doing homework and (2) you are understanding the material deeply enough to apply it in new contexts. That’s where all the good stuff happens.
So, if you’re walking around the grocery store and you suddenly make a connection with something you’ve been learning in class, share the experience with your teacher and your class. It will put the teacher in a good mood and benefit everyone.
5. Share Resources
This one is similar to the last. If you’re browsing the internet (I mean, doing research for the paper that’s due tomorrow), and you suddenly come across a news article or blog post that illustrates something your professor discussed in class that morning, by all means email her the link. Once again, your teacher will be encouraged that you’re connecting class material to new topics. And you’re also providing a possibly valuable resource. She may not ever use it, but she’ll appreciate the thought.
I considered making the final one a simple “thank you.” It may seem like a little thing, but a sincere word of thanks from a student at the end of a long and difficult semester is priceless.
But I’ll take it a step further. The thing that encourages a good professor more than anything else is seeing students succeed in life after they’ve left the classroom. So the greatest “thank you” is to hear from a student years later that what they learned made a difference in their life and the lives of the people around them. That’s why most of us are in this business.
I realize that this one isn’t going to help this semester. So you’ll need to be altruistic enough to want to make your teacher happy when he or she isn’t your teacher anymore. But I’m naive enough to think that you want to make your teacher happy, not simply because you want a good grade, but because you like your teacher. If so, a good follow-up report years later is priceless. (And you’ll be doing their current students a favor by putting the teacher in a good mood. A little academic karma can’t hurt.)
I’m sure there are plenty of other things you could do, but those were the ones at the top of my list of things that make teachers happy.
[This post is part of our Back to School series, exploring a variety of things we can do to get the new school year started right. Follow along and let us know what you think.]