How do you get your college student to go out of their comfort zone and reach out to their professors and foster relationships with them?
So many professors I’ve talked to over the years feel very sad that more students don’t come to office hours.
Students don’t realize how refreshing and enlivening their “student energy” can be, and what a pleasure it is for teachers to converse with the curious, uninitiated and possibly future members of their scholarly brethren! And yet students are over there hiding in the shadows, cultivating many myths that deter them from reaching out and connecting on a human level with the humans who are teaching them.
Here are some myths many students have about what their professors are thinking.
Actually, many faculty like teaching because they like talking about what they love. Show up for office hours and give them a reason to wax poetic on the things that matter to them. Let them shine their light of enthusiasm on you!
Professors count on students to bring their unique viewpoints and ideas into the academic dialogue. Discussion around these ideas yields tomorrow’s new sociological applications, scientific discoveries, political solutions, etc. Your “silly idea” might be the crisp clear question that opens a new line of inquiry and gets your professor (and the whole class) thinking about the subject in a fresh way.
Au contraire! Student questions mean you’re thinking beyond the lecture. They like that. And it means you’re awake.
Being a teacher usually means you have a basic appreciation and need for human contact. If all teachers get to do is look out at a sea of faces (or Zoom screens) all day and never get to actually connect with any of you, their lives are much less interesting.
Professors deserve and expect your respect. Sign up for appointments ahead of time if possible. Come with specific questions and be thinking about what you want to talk about. If you’re just coming to make contact, think about what it is you want to get from your time together. They know you might some day want a letter of recommendation from them for grad school (or an internship, fellowship or scholarship application), but don’t assume they'll want to do that for you if you haven't put an effort into forming a real connection.
So I suggest your student prepare for a conversation with a professor in one of several ways:
And finally, about getting out of the comfort zone. It might be a good time to recall some other uncomfortable things your student has experienced and have them remember the whole picture, not just the time of discomfort.
You can help them see that, for example, when they were twelve years old and you had them go up to the deli counter to get change for a $10 they didn’t collapse into tears. They tolerated the discomfort and then it went away and they felt all big and bad after fulfilling their mission!
If they’ve never had the opportunity to do something uncomfortable at such a small scale, practice. All manner of tolerable discomforts and successful missions await!