How to Develop Positive Relationships with Your Teachers
Sometimes being a student can feel a little more like being an audience member in a show you’d probably rather get a refund for, except that you can’t because you’re mandated by law (and probably your parents) to be in class five days a week where you are expected to pay attention, complete assignments, and pass tests. It sure can feel like you don’t have a lot of freedom. But actually, you do.
In any given situation, you always have the option to claim a certain amount of control.
One way to exercise this control is to choose activity rather than passivity whenever possible. And one great way to be more active is to develop positive relationships with your teachers. In fact, this could be the very key to revolutionizing your whole scholastic experience.
Teachers are so much more than experts on the subjects they teach. They are mentors who, given the chance, can provide you with support and even offer life-changing advice. They are also community members who may know about all kinds of local competitions, activities, internships, or scholarships. Plus, don’t forget that they are are the ones you will need to ask for college application letters of recommendation. If they don’t know you, how can they write letters promoting you?
If nothing else, having personal connections with teachers will deepen your investment in their classes, leading to more enjoyment, more desire to pay attention, and more motivation to do well.
Before we get into some suggestions for taking an active role and cultivating good relationships with your teachers, a couple points of caution to keep in mind:
Don’t be too pushy. You typically want to stay away from interrupting people or taking teachers away from their work too often. Furthermore, careful not to instigate unnecessary conflict. Questioning a grade or asking to retake a test once is fine, but challenging missed points on assignments or asking for extra credit all the time may put a strain on your relationship with your teacher.
Don’t be a suck-up. Teachers can usually tell when your only motivation is to get a college recommendation letter or special treatment. Hogging teacher time or coming off as overly sycophantic will probably cause your classmates to resent you too.
What to Do in Class
Show up to class regularly and on time.
Punctuality is about more than keeping up with class material and maintaining your attendance score; it’s about demonstrating respect and integrity. It’s showing you’re ready to take advantage of the opportunities presented to you.
Act engaged in class.
To acknowledge you hear what the teacher is saying (and to aid in your concentration), try nodding your head in agreement, reacting with facial expressions, taking notes, and participating in class discussions. When you look and act interested in class, teachers notice and feel both appreciated and appreciative. Plus, you’ll feel more personally connected to the material, and the teacher.
If you know you will have to miss class or if you don’t understand something, clearly let your teacher know by asking questions before, during, and/or after class. You’ll stay caught up, increase self-efficacy, and demonstrate your commitment to succeeding.
If a teacher asks you to do something, such as group work, comply readily and even take a leadership approach if you can. Being a self-starter, rather than a dawdler who needs to be asked twice, will remind you of control you have while enhancing the positive bond between you and your teachers.
Always treat everyone well.
I know you already know this one, but sometimes we get lazy and let our inner-bullies make snappy comments to classmates. Be aware that your teachers observe your interactions, which provide more data about your character. Only you have control over your kindness and helpfulness.
What to Do Outside of Class
Make an appointment with your teacher.
If there isn’t enough time before or after classes to interface with your teachers, you can often schedule a private conference during lunch or a free period. Now you’re really taking things into your own hands! Privately, you’ll be free to discuss topics such as your progress in class, mutual interests, and possible extracurricular opportunities. At the very least, you will have showcased your willingness to succeed.
When talking with a teacher outside of class, showing interest in anything about their lives can help you develop rapport. You can ask questions, and then remember to check in later about those personal details they’ve shared with you. Don’t forget that listening during interactions will tend to make you more likable, so aim for a good balance of talking and listening.
Be your genuine self.
(First of all, always be your genuine self wherever you are!) In front of your teachers, you don’t need to be the perfect student. You can share honest details about your life, dreams, or concerns. Showing vulnerability humanizes people, leading to more understanding and appreciation of one another.
Get involved in activities outside of class.
Going to optional review sessions or volunteering for a campus cleanup your teacher is hosting shows initiative and that you care about yourself and others. When you volunteer, you show yourself you have choices, and you choose to invest in your life.
You can see how much control you can have over your classroom experience. You can start small; do something a little differently in class, and see how it feels. Be open to seeing your role as a student differently. If you feel intimidated by certain teachers, don’t forget that sometimes initial impressions can be quite deceiving. What you perceive as a “mean” teacher who “doesn’t like you” could just be a stressed out teacher. Or perhaps a strict, albeit caring, teacher hoping to use discipline as a way to motivate you.* Give them a chance and you might be surprised what you get out of connecting more with your teachers.
In the end, of course, it’s completely your choice whether to be a passive audience member or an active cast member.
*Sometimes, teachers are legitimately mean or inappropriately harsh, in which case please let your counselor or school admin know as soon as possible.
Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance.