How to build connections with teachers through professional communication

When talking to a professor, the way you address them can make or break your conversation and maybe even your grade. 

In order to make a good impression, you don’t want to call a teacher by a name they’re not comfortable with. Some enjoy being on a first name basis with students, while others get extremely offended if you address them as such.

So should you call your teacher by their first name or by their last? Are they a Mr., Ms. or Mrs.? Do they go by Professor or Dr.?

These situations are always difficult, because every teacher plays by their own rules. The easiest way to answer these questions is by paying close attention on the first day of class.

While going over the class syllabus, many teachers will explain how they prefer to be addressed, as well as how they expect students to communicate with them. Sometimes they will even include their personal do’s and don’ts in the syllabus. But if you’re in doubt, always stick to the formal approach.

Professor Alan Cring of the finance department thinks that students should communicate with professors in the most professional way possible, no matter the situation.

“A student should speak to a teacher in a manner that conveys recognition of the teacher’s status as an educated professional tasked to develop the student’s knowledge, ability to learn and capacity for productive engagement in society,” Cring said.

Illustration by Vivianne Velasquez It's important to respect your teachers and speak to them appropriately. Most teachers will let students know what they like to be called.

Illustration by Vivianne Velasquez
It’s important to respect your teachers and speak to them appropriately. Most teachers will let students know what they like to be called.

Speaking to your teacher in a professional manner shows the professor that you respect their authority. It also conveys that you are a mature adult, not just some sloppy college student.

With some professors, the tone you use in cyber space may be more important than your face-to-face communication. In a class of three hundred students, often the only time you will speak to your professor is through email. This makes it important that you compose your email using the proper language.

Terry Lowe, a business organization and management professor, says that the number one rule for contacting a teacher via email is to always include your full name, class name and class period.

“So many students don’t seem to have a clue that when their name is missing from emails, [professors] don’t have time to figure out who they are,” Lowe said.

“We often have 250 students a semester to deal with. It would be like me sending a student an email saying, ‘Don’t forget your assignment,’ but not saying who I am or what class it is about.”

While teachers always love to hear from their students, they don’t need some long-winded paragraph about how much you love the class. Keep it brief. Just greet them, ask your question, say thank you and hit ‘Send.’

When using emails, it is also important to address your professor using his or her preferred title. And before sending, be sure to spell check and rid your email of any “LOL’s” you may have accidentally thrown in out of habit.

You don’t want to be remembered as the student who offended the teacher by getting a little too comfortable. Determine your professor’s boundaries and act accordingly.

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