I have dedicated a significant portion of my career in higher education so far to working with students who have struggled academically. For me, it is one of the most gratifying experiences that I have had and I like to tell these students, when I meet with them one-on-one or in a classroom setting for Academic Recovery seminar, what an honor and privilege it is to work with them to get them back on track. Now that I have developed an interest and skill set specific to this population of students, I’d like to offer up one tip, one very important tip, that can be a game changer. In order to implement this tip, students need to find the inner courage to do what they have always wanted to do but either felt too embarrassed to do it, or they thought, “What difference would it make?” or they trusted second-hand opinions from friends over the primary source. I’m talking about the extreme value in having students talk to their faculty...GULP!
I often ask students if they ever reached out to talk to their professor for the course regarding their difficulty in understanding something (say, for instance, why they did poorly on a paper or exam). More often than not, I hear them say they haven’t, either because 1) they wouldn’t know what to say, 2) they were too intimidated to approach their professor, or 3) they just never thought to even approach their professor! What I tend to do next (and enjoy greatly) is walking them through a scenario of how they could go about approaching their faculty member. Could they get to class early or linger back after? Could they send an email instead of approaching them in person? Or, and this is a big one, could they go to their office hours or make an appointment? I like to challenge them to think about how they would envision this going for them, what they would ask, and how they would feel about themselves once they did it.
One of the best feelings I reap as an advisor is when a student, especially one who needs to get their grades up in order to keep studying at the University I work for, comes to me and says that it worked, that it was easy and relieving to visit with their professor. What’s even better? When it changes their paradigm about what it means to be in the role of student and professor - that faculty are able to learn from students and not just the other way around.
The time-tested adage of “Every journey starts with a single step” has never rung more true, and once students take the advice and talk to their faculty...well, they tend to keep on with their journey and tend to ask themselves, “What else can I do?”
Assistant Director of Advising & Academic Services
University of Maine