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Advice on Asking Instructors for Help

As a student, it can be difficult to admit that you need help, and it can sometimes be intimidating to ask your instructor for that help, but doing so demonstrates emotional maturity, that you care about your progress and success, and are ready to work to improve. In truth, most teachers are more than happy to help you, so there’s no need to be afraid. Here are a few key things to keep in mind when you approach them:

  1. Go to Their Office Hours

Sometimes it can feel intimidating to bother an instructor in their office. Don’t be afraid. Office hours are literally times dedicated to meeting with and helping students. If you need help, start by approaching an instructor during their office hours. If you're not sure where their office is or feel more comfortable setting up an appointment, send them an email saying you'd like to speak with them. Office hours meetings help instructors best understand the situation at hand and give them an opportunity to offer assistance one-on-one, rather than when they’re rushed after class.

  1. Come Prepared

An instructor can’t help you if they don’t know what the issue might be. Don’t just tell them that you don’t “understand” something; be specific. Bring examples of previous exams, papers, assignments, etc. and be able to elaborate on where you’re struggling. This can help give them a better idea of how they can best help you.

  1. Email Questions

Emailing questions to an instructor ahead of time is a great and easy way to help them prepare to help you. Contrary to popular belief, instructors don’t have ALL the information about you at their fingertips. Knowing beforehand that a specific student is going to stop by their office allows time for them to gather grades, assignments, etc. and see what the problem might be. It’s also a good tactic if you cannot make it to office hours or if you are not comfortable with talking face to face. Make sure to proofread your emails, address them with respect as a professor, and use correct grammar and punctuation; no text lingo. Also, try to consolidate and limit the number of emails you send to avoid making things too confusing or annoying.  

  1. Ask Before It’s Too Late

Do you know what an instructor can’t do? Fix your grades in the last week of class. If you talk to them about failing grades at the end of the semester, there’s pretty much nothing they can do because it is too late. Instead, ask for help early on when you first realize that you are struggling. Not only will the help be more effective and usable as it can keep you from falling behind and becoming discouraged, but your instructor is much more likely to take the time to work with you personally. Asking early shows you care and are invested in your grades and their class and it helps instructors because the end of the semester is pretty hectic for them too.

  1. Come to Class Early

If you have just a quick question, it’s all right to ask before class starts. Also, a good rule is to try to avoid asking extra questions after class ends as, just like you, they might have another class to get to.