Have a problem? Tell your teacher! [book excerpt]

Not every teacher will be sympathetic every time. But most will listen sympathetically if you speak with them—in advance, or as soon as you know—and explain the situation. Students who communicate with their teachers usually get the benefit of the doubt. If you have trouble talking with a particular teacher, find another teacher or school administrator who will listen, and ask for his or her assistance.

Teachers are not mind readers. It may be obvious to you that you have a problem, but your teachers may have no idea. Let them know. If it’s something personal, you don’t have to go into great detail. “Mrs. Johnson, I’m sorry if I’m not my usual self today, but I’m having some personal problems, and I’m kind of upset.” Most teachers will be sympathetic, and quite willing to offer special accommodations, if you need them. Students who have been reliable and honest in the past will almost certainly receive sympathetic treatment in such circumstances. (Those who have not been reliable may have more trouble earning their teachers’ trust—another good reason to develop the habit of being reliable!)

In most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again . . . . We must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us.

—William James, American psychologist and philosopher (1842-1910)

Having trouble with homework? The same rule applies. Let’s say the assignment is due, but yours isn’t ready to hand in. What do you say when the teacher asks for your homework? If all you say is, “I don’t have it”, what is the teacher supposed to think? Unfortunately, teachers will often assume the worst: that you were lazy, or disorganized, or inattentive—and maybe even that you don’t really care about the class, or about school in general.

If you’re reading this book, then you do care about school and want to do well. So how do you let the teacher know?

You probably don’t want to have a conversation with the teacher during class. First, it will take up valuable class time. Second, it will probably be overheard by your classmates, and that might be a bit embarrassing—or very embarrassing.

A better approach: if you don’t have a good excuse for not completing the homework, write a note of apology and give it to the teacher at the start of class, or earlier in the school day if you can. (Apologize, fix it, and move on.) If you usually hand your work in on time, your good track record will encourage the teacher to go easy on you. Then finish that homework, and hand it in!

If you do have a legitimate reason for not completing the homework on time, write a brief note explaining the circumstances, letting the teacher know when you will be able to hand in the work and asking if that is okay.

Finally, if you know in advance that you won’t be able to complete the assignment on time because of some unusual situation, speak with the teacher in advance, explain the problem, and ask if you could have a time extension. If you’re going to have the same problem in several classes, speak with your homeroom teacher or advisor and ask him or her for help in informing your teachers.

If you’re honest, reliable, and responsible about communicating openly and courteously, you will have few problems with your teachers. Occasionally you’ll meet one who’s just mean. In that case be as polite as you can and walk the other way whenever possible.

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