6 Things You Should Never Say to Your Professor
Writer & Editor
Editor & Writer
Writer & Editor
Editor & Writer
A lot of things change when you start college, including how you communicate with your teachers. Your professors will have different expectations than your teachers in high school did, so it's important you know what to say — and what not to say.
We asked real professors for insight into what you should never say to them. Avoid these six faux pas when speaking with your college professors.
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1. "Will This Be on the Final?"
In general, it's best not to question whether you need to remember the information your professors are teaching you. Asking questions like "Do we need to know this?" or "Will this be on the final?" is silly at best and disrespectful at worst.
"The underlying sentiment is that nothing in the class is worth paying attention to unless it garners more points on the exam," said Andrew Ward, a professor at Tulane University. "Countless hours of passionate research, course design, lesson planning, and lecture-writing, and the student asking this question couldn't. Care. Less."
2. "May I Use the Restroom?"
Students are adults in college, and professors will treat them as such. You have the agency to choose a respectful time to quietly leave to use the bathroom, so don't bother asking for permission.
"It's always a little funny when students put their hands up and ask to go to the bathroom," said Chris Drew, a professor and founder of The Helpful Professor. "If you need to go to the bathroom, just politely excuse yourself. You don't need permission!"
3. Different Excuses Based on the Professor
If you plan to skip a day of classes or can't finish an assignment in time, avoid giving different professors different excuses.
"Don't tell one lie to get an extension to one professor and another lie to the other professor," said Drew. "We communicate to corroborate stories, so get your story straight."
As with most things in life, telling the truth is your best bet. "We've heard every lie under the sun and can sniff them out a mile off," said Drew.
4. A Question You Can Easily Answer From the Syllabus
Never ask a question whose answer exists in the syllabus. Professors spend a lot of time developing the syllabus as a guide to the course and its expectations.
Asking a question with a clear answer in the syllabus can be disrespectful, not to mention frustrating.
"There are no wrong or dumb questions, so students should feel free to ask anything," said Ziad Bentahar, a professor at Towson University. "But don't ask questions like 'When are your office hours again?' unless you check the syllabus first and you are sure that that info is missing."
While it's fine to request clarification, take time to read through the syllabus before asking your professor any basic or routine questions.
5. Your Professor's First Name
Using the appropriate title for your professor is a sign of respect.
Default to calling them "Professor" followed by their last name — or even simply "Professor" — if they haven't asked you to call them something else.
"If a professor tells you how they want to be addressed, never address them otherwise," said Bentahar. "When it's not clear, 'Professor' always works because it's a general term for college instructors, even if the professor in question does not technically hold the title of professor."
Bentahar also advises students never to use Ms. or Mr. when addressing a professor. But what about "Doctor"?
"Dr. should be reserved for faculty who hold a Ph.D. or other doctorate, which is not the case for everyone and every field," said Bentahar.
6. Details of Your Illness
If you have to miss a class or submit a late assignment, professors often don't want to hear the gory details of your illness or injury.
"'I'm ill and can't make it' is sufficient," said Erin Looney, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia. "Same goes for the illnesses of your children, siblings, parents, or anyone else for whom you might have responsibility."
If you'll be out for a significant amount of time, it's fine to communicate the severity of your illness or injury.
When in doubt, be honest — but always remain professional.
With Advice From:
Andrew Ward, Ph.D.
Andrew Ward, Ph.D., earned his BA in religion from Mary Washington College. He went on to teach English literature at Polonia University in Częstochowa, Poland, for three years. At that time, he earned his M.Ed. from Framingham State College's European campus. In 2004, he moved to New Orleans, where he earned his MS in international development and Ph.D. in international economic development from Tulane University.
Ward has established and directed several nonprofit organizations in the New Orleans area. He is also the founder and director of the Wahida Unity Project, which uses music and the arts to bridge the divide between the U.S. and the Islamic world. His areas of interest include designing and implementing innovative methods of large-scale behavior change in the developing world.
Chris Drew, Ph.D.
Chris Drew is a study skills expert with a Ph.D. in education. He has over 10 years of experience in the higher education sector. He has taught in universities in Australia, the U.K., and North America. Drew runs the Helpful Professor blog, where he teaches study skills and essay writing to college students from around the world.
Dr. Ziad Bentahar
Dr. Ziad Bentahar currently serves as an associate professor of French and Arabic in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Towson University in Maryland. His research and teaching center on postcolonial North Africa. His publications include various articles on Algerian and Moroccan music, cinema, art, and society. He holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Penn State University.
Erin Looney, Ph.D.
Erin Looney, Ph.D., has been teaching in higher education online and face-to-face for 13 years while maintaining a communications career that spans another 23 years. She has worked in radio and TV broadcasting, journalism, media leadership, strategic communications, sports media, and media relations. Looney works hard to empower students by incorporating their experiences into learning, encouraging civic participation through classwork, and tailoring the learning environment to students' career and educational goals.