Dealing with Problems: Dealing with Instructor or Grade Conflicts

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Oct 26, 2010

At some point in your schooling, you’re likely to have instructors whom you love (and who enjoy you), instructors who are neutral, and instructors who seem to dislike you and give you problems. Even good students come across instructors who seem to simply dislike them and appear to treat them unfairly. How do you handle a problem with an instructor? And what about a grade that you think is unfair?

Many students just sulk in silence and feel powerless, but you can and should seek to resolve any differences you have with a particular instructor. And if you think you’ve received an unfair grade, it’s your right as a student to at least get an explanation of why you received that grade.

The following sections discuss how to effectively handle instructor and grade conflicts. Note that the best way isn’t to storm in and make accusations, but to handle the confrontation in a way that’s conducive to positive results. You’re unlikely to make much progress if you accuse the instructor of “having it in for you” or “picking on you.” Instead, approach the problem calmly and objectively.

Handling Instructor Problems

If you have a problem with a particular instructor, first consider whether your attitude or actions in class are the cause of the problem. Ask yourself and honestly answer the following questions about your behavior:

  • Are you the class clown? Do you make jokes (at the instructor’s expense or the expense of classmates)?
  • Do you bother your classmates? Bully them? Make fun of them? Talk to them and get them in trouble? This disrupts the class for everyone.
  • Do you pay attention in class? Or are you daydreaming? Or talking? Or passing notes?
  • Do you turn your homework assignments in on time? Or do you forget, make excuses, or just skip certain (or all) assignments?
  • Are you a know-it-all? Many instructors don’t like a student who seems to know everything and is constantly correcting the instructor or interjecting comments about what the student knows (whether relevant or not) in a class discussion or lecture.
  • Are you respectful to your instructor? Or do you make snide comments, make fun of the instructor, or otherwise seek to undermine the instructor’s role in the classroom?

If You’re the Problem

If any of the questions in the preceding section describe your actions in class, you are mostly to blame for your instructor’s attitude toward you. You need to change your priorities, actions, and attitude and earn the respect of your instructor. To start, discuss with the instructor what problems you cause in class. If the instructor is effective, he or she will try to look beyond the behavior for underlying problems. For example, are you having trouble with the homework and making a joke of it? If so, perhaps you need tutoring to build your confidence in your studies. Are you having problems at home? Do you have a disability, such as dyslexia or ADD/ADHD, that prevents you from reading and comprehending assignments. If so, you can seek school or outside help for these challenges.

When you and your instructor have agreed on the disruptions and problems that need to stop and have identified any underlying educational or other issues that need to be resolved, you can make a plan and come to an agreement about how your actions will change (and be rewarded). Instructors respect honesty, and if you treat them with respect (and sincerely apologize for those times when you didn’t), they are likely to give you another chance.

If the teacher isn’t helpful, you need to take responsibility for your own progress. Again, you may want to consider tutoring. Or you may consider setting up a study group and working with other classmates. Learning collaboratively may enhance the learning experience and help you improve your grades.

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