A student recently wrote RWU about having to deal with a difficult professor. To this student, I offered the following advice:

Dear Student,

Thanks for writing me. I hope I can offer you some advice that might help you withstand your nightmare of a professor.

Without having met this professor personally, I will suggest one thing that is almost guaranteed to work on any professor:

Let’s face it, we as professors can be full of ourselves (and full of other stuff too) – because we believe we have excellent credentials, and we feel we know more about a subject than the average person does. That doesn’t make it right to adopt an elitist attitude, but that’s usually what most of us (professors) do.

Although professors are just like you and me, teaching gives us a perceived power that we unfortunately force on students sometimes. If you want to win over your professor, reinforce your professor’s position by letting him know that you are lost in the class. However, never blame him for the reason you feel lost (even if he is). Eat humble pie, and take full responsibility for his inability to teach. Again, this goes against traditional logic of standing up for what you believe in, but it is more important to win the war than the battle. Remember that.

A friend of my dad once told me, “Always pat a lion on the head as long as you have a hand in his mouth.” I never really understood what he meant until I had a racist professor who wouldn’t give me the time of day, let alone the help I needed to do well in his class. I learned how to eat humble pie and pat that lion on the head until I got out of his class (with a B+); then I proceeded to file a formal complaint with his Dean about his bigotry.

Given that fact, here are some phrases that professors cannot resist. Use them on your professor (as you pat him on the head), and I think you will begin to see him melt like an ice cube.

1. Professor X, I need your help.

2. Professor X, if you were a student in your class, what would YOU do to get an “A” in your class?

3. Professor X, I’m not getting the kind of grades I know I can in your class; if you don’t mind being candid with me, “What do you think I’m doing wrong?”

4. Professor X, other than the text, what other outside resources would you recommend I use to help me in your class?

5. Professor X, would you mind if I came by during your office hours to get some additional help?

6. Professor X, what do you think the key is to mastering (whatever the subject is)?

These are just some of the phrases that I used on my professors, and they worked like a charm. I can’t say that they’re guaranteed to work for you, but they certainly did for me. Also, some of my students have actually used them on me (and they work). Give it a shot, and let me know what happens. If there is anything else I can do for you, please do not hesitate to write (jmartin@rwuniversity.com).

Don’t let this professor get the best of you. You only have to see him or her for a short period of time during your college career. Regardless of how mad he makes you or how incompetent he may seem, treat him as if he only had 24 hours to live. Not only will your perspective change, you will also feel less stressed.

I wish you the best of luck, and as always, live purposefully!

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