College and Chronic Illness: Professor Etiquette
Going into university, the teacher-student relationship changes. No longer are you one of thirty kids that your teacher knows by name; you are now a number and, typically, an unfamiliar face in a crowd of up to 300 other students.
For freshman entering university and/or those of you with a new diagnosis of a chronic condition, the professor-student relationship takes an entirely new importance. While you may have been able to escape getting to know your professors prior to illness, now it is pivotal that you create this relationship.
- Office Hours. Know them, use them, and introduce yourself to your professors within the first week or two of the semester. Let them know you’ll be in contact with information from your school’s disability center, give them an idea of who you are, and tell them you look forward to speaking with them again shortly. Ultimately, you want them to remember who you are.
- You are not required to disclose the nature of your condition. While you are required to disclose that you have one (and should via your school’s disability resource center, something I talk about here), you do not have to explain what your illness entails.
However— assuming you feel comfortable doing so—giving your professors an idea of the challenges you face may help them understand, have more empathy, and accommodate you better.
- Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t just go to your professor’s office hours once to introduce yourself; go multiple times throughout the semester. Ask for help when you need it, discuss concerns when you have them, and remain a familiar face. And go to class.
- Show Your Appreciation. Always let professors know how much their help is appreciated. Handwritten thank-you notes are the perfect, personal way to say thanks. Don’t just send an email.
Dealing with a professor who is not understanding is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Avoiding these professors is key.
- Research your professors before you choose a class. Look up your professors on ratemyprofessor.com. Look for consistent reviews. There are always going to be students who didn’t try, didn’t attend lecture, and then blame the professor and write poor reviews. Disregard those sparse negative comments. You want to look for well written, understandable, consistent comments.
- Kill ‘Em With Kindness. You catch more flies with honey. Use kindness as your first plan. Refusing to accommodate a hard working, present, and kind student is much more difficult than refusing to accommodate a student who does not care and who seems to be abusing disability accommodations.
This also helps when kindness doesn’t work and you have to get a higher power involved: if they know you are an honest, sincere, diligent student, your professor is going to have a harder time blowing off whatever higher power comes down on them. I speak from experience.
- Don’t Take No For an Answer. Kindness didn’t work? Now it’s time to put your bitch face on (expletive necessary). You’ve heard that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, right? It’s true. You have to be willing to stand up and make some noise.
If you have the proper documentation, a professor does not have the right to deny you these university-mandated accommodations. Go directly to your disability center and meet with whoever drafted your accommodation letters (which you should get first thing). Explain which professors refuse to accommodate your needs. Be explicit and clear in describing what your professor(s) refuse to help you with.
If your professor refuses to accommodate even after your resource center contacts them, then it’s time to move onto the dean of undergraduate students/affairs, and so on. Do not take no for an answer, even if that means going all the way to the school’s president.
- If All Else Fails… consider dropping the class and taking it with another professor. Your education and well being come first. If that means waiting a semester to get an A in a class rather than an undeserved C/D/F, so be it.
- Give Feedback. Go online and write your own review of your professors each semester. Your feedback can help future students with similar struggles avoid or find a particular professor.
Remember, you can assert yourself without crossing a line. University is what you make of it.
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