Personal relationships with professors

Bethany Berry, Contributing Writer

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Professor Jamie Thompson and sophomore Natalie Martinez exchange story ideas for an assignment in Thompson’s Feature Writing class. Photo by Marquel Plavan.

Students frequently reminisce about their favorite memories from their typical University of Dallas “feeder” high schools.

“This one time at St. Greg’s, my professor…”

“At the Heights, we would always smoke cigars with our headmaster…”

If you have memories like that, you might wonder what we can do to foster such an atmosphere here at UD. Or you might wonder whether such a comfortable, personal relationship with our teachers is attainable in a university setting.

A major roadblock to better relationships with our teachers here at UD isn’t a problem of the professors. It’s our lack of time or interest as students.

Dr. Susan Hanssen, Associate Professor of history, thinks that one way to build those relationships is for students to take a greater interest in their professors’ interests.

“Sometimes students don’t seem to know much about their professors,” Hanssen said. “Making use of a professor’s website and syllabus they provide can be an easy way to take interest in what they have written or studied.”

Professor Nicole Lasswell, Affiliate Instructor of modern languages, offered another solution.

“Take advantage of our office hours,” Lasswell said. “You start out talking about the class but end up having a great conversation. My door is always open to my students.”

And for those of you who don’t know, Lasswell’s doors open to an office rivaling that of an Anthropology catalog. Her décor reflects the open and friendly manner with which she interacts with students.

This advice may seem simple, but it’s true that few students take advantage of office hours.

“Time,” junior Katie McIntyre said when asked what she feels stops her from visiting a teacher’s office. “I usually assume that teachers are incredibly busy.”

In response, Dr. Richard Olenick, physics professor made a suggestion.

“They shouldn’t assume that,” Dr. Olenick said. “Except, you should never walk into a professor’s office and say ‘Do you have time?’ or ‘Am I bothering you?’ because usually everyone will make time. Instead say, ‘May I ask you some questions?’ about whatever it is you wish to ask about. We always feel we have to be apologetic, but teachers are there waiting and looking forward to students coming by.”

Something else that might deter students from visiting a teacher’s office is the fear of looking like a suck-up.

I asked Professor Lasswell what she thought about this.

“You can always tell someone’s intentions — you can read that,” Lasswell said. “In my experience, UD students tend to be genuine and kind.”

Another common suggestion from teachers is to attend faculty events like Wine Down Wednesday or Quiz Bowl.

“In this more relaxed setting, you get the chance to see a different side of your teachers,” Lasswell said.

The consensus among teachers was the importance of respect in the classroom.

“The most painful thing to a professor is to give your time and heart into your work and have a student simply not pay attention,” Lasswell said.

Many students forget that the relationship goes both ways. If you are constantly on Facebook during class or falling asleep, don’t expect to enjoy your teachers during your time here.

Instead, if it’s clear that you have not been paying attention in class or have been disrespectful, it’s important to correct that. Even if we don’t share a professor’s enthusiasm for a subject, we can still respect the time dedicated to the topic.

Overall, Dr. Hanssen makes an excellent point when it comes to getting to know your teachers.

“Students are transient — they come and stay for four years — but teachers are for the most part permanent,” Dr. Hanssen said.

The responsibility falls on us, as students, to make the effort to get to know our teachers and to take advantage of the resources our school offers.

In return, our teachers will share their experiences with us, and we will build the memories of friendship with those who taught us.

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