Students in a college class
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Every so often students run into a course where they struggle through the entire semester. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. Sometimes the trouble with a class lies with the student's study habits, other times the issue may lie with compatibility with the class subject matter or structure. For others, the problem may be due to the fact the professor teaching the course is not very responsive.

What happens if the problem isn't necessarily the subject matter and you are certain the problem is not with your study habits?

Has This Ever Happened to You?

Imagine this scenario: Earlier in the semester you'd casually approached your instructor with some academic concerns but you were brushed off. As the weeks go by you may feel as if you are sinking deeper in the hole because of the lack of response you had initially received from your instructor. You try again, but still do not really receive any assistance and left perhaps feeling like a fly as your instructor swatted you away. As a result, each class becomes even more overwhelming due to the little to no response on the part of your instructor.

If this has ever happened to you, don't despair, it has probably happened to most students at one time or another. Most professors are good and truly want to help students in need (or at the very least provide some direction and refer the student to a place he or she can get help), but the reality there are just some professors who are not as responsive. 1 If this situation arises, the key is knowing how to effectively deal with this problem and find workable solutions to solve it. It takes a little proactive effort, but if successful, could change the direction of your semester.

Having a professor who isn't willing to help you can be very frustrating. This is especially true if you have made attempts to deal with your situation. What do you do when you have an unhelpful professor?

Talk It Out

One of the first things to do is to try one more sincere attempt to open dialogue and discuss the problem.

Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Talking is the best place to start when it comes to problems with other people, including professors.

If this does not work, try to make another opportunity to approach your professor; he or she may have initially misunderstood and didn't realize you needed extra help or did not completely hear your concern. Or if he or she did realize it and chose not to help, try to explain your feelings about your struggles, it could be with a more direct understanding he or she will address your issue or offer a solution.

Often conflict is resolved by directly speaking with a professor one-on-one. Be sure to pick a time not during a class when it's busy or immediately after class hours when he or she may have another commitment to get to. Instead, you might have better results approaching your professor and ask how to set an appointment.

Visit Student Services

Talking is usually the best course of action to resolve a situation, but you may have to take additional steps to find a solution to your problem. If the problem is an academic issue, you might want to check with your college's student support center and look for tutoring services; many colleges offer this service free of charge. Contacting student support services can also help you bridge those issues relating to academic subject matter if your professor isn't teaching the material in a way you grasp the concepts. It might be that you need the material presented in a different way. Don't suffer through the situation frustrated, seek help.

Pathology Student Sleeping
Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography on Flickr/CC BY 2.0 with attribution

Contact Administrators

If the issue relates to material not being covered or is about other academic problems, and talking to your instructor does not bring you resolution, you may want to put a call in to speak with the head of the department. Colleges are structured by academic departments and each one is headed (usually) by a senior faculty member. It's a good idea to talk with the chairperson and see if they can adequately address your concerns.

If talking to the departmental head doesn't bring a resolution and the problem is pretty severe, you might want to contact the associate dean/dean who oversees the department. Hopefully, you'll have gotten resolution long before doing this, but know this is a potential avenue. Taking it to this level in an academic facility is extreme and is not the best way to go unless the problem is a serious issue or the situation has worsened and your good academic status is now in jeopardy.

Be Proactive

You can ignore the situation, but this is likely to escalate the problem. The majority of the time issues between faculty and students can be resolved by a conversation, but if not, taking the discussion to a higher level may help. What is most important is to approach the situation with a professional and proactive attitude. Getting nasty or reacting with anger will not bring resolution, but assertively pursuing resolution to your problem can.

Whether you deal with it on the professor, department head, dean or higher level, make sure you carry yourself with a high degree of professionalism and choose your words carefully. If you send emails, be sure these write your messages using tact. 

Computer keyboardCredit: (Public Domain)

There is one other thing you can do if you feel the situation spiraled out of control and took away from valuable learning time. If your professor did not address it or did not help to your satisfaction, document it. Towards the end of a semester many colleges will usually distribute student surveys either in class or through a survey site (I used to distribute these in a former life and would always encourage students to fill them out regardless of the type of feedback they had). Be sure to take the opportunity and fill the questionnaire out - and do it thoroughly. If there is room for additional comments, in the case of an unhelpful professor, you'll want to fill that section out too.

These surveys are routed to the department head and/or the dean and, depending on the school, may ultimately make it back to your professor. Make yourself heard! These surveys are anonymous unless you want to sign your name. Again, be professional and constructive in your comments. If enough comments come back to the college where there seems to be a pattern with a specific faculty member, you'll be doing future students an important service.