Communicating with Instructors

Communicating with your instructors is the best way to address any issues you experience, answer questions you have, get extra clarity, build rapport, and succeed in your course. Many instructors often comment that students reach out too late for them to truly help and that their office hours go unused.  Let your instructor become a part of your success network, open up the lines of communication with them today!

Tips when connecting with your instructor:

Check your syllabus first

Your syllabus should contain much of the information you need to begin effective communication with your instructor. Information to look for includes:

  • Instructor's contact information & preference
  • Office hour availability & location
    • May indicate preference between in-person, virtual, or phone.
  • Course readings, evaluations, & assignments
    • Verify the information you need isn't already listed. If you need further details, indicate in your email that you have checked the applicable pages (and list them).
  • Brightspace Q&A discussion board?

Email effectively

Emailing is an ideal way to kickstart your communication with your instructor. The " Emailing Your Instructor" resource will walk you through how to structure your email from start to finish, and everything in between. 

A few quick tips to get you started

  • Avoid using your personal email account
  • Ensure your email includes all 9 of the required sections to communicate effectively.
    • a clear subject line that has your course number and section and describes the nature of your email
    • a respectful and professional greeting (try "Dear" rather than "Hey") - check your course syllabus for their professional title and correct spelling of their name
    • a clear and concise message that uses professional language and avoids slang - err on the side of formality if your instructor hasn't said otherwise.
    • a polite sign off with your full name and student number
  • If you have Teaching Assistants (TAs) in your course, understand their role: they may be your first contact for questions about certain assignments or lab reports, mark your exams, or hold office hours and tutorials. Check your syllabus or course materials for details on when and how to appropriately contact your TA.
  • Be mindful that it may take a while to get a reply to your email. Instructors and TAs receive a lot of emails and won’t be able to give you an instant response. Plan ahead and try to avoid last-minute communications the night before a deadline.

Use Office Hours
  • Refer to your course syllabus for your instructor's office hour availability. There may be set hours for students to drop-in or you may have to book an appointment.  Office hours can be used to ask questions about course topics, clarify assignment criteria and expectations, or get feedback on assessments.
  • Treat online meetings like in-person meetings, though it may seem more casual. Be sure to show up on time and be prepared with the questions or concerns you would like addressed. 
  • Take advantage of office hours to build a connection with your instructor, especially if you are interested in their research or field! It could lead to an academic opportunity or reference down the road.

Ask for help early
  • Don't wait until the night before to ask an important question about an assignment or ask what will be covered on an exam. If you know you’ll have a time crunch, make sure you understand the assessment criteria so you can clarify any questions in advance.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable asking questions in class, you can still reach out! Your instructor is there to help - send an email or visit their office hours to ask your question or explain your concern.  Don't let your questions build up and cause you to fall behind.
  • Be proactive and keep in touch throughout the term. If you feel like you’re struggling or falling behind, let your instructor know - reaching out early helps them help you. 

Looking for more strategies and tips?
Check out MUN's Academic Success Centre online!