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Ten Tips for Talking to Teachers

Jim Delisle, Ph.D. & Judy Galbraith, M.A.

Are you having a problem with a class or an assignment?  Can you see room for improvement in how a subject is taught?  Do you have a better idea for a special project or term paper?  Don't just tell your friends.  Talk to the teacher!

Many students don't know how to go about doing this.  The following suggestions are meant to make it easier for everyone - students and teachers.


Make an appointment to meet and talk.  This shows the teacher that you're serious and you have some understanding of his or her busy schedule.  Tell the teacher about how much time you'll need, be flexible, and don't be late.


If you know other students who feel the way you do, consider approaching the teacher together.  There's strength in numbers.  If a teacher hears the same thing from four or five people, he or she is more likely to do something about it.


Think through what you want to say before you go into your meeting with the teacher.  Write down your questions or concerns.  Make a list of the items you want to cover.  You may even want to copy your list for the teacher so both of you can consult it during your meeting.  (Or consider giving it to the teacher ahead of time.)


Choose your words carefully.  Example:  Instead of saying, "I hate doing reports; they're boring and a waste of time," try, "Is there some other way I could satisfy this requirement?  Could I do a video instead?"  Strike the word "boring" from your vocabulary.  It's a word that's not helpful for teachers (and it might even make them mad.)


Don't expect the teacher to do all of the work or propose all of the answers.  Be prepared to make suggestions, offer solutions, even recommend resources.  The teacher will appreciate that you took the initiative.


Be diplomatic, tactful, and respectful.  Teachers have feelings, too.  And they're more likely to be responsive if you remember that the purpose of your meeting is conversation, not confrontation.


Focus on what you need, not on what you think the teacher is doing wrong.  The more the teacher learns about you, the more he or she will be able to help.  The more defensive the teacher feels, the less he or she will want to help.


Don't forget to listen.  Strange but true, many students need practice in this essential skill.  The purpose of your meeting isn't just to hear yourself talk.


Bring your sense of humor.  Not necessarily the joke-telling sense of humor, but the one that lets you laugh at yourself and your own misunderstandings and mistakes.


If you meeting isn't successful, get help from another adult.  "Successful" doesn't necessarily mean that you emerged victorious.  Even if the teacher denies your request, your meeting can still be judged successful.  If you had a read conversation - if you communicated openly, listened carefully, and respected each other's point of view - then congratulate yourself on a great meeting.  If the air crackled with tension, the meeting fell apart, and you felt disrespected (or acted disrespectful), then it's time to bring in another adult.  Suggestions:  a guidance counselor, the gifted program coordinator, or another teacher you know and trust who seems likely to support you and advocate for you.  Once you've found help, approach your teacher and try again.


Excerpted from When Gifted Kids Don't Have All the Answers: How to Meet Their Social and Emotional Needs by Jim Delisle, Ph.D., and Judy Galbraith, M.A. 2002 . Used with permission from Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 1-800-735-7323; http://www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.


"Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction."
       ~ Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller's Teacher)

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