Even for those who were more familiar with the higher education system from an early age, most incoming college students are at least mildly terrified at this new concept of professorship; these are education professionals who seem to be on a strange, elevated plane from your high school teachers, which takes some getting used to.
As intimidating as this new teacher-student dynamic may seem at first, it really isn’t that difficult to make a great first impression in the classroom. First off, participate. That very first day of class, be sure to establish yourself as “that student in the third row who is excited to be here” instead of “some kid in the back row who didn’t speak.” Show that you’re in the classroom to learn. In that vein, ask questions: “There’s no such thing as a wrong question” is 80 percent true, but generally speaking, if your question isn’t about the assignment you missed last class because you were hungover from a 21st birthday bash, your professor will be glad to answer. It demonstrates that you’re paying attention and that you’re actually interested in learning instead of just regurgitating facts. Also, volunteer answers, even if you’re afraid they’re wrong. College is about trying new things and, yes, occasionally making mistakes, so an incorrect answer isn’t the end of the world.
This one sounds like a given, but it’s worth emphasizing: come prepared. Make sure you’ve read the syllabus and come to each class with at least an idea of what to expect every day. Even if you didn’t have time to do the prepared reading the night before, simply scanning a few pages should give you enough material to hold your own during class. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, go beyond expectations outside of class by reading additional material or forming a study group.
If the learning material or workload seems totally overwhelming, talk to your professor outside of class. Most professors hold regular study hours, but they also welcome individual appointments and email exchanges. Avoid asking for extensions if you can avoid it, but there’s nothing wrong with asking for extra help or clarification. In fact, it shows that you genuinely care about your grade and that you’re willing to make an extra effort. It also gives you a chance to get to know your professor a bit better personally. The bottom line is that professors are people, too. Despite horror stories you may hear from fellow students about Professor So-and-So’s grading policy, most teachers are understanding if you are honest with them.
Finally, be yourself. Be respectful with your professor, but don’t put on a show for her. Professors generally like getting to know their students, so let your guard down, have fun, and learn.