Communicating with your professors is an essential part of implementing and managing your accommodations in college. It can seem overwhelming and hard to approach as an entering freshman in college, but, it is well worth your effort! See below for some tips on how to approach your professors and get the accommodations you need and deserve.
As a college student with learning differences it is your responsibility to register with your college’s disability office in order to apply for accommodations. Once accommodations are approved, schools implement different routines for how this is communicated to individual professors. Regardless of the routines for informing professors about your accommodations, it is always a good idea for to contact each professor and speak about your needs directly, to make sure that everyone is on the same page and have a mutual understanding of how things will work.
It is not easy to advocate for yourself, particularly if you struggle to express yourself or are uncomfortable with verbal communication, but studies have consistently shown that successful students are those who can communicate effectively about their own learning needs, so here are some tips!
1. Schedule an appointment
After you have picked up your accommodation letter, schedule an appointment to go over your accommodations with each of your professors. Do this as early in the semester as possible, ideally during the first couple of weeks of classes. You can email, call or ask your professor in person for a time to meet. A pre-arranged appointment in a private setting eliminates the feeling of being rushed, increases privacy, minimizes distractions and allows you to begin building a rapport with your professor.
2. Plan in advance
Plan how you will explain your learning needs and why the accommodations you have been granted will help you be a successful learner in class. You should be ready to share your learning needs and challenges, your approved accommodations, your strengths and weaknesses (memory, auditory processing, etc), and strategies and accommodations that have been helpful in the past. By sharing this, your professors will be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and understand that you are comfortable advocating for yourself.
3. Practice what you want to say
If speaking about your needs makes you feel stressed and makes it difficult to express yourself clearly, practice what you are going to say ahead of time and bring notes explaining what your needs are that you can refer to. It is OK to think out of the box and not be conventional! If you have social phobia and find it very difficult to speak in-person to your professor, you can ask (in writing) to communicate with them in written form.
4. Assume that the professor wants to help
When you speak with your professors, ignore any past difficulties with teachers, and start off with the assumption that they are on your side and want to help you. Every new professor you speak with is a new opportunity to build a positive relationship! Be friendly and show the professors that you are interested in doing well in their class. Assume that you are working together to plan for your accommodations.
5. Show up on time
Show up on time for your appointment, to show respect for your professors time. If you have to reschedule, arrange for this as early as possible. If you miss the appointment, apologize in person to the professor and reschedule. If the professor is late, wait 5-10 minutes and then leave a note.
6. Thank you
After the initial meeting send a quick email to your professor thanking them for their time. It will go a long way to establishing a positive relationship.
7. Keep communicating
Talk to your professors throughout the semester and communicate openly about any challenges you may be facing.
Even if you have gone over your accommodation needs you should remind your professors about any agreed-upon testing accommodations at least one week prior to each test. If you do not, they may assume that you don’t wish to use your accommodations. Any last minute requests may be turned down and a source for contention.
9. Show an interest
The most important factor in having a positive relationship is the professor understanding that you are interested and invested in the class they are teaching. The best way to do this is to regularly visit your professor during office hours or after class. Interaction can be brief and consist of a simple insight on how you relate to the material, questions you have, comments about what you think of the class, or a quick affirmation that you are doing well with the current accommodations. Regular face-to-face contact will go a long way to ensure a partnership with the professor.
10. Never be afraid to admit that you are struggling
It may not always seem so, but professors want you to succeed. If you wait to speak with them about any difficulties they will not be able to help you. At the very least, communicating your needs lets the professors understand that you care about your education.
Communicating clearly, early and regularly with your professors will help you be successful in your classes! If you find that your professors have questions about accommodations that you can’t answer, ask them to contact the disability office for clarification. And of course, if you end up in a situation where a professor is not accommodating and does not respond to your clear and consistent communication, you can bring your difficulties to the disabilities office for assistance. They are there to help you!