Getting Inside a Professor’s Head

By Kelly Leslie, Student at San Francisco State University

Let’s talk professors. Almost all of us can look back on our college career and identify a moment when we struggled to communicate with a professor. Whether you were too shy to approach them or you were unhappy with a grade they gave you, we have all been there before.

Don’t you wish you could know what they were thinking? Well, now you can! “Say This, NOT That to Your Professor” by Ellen Bremen is a great way to get the dialogue going. Professor Bremen, a tenured faculty member in the Communications Studies department at Highline Community College in Washington, offers students a roadmap to success in talking with their teachers.

Each chapter of “Say This, NOT That to Your Professor” highlights a different scenario that students and teachers commonly struggle with. Professor Bremen tells you what the professor is thinking, what you should be thinking, what to say and what NOT to say, in almost every situation you can imagine.

It’s the perfect handbook for any college student, whether you are just starting or nearing the end of your education. Professor Bremen writes in a language that any student can relate to, and the short chapters and detailed table of contents makes it easy to flip straight to the situation you are experiencing.

Want the inside scoop on STNT? Keep reading for an exclusive interview with Professor Bremen.

Kelly: Did you struggle with the issues you talk about in your book when you were a student?

Professor Bremen: “I taught [first] and then I went back to school, so it was a really weird road. Because of the road that I took, I was learning about a lot of the things I write about at the same time that I was teaching and at the same time that I was a student. It was a very interesting position to be in.“

Kelly: When did you first start thinking about writing STNT?

Professor Bremen: “I was sitting with a student who I had a great relationship with who was saying, ‘This person doesn’t understand me, I know I’m going to fail,’ and I think she wanted the professor to come to her. She couldn’t take ownership of [her issues]. She was being very honest with me. The mistake I made in that conversation is I told her what to do, but I didn’t give her the words to say. I remember pulling out a notepad and jotting down what professors wish students would know, and I started making this list, and that was how the book started.”

Kelly: What do you hope this book achieves?

Professor Bremen: “What I hope that this book will do for students is to give them the confidence to go to professors and talk about their issues early on and in a proactive, professional way. That is the gap that I continually see happening. Students suffer in silence, or they have goals that they don’t share, and then they either struggle to the point where their [grades] are not recoverable or they don’t reach their goals. I hope this book is a guide that gives students the actual words to go to the professor to say, ‘Here is what I need, here are my goals, and here is the responsibility I am willing to take to take ownership of this education.’ It is not supposed to be a hierarchy; it’s supposed to be a partnership to reach those grades.”

Kelly: What do you think creates this gap?

Professor Bremen: “I think that it’s two fold. First of all, I think that students are afraid of professors. They perceive that professors don’t understand what they are going through or that they are out to get them. I think that professors feel that students just want grades they don’t always want feedback, or they won’t take it anyway. Some professors feel that students just become lazy or apathetic. They start out loving teaching, but then students wear them down. So I think that’s where a lot of the disconnect lies. I think we need to bring students and professors back to face-to-face communication.”

Kelly: What advice do you have for a student who has read your book, but still refuses to talk to a professor?

Professor Bremen: “I totally get that, but really what do you really have to lose? What are you really afraid of? The professor cannot do anything to you because they may not like what you have to say. The only thing that can come out of it is a more productive relationship with them. There is absolutely nothing negative that can happen through that conversation. If you don’t feel comfortable face to face, start with an email. That is a great way to get the conversation going.

Kelly: If you had to choose one piece of advice that is crucial for students to know, what would it be?

Professor Bremen: “Communicate your goals early. The one thing I see over and over and over again is conversation that happens too late in the term. That is the biggest thing, laying your cards on the table. Meet with your professor during the first week and check up with them. Communicate your goal and keep communicating that goal all term long. It is the feedback loop that gives you the best chance of reaching your goals.”

Already reading “Say This, NOT That to Your Professor?” Get the conversation going with Professor Bremen and other students on Twitter with the hashtag #STNT! You can find Professor Bremen on Twitter here.

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