I taught Wendy Williams’ son a few semesters back and I totally didn’t know who he was for the entire first half of the semester. I reprimanded him for doing homework for another course in my classroom. I even scolded him for being absent from my class for a week. When he told me he had to go to LA for a week, I was livid and said, “Come on, did your parents know that you just took off for a week and went to LA?” He smiled knowingly. I swear. I had no clue. The truth is, I treat every student exactly the same — Wendy Williams’ son or not. Do the work and get the grades. It’s a very simple formula.
The thing is, it wasn’t until this year that I realized there was a secret to earning my bias, my favor, or my partiality, so to speak. And, no, it had nothing to do with your mom being a mega-talk show host whose life story is in a Lifetime docudrama. But, her son did know a secret that most of my students do not. He was absolutely charming — both face to face and digitally. So, have no fear, I’m going to let you in on the 5 secrets to currying favoring with your instructor, especially now that you’re likely to be taking your classes online.
1. Wipe the Crust Out of Your Eyes
Now more than ever, students must realize how important it is for them to take responsibility for their own “brand management” with their professor. And, you don’t have to be the child of a celebrity or have gone to a fancy college prep school to do it. Take a look at how you show up for class. Are you dressed? Are you sitting upright? Are you awake? Nobody ever became a success in college by taking their classes in bed. Just because you may not all be meeting physically in a class, it is still your responsibility to come to class by creating a conducive learning environment. You must be seen and heard.
Since we’ve moved to an online environment, my students have attended classes sporting their hair bonnets and doo-rags, while window-shopping at the mall, as they are driving and even while under the covers in bed. Lying in your bed, wearing your pajamas, or multitasking would never be permitted if you were on campus. The temptation is great, I know. But, wipe the crust out of your eyes, brush your teeth, run a comb through your hair and put on a clean shirt. Prepare yourself for success. Believe me, it will work wonders for your own attitude about the learning process and your professor will remember you.
2. Early Birds Catch the Curve
Once I started meeting with my students online, I noticed there was always a reliable three students who would show up for class as soon as I went live. They must have had excellent time management skills because this happened without fail. You could set your watches by them. I mean, they’re also probably the type who would also show up early to a doctor’s appointment or a tennis match or a movie. The funny thing is, since we met twice a week, these people may or may not have had any idea, but their names and faces became programmed into my sub-conscious. Their presence even comforted me because I knew that they were just as eager as I was, often times more so, to begin class with positive promptness. Just think about it! Imagine you are a team member at a job where you make $100K a year. You have a weekly meeting with your boss/team. Your boss comes into the room and she is greeted by the beaming faces of three staffers who have their cups of coffee, their laptops open and they say, “Good morning! How was your weekend?” What do you think that does for her spirit? If you were the manager, would you appreciate that reception? How would it reflect on your impression of the employees? Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, these students ended up earning the highest grades in the class.
3. Hang Back After Class, Zack Morris
You may not remember NBC’s Saved by the Bell. But, hey, there’s Peacock now so you can probably catch some reruns. Zack Morris was the high school student who seemed to love befriending teachers after the class period was over. It was mostly so that he could finagle his way out of detention but that’s beside the point. The method is still effective.
After class, don’t log off right away. Stay on to do any of the following: a) ask the professor a question about the lecture b) ask for quick clarification on an assignment c) ask for extra credit if you need it to boost your grade or d) do something that is rarely ever done, compliment the professor about the lecture and tell her how much you are enjoying the class. Trust me. This works wonders for your “brand management.” It shows your instructor that you’re excited to be in class, you are invested in the process and you want to ensure that you meet the standards. This will also work in your favor when it comes to any future support you may require from a professor such as recommendation letters or job referrals. I, for one, have referred many of my students to my colleagues who were looking for sharp, alert, ready-for-the-workforce recent grads.
4. Online Manners are the best
As a communicator, use every opportunity to advocate wisely for yourself and your future. Particularly, don't waste an opportunity to shine and be a productive member of an online class. I know it can be easy just to coast because it doesn’t feel like you’re in school but it’s also so easy to make it look like you’re an ‘A’ student, even if you’re not.
First of all, turn on your camera. Do not take a live class without your webcam active, no matter how tempting it may be. It will score you no points to become a faceless Joe to your instructor. Come on, you know it’s less intimidating than face-to-face engagement. Use the comfort of your own room to your advantage. You’re the master of your domain.
So, the next time, you’re in class, turn your camera on, make a comment in the chat about a point you enjoyed from the lecture, use the Zoom emojis to express your feelings (many students do not), raise your hand to answer a question, or volunteer for an in-class exercise. When it comes to discussion board posts, ensure that you have proofread your remarks before submitting it. Down to the periods and the capitalized letters, you’ve got to manage your instructor’s impression of you. Remember, she can’t see that winning smile of yours in person. Don’t miss out on those alternative ways to connect. It matters even more now that you have been reduced to a freaking avatar or icon on a screen.
5. Write a Swoon-Worthy Email
I still remember the first time I read the email of a student who could really write. It was orgasmic — mainly because they are so rare. Remember, we’re academics. We love a good turn of phrase. It’s a little known fact but if you want to get in good with a professor, write them a swoon-worthy email. For heaven’s sake, do not write to them like they’re your fifth-grade boo. Here’s an example of what not to do. But, in all seriousness, greet them with a “Hello Professor (last name), I am in your (name class and section). I hope you are well.” Remember, they instruct many students and cannot always keep them straight.
Here are some simple rule-of-thumb pointers. Be polite. Tell them succinctly of any problem you are hoping they can help you solve (no long stories). They get tons of email. Give them kudos for the contributions they are making in your life (this hardly ever happens and it’s a real ego lift). Ask them again for any extra credit they may have to help you boost your grade. Send them a follow-up email if you have not heard from them in 24 hours. Again, they get tons of email and yours could have gotten buried. And, here’s a clincher, follow up with them in class to ensure they got your email. This reinforces it and earns you cool points as in tip No.3. And, finally, if the professor emails you, respond right away! This shows a level of professionalism that, I’ll be honest, we don’t see within our students. If you do it, then you’ll be a cut above the rest.
I promise, if you take my advice, you will definitely stand out among the sea of digital faces — just like that celebrity son did. Curry favor in five easy steps and ride your digital celebrity charm straight to the top.
Tiffani Knowles is the managing editor and founder of NEWD Magazine. Her hope is to become as "newd" as possible on a daily by embracing truth, authenticity and socio-spiritual awareness. She is bi-vocational as she is the owner of two businesses and a professor of Communication in Miami, Florida. She is also the co-author of HOLA America: Guts, Grit, Grind and Further Traits in the Successful American Immigrant.