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How to Build Rapport With Online Teachers

Mar 25, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

As a college student, building a friendship with your professors can often be beneficial to your future career. A professor can become a mentor, career advisor, and friend to students, and cultivating these relationships can often be a student’s first experience in networking.

It’s not difficult to build rapport with your professors when you see them in class on a daily or weekly basis. All it takes is a demonstrated enthusiasm for the subject, a few visits to continue classroom discussions during the professor’s office hours, and maybe a few meetings in coffee shops or bookstores to discuss future career prospects.

But when you attend an online school, you don’t have coffee shops, book stores or office hours. You may never see the faces of your professors, even though you speak with them just as often as you would with teachers at a traditional school. Still, there are a few ways to cultivate friendships that may help you further your career. Here are a few suggestions.

Good Writing is Key

Your professors will get to know you through your writing. Your emails and discussion posts are the “face” you bring to class every day. If your writing is sloppy, it’s like showing up to class in your pajamas without having taken a shower. It’s not exactly a good way to build rapport.

Many professors, regardless of their specialty, recognize and wince a bit at grammatical and spelling mistakes. So take some care in your writing. Instant-message shortcuts like “LOL” and “ur” never make a good impression unless you’re text-messaging teenagers; your professor is more likely to roll her eyes. Spell-check every email and communication you send. Make sure you put your best foot forward when it comes to these little details, and you’ll definitely make a better impression.

If writing isn’t your strong point, consider taking a brush-up course in grammar, spelling and basic writing. It can help boost your grade and serve you well in professional situations as well as in your communications with teachers.

Some people are better than others at writing, but you don’t have to be a Pulitzer-prizewinning writer to build rapport. Simply write the way you talk. Keep your tone light and add in some tasteful humor when appropriate, and your professor might smile whenever he opens your emails. Bear in mind that humor translates worse in writing than in person, so avoid any controversial or slightly obscure jokes, or any humor that relies on physical cues. If humor and joking isn’t your strong point, don’t worry—if you’re writing in a way that lets your personality shine through, your professor will start to see you less as an email address and more as a person.

Share Their Interests

You may not know your professors’ interests at first, and you can’t pick up on visual cues like fishing trophies or vacation pictures hanging in their offices. But you do know they have at least one interest you share: the subject you’re studying. Demonstrate an enthusiasm and passion for the subject, and you have a foothold for building rapport.

Professors often respond to enthusiasm and talent, and take pleasure in mentoring students they feel have potential. Participate fully in online discussions. Ask lots of questions over email. Go out of your way to send your professor online news and developments in the subject you think the class might be interested in. Show your interest, and they’ll be more likely to take an interest in you.

Make Their Job Easier

Lastly, be a good student. Hand in assignments on time. Follow directions. Don’t ask for special extensions or considerations unless absolutely necessary—these often add to instructors’ workloads, and aren’t conducive to building a friendship.

Be appreciative of your professor’s efforts. Thank them for answering your questions or giving you extra resources. Demonstrate that you know they’re doing a great job, and don’t become one of those students who makes their workday longer. Be considerate, and your professors will appreciate it.

Ask for Advice

Once you’ve established a good rapport, ask your professor for advice. Share your career goals and ask how they got started. Ask if they can suggest any resources to continue your studies. Ask if it’s all right with them if you keep in touch. They’re likely to say yes, especially if you’ve taken time to build a relationship with them.

It’s more difficult to build rapport online than it is to build it in person. But if you’re an enthusiastic and considerate student and can find a way to let your personality shine through in your written communications, you may be able to generate a connection with online teachers that can last after the class is over.




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