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Classy Disagreements: Here’s how to make your point with your prof

“Excuuuuuuuuuuse me? Are you out of your freakin’ mind?!”

Odds are you’ve thought that about a post or email from your instructor. Maybe you even blurted it aloud in the safety of your virtual classroom when the camera wasn’t on.

Hopefully you didn’t type it and send it. 

There’s a right and wrong way to disagree with he or she who hands out the grades. And if your instructor is self-secure and committed to the craft, he should appreciate it when you politely point out a gaffe. 

“From my experience, as an instructor, I know that I make mistakes and I'm not always right,” said Anne McKenna, adjunct instructor for Bryant & Stratton Online. “I appreciate when a student is able to either tell me they disagree or there’s a mistake or problem that needs to be corrected.”

Emphasis on “politely.” No matter how egregious the error, always broach the topic with kindness and respect.

“The instructors are subject matter experts, but we’re not experts on everything and we do make mistakes and we do sometimes get things wrong,” McKenna said. “I think as long as you approach an instructor in a respectful manner, there’s no problem with disagreeing with them.”

In an online environment that’s free of facial expressions and inflection, be extra courteous. 

“You can’t hear if they’re excited, upset, mad, tired even,” she said. “It’s really difficult with written communication. Not that it can’t be done, but I think everyone needs to be a little more cognizant of it, and when you’re a little more cognizant of it, everybody wins.”

Short, terse replies can lead to unintentional misunderstanding and offense. 

“Some people, that’s just how they are over written communication and they don't realize that,” McKenna said. “Just because someone might be coming across as rude, it doesn't necessarily mean that they’re trying to be. You kind of have to read between the lines and try to figure out their mood. Nine times out of 10 they’re not, they’re just busy and they fired off (a quick response).”

You can set a kinder tone by making an extra effort to forge a human connection.

“Being respectful of their time, taking that extra step to say ‘thank you’ can be huge in terms of coming across as friendlier,” McKenna said. “I always try to put a little greeting in my emails as well – just a little ‘hi, how are you, hope things are well.’ It shows you’re thinking of that person and trying to put that friendly vibe out there.”

Every instructor at Bryant & Stratton is required to have virtual office hours – one hour a week they’re available to chat with students. If it’s a particularly touchy subject, find the time for live interaction, McKenna said.  

“Some instructors here prefer to use chat or email over using the phone, but there’s nothing that says you can’t ask an instructor to set aside some time to talk no matter what medium you use,” she said.

If you feel like your efforts at polite, candid dialog isn’t getting you anywhere, you can also turn to other members of your Bryant & Stratton support system to help resolve the issue, McKenna said. 

“If that’s not helping in that situation, there’s always other people you can reach out to for help,” she said. “It could be your student advisor or one of the deans is always available to help and get to the bottom of a situation.”

If it’s a point of fact, have those facts ready to back up your perspective.

“The easiest way to be heard is to have facts to back up your opinions or statements,” McKenna said. “You have to go where the data takes you. I think healthy and respectful disagreements really help everybody learn, even the instructor.”

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