You notice your professor is in his or her office but the door is closed. You need to ask about next week’s test, so you head on over to knock. But, before you start, consider if what you’re about to do is rude or not.
Is it rude to knock on a professor’s door? While the answer to this is an emphatic “maybe,” you should always assume it’s rude to knock on your professor’s door. But, if you’ve previously done this with your professor or understand their preferred rules of engagement, then it may be okay.
This means, essentially, the perception of rudeness will come down to your professor and their preferences along with the manner you go about doing it. Therefore, you want to employ as much courtesy and mindfulness as you possibly can.
The Perception of Rudeness
Rudeness is in the eye of the beholder. While we may not intend to be rude, various people have different tolerances for certain behaviors, actions, words, and mannerisms. Since we cannot predict or forecast how someone will take to us, all we can do is to be as cognizant of ourselves as much as we can.
The only certain thing, once you cross that threshold and rub someone the wrong way, is it can have disastrous effects. It not only paints you in a bad light but it’s also disruptive. In the case of a professor, this may make them remember you in ways you’d prefer they didn’t.
Consider Your Professor
When your professor is in their office, there’s often a good reason for it. It’s usually not to kick back and relax. However, this may be the only place where they can recoup after presenting a hall full of students for the last two or three hours.
But, when they are in their office it’s usually so they can prepare for the next class, grade assignments, read emails, have meetings, and do other work-related business.
Someone randomly knocking on the door unexpectedly or unannounced can be infuriating.
This is especially important if the person is intensely focused on what they’re doing. The knock can literally “knock” them out of their course of action.
In some instances, this may be unforgivable. However, it’s usually a pardonable offense for newbies. But even the uninitiated should only make this mistake once.
Put Yourself in Your Professor’s Shoes
Of course, you are also part of this equation and it’s probably true that what you have to say is very important. But it’s equally important for you to understand that a professor usually deals with hundreds, if not thousands, of students in a single day. So, it’s a matter of putting yourself in their shoes.
Consider this scenario. You are the professor and you’re laying out the day’s lesson plan or grading horrendously-written papers. But, 25 students all come haphazardly knocking on your door demanding your time. What would you do? How would you feel? It would be maddening and frustrating, to say the least.
What Not to Do
In the event, you need to speak with your professor and the door is open or shut, the worst thing you can do is assume your professor has time to speak with you. So, keep the following points in mind if you don’t have time to prearrange a meeting and don’t know their rules:
- Don’t knock on the door if you hear music, speaking or typing. These are sure signs that the professor is busy and probably not available to speak to anyone.
- Don’t yell or scream while also knocking at the same time. This will be especially true if it’s quiet. First, you don’t know if the professor is in there or not. Second if they are in there, they could be reading or writing something requiring plentitudes of concentration and focus.
- In the case no one answers the door, don’t continue knocking or knock louder and more frantic.
- When your professor answers the door, don’t barge in and start barking your case; make sure they’re free and they are okay to see you now.
- If you’re lucky enough to catch your professor on the fly, keep it brief, short and sweet. Don’t take up vast amounts of time. Give a digest version of what you want to discuss and only engage the conversation further upon your professor’s insistence.
What Your Professor Should Do
All that said, your professor should also anticipate that his or her students will need to stop by the office from time to time. So, it’s likely that they will have established specific days and times to come to their office, often by appointment.
If your professor is aware and open to such a thing, they will state their availability clearly at the beginning of the semester. Depending on the subject the professor teaches, they may have an open-door policy where you can go in to speak with them anytime you need.
Either they will discuss this on the very first day of class or they will publish it in the class materials they initially hand out.
Other professors will send weekly class emails because their availability shifts around and yet some will post a schedule on their door.
Find Out as Soon as Possible
The main takeaway here is you should always find out what your professor’s office availability is within the first few weeks of the semester. If they don’t mention it during class, ask at the end of class or the beginning of the next one. This way, you’ll ensure politeness and get what you need at the same time.
How to Proceed
This means on the first day of class, you should pay close attention to the professor’s office availability. If they don’t mention it, raise your hand and ask, if that’s possible to do. In all other cases, it may be best to try and catch your professor before or after class. Here you can privately ask to set up a meeting with them.
But, of course, if you’re reading this mid-semester and don’t have your professor’s availability, then you’ll have to devise some other means. This will depend on how much time you have to the deadline or project you’re inquiring about.
Email or Call Is Best
It’s always best to email or call your professor outside of class. This way, they can get back to you when they have the time to do so. Be polite and courteous but also short and sweet.
Always start every formal communication with “Hello professor” and “How are you?” Then include details such as your name, your class, and what you wish to discuss.
Tell him or her you’d like to set up a time to meet and ask about their availability.
Don’t send a million emails or phone calls if you don’t hear back right away. Your professor will see/hear your message and they should reply the moment they have a chance.
When Time Is a Luxury
However, you may not have that kind of luxury and perhaps need to speak with your professor sooner than that. When you find yourself in this position, carefully and quietly walk up to the door and knock very lightly. Wait a few moments to see if anyone responds.
If not, slide a note under the door with your contact information and what you want. You could also tape it to the door or hand it to their secretary or department administration if that’s the setup.
When the Door Is Open
If the door is open and your professor makes eye contact after knocking, be polite and ask if they have a few moments. At this point, read your professor’s face. Do they look annoyed, upset, calm, or happy to see you?
In the event, your request is going to be time-consuming, set up an agreed-upon schedule.
Even if they have a moment, make sure you clearly state your discussion will have a considerable duration.
Don’t sound off about what you need unless your professor confirms having the time now.
The Lackey Professor
Then there are those cases where you do everything in your power to be kind, courteous, and polite. You anticipated the need for your professor’s help and contacted them well in advance. No matter what you do, your professor is not getting back to you.
At times, this may be trying, especially if you have a huge class or if your professor is famous. In this case, attempt to catch your professor immediately before or after class. If you’ve already tried that without any success, ask your professor directly in class.
Sometimes there are lackey professors and they won’t ever get back to you. It will be like pulling teeth to arrange a meeting. In the event this happens, you can try knocking on their door when they’re inside. Have a note in hand to anticipate them being busy, either on the phone or otherwise.
Katie Holmes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.