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How to respectfully tell a professor that they might be wrong

Editorial Staff

Just how do you tell a professor they calculated your grade wrong, or that you actually did attend that one class?

Professors and students alike are currently in the throes of the long-awaited and dreaded finals season. With hundreds of term papers and final projects to grade, a professor is bound to overlook something or miscalculate a grade. So how do you approach this issue without disrespecting your superior?

First, approach the teacher at an appropriate time. Asking your ethics professor why s/he low-balled you on your paper in front of the entire classroom is probably not the best time to raise the issue.

Instead, try catching them after class if they don’t immediately have another engagement. Most schools offer their professors some sort of work-space or office, so ask him if you can speak in private regarding a grade. Do NOT email a professor in this situation. Emails can be interpreted differently from person to person, and while your tone may seem passive to you, it could instead come across as aggressive and demanding.

Speaking with your professor in person also gives you a chance to assess their body language. Are they walking away as if to end the conversation quickly? Try a different approach or ask if you should come back at a later time. It is best to have their undivided attention so the situation can be remedied quickly and you can both go about your days.

Let’s say your professor recognizes his mistake and revises your grade then and there. Perfect, mission accomplished! Be sure to show your gratitude. A simple thank you goes a long way. After all, they deal with ungrateful college kids all day long.

On the other hand, say you have a stubborn professor that stands by their (or their TAs) grading and refuses to change the grade. Accept the fact that your grade for that particular paper or project isn’t budging and ask for an extra credit opportunity. Asking for more work shows that you are dedicated to raising your grade no matter what it takes, and, in the end, professors take note of hard workers.

These approaches can be put to use when disputing an attendance record, or for that one time you were tardy because your roommate decided on an extra-long shower that morning, and even outside of the classroom too. Keep in mind that, in the end, it is just a grade in the big scheme of things. You can always raise your G.P.A. next semester.

But what about after college? How do you tactfully approach a supervisor or boss about something they have done incorrectly?

Whether your post graduation plans involve a small start-up company or a large corporation, you will have a superior in the workplace. In the event of being blamed for something a co-worker messed up, or noticing a pay-cut on your check that you were unaware of, it’s important to approach the situation delicately.

Your boss is busy with the books, phone calls and managing an entire office. So why should they listen to your problem? Because they hired you! Remember that interview you went in for and totally dominated? Yeah, they do as well. So stay confident, and don’t let your boss intimidate you.

In the end, it’s all about standing up for yourself and all the hard work you put in to the class or the work that you do. After all, if you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?

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