What To Do If You Suspect Your Professor Doesn't Like You

My grandpa has always said that “a good student knows the subject, but a great student knows the teacher.” Whether or not you subscribe to his philosophy, you have to admit that being friendly with your professor can make a course seem easier. This doesn’t mean you should join their bridge club or offer to walk their dogs, but being nice to them can go a long way. But what if you’re certain that they just have it out for you? You notice that they treat you differently than other students, or just avoid talking to you in general. Maybe your professor even writes passive-aggressive notes on the work you turn in.

But don't worry. Whatever they’re doing that makes you feel they might not like you, there’s almost always a way to improve the relationship – even just a little bit. Here are seven steps to take if you think your professor doesn't like you:

person sketching on a white pad Chance Centeno on Unsplash

1. Stop, and get self-reflective about your behavior

One of the first steps you should take before you do anything else is acknowledge that there are different emotions and varying personalities involved, and sometimes they don’t always mesh. Haylee E., a senior at CSU Stanislaus, believes that “professors don’t just hate their students randomly. There’s almost always something that’s caused it. Whether it’s something going on in their life, or something in yours, there’s almost always a cause.”

There could be something going on in their life that's out of your control, so take a second to think about your behavior in class. Do you talk while they’re talking? Are you constantly on your phone? Are you not meeting their academic standards? Even if it’s something that you don’t think is a problem, your professor might find it offensive, which could be the source of their animosity. Forming a better relationship with them may be as simple as putting your phone in your bag and engaging in the lecture.

2. Gauge how other students are feeling

You might feel like you’re being singled out – and that very well could be the case – but before you call out your professor, try talking to some of your classmates. Chances are, your professor doesn’t actually hate you – it could just be their personality. Ask around and see if you’re receiving special treatment, or if they’re like this with everybody. This is a sensitive subject for some people, so I recommend leading with a non-accusatory question such as, “I’ve noticed Professor Jones has been giving me the cold shoulder all semester, is he usually like this?” This way, you can avoid the petty gossip and get the answers you’re actually looking for.

Related: Picking Professors: What to Keep in Mind

3. Talk with an advisor, counselor or a different professor

While your peers can offer a unique insight into the problem, you should note that they’ve probably only known your professor for a few years, if that long. Sometimes talking to a trusted advisor or another professor is a great way to get advice from an Adult™ who has a bit more experience with your professor. One academic advisor at Carthage College notes that advisors “are here to do just that – advise. We're here to help. We also want to make sure you’re getting the best education possible, so we don't want a bad professor to upset your progress. If you feel as though a professor ‘has it out for you’ then bring it up! We’ll do everything we can to figure out what exactly is causing the problem, and see if a ‘higher power’ needs to intervene.”

4. Come prepared for the class

It’s so easy to skip the reading assignment for the day and to just let other students contribute to the class discussion, especially if you had something major due the previous night for a different class. But not coming to class ready to discuss could be an issue, too. “Even if you simply crack the book open to the assignment and read just a page or two, you can contribute something,” says Laurel H., a junior at CSU Monterey Bay. It will show your professor that you do take their class seriously, which could be the major issue in your relationship.

Something that I’ve always found helpful is going to my professor’s office hours. Even if I’m just going to ask for clarification about something that was said in the lecture, it shows that I’m trying. And if they see that you’re trying, they’ll usually appreciate your effort. If you improve as a student, your relationship with your professor might improve, too.

Related: Ask a Collegiette: How to Impress Your Professors

5. Talk to your professor

While putting in effort can go a long way, what if you’re convinced they still just don’t like you? If you’ve tried everything possible, just short of making them a cake with homemade buttercream frosting, maybe it’s time to have a chat. Schedule a meeting and see if you can get to the bottom of things. I recommend doing this face-to-face, because it allows you to use tone and facial expressions, both of which don't go over too well over text. Try not to walk in with a hostile attitude, but be ready to firmly and succinctly state your feelings.

Haylee E. reflects on a time when she was very nervous about having this conversation with a professor. "I had to map out what I wanted to say the night before and rehearse it with my mom. I made sure to use phrases like 'I feel as though...' and 'I've noticed that...' so I didn't sound like I was attacking him, but it sounded like I wanted to work with him," she says. "At the end of the meeting, I realized that had my attitude going in been aggressive, we wouldn't have been able to fix [our problem]."

If you avoid pointing fingers and making accusations (saying things like "you're always doing X" or "you always treat me like..."), you can still get your point across without being combative. This way, if there wasn't a problem in the first place and it was a misunderstanding, they won't take your statements as a personal affront. And if you feel uncomfortable going into this meeting alone, ask an advisor, professor or friend to moderate the discussion. There's nothing wrong with asking for help, especially when it comes to matters as important as these.

6. Just ignore it

Kelci Lynn Lucier, author of College Stress Solutions says that “if you can’t change your professor’s opinion of you, you at least owe it to yourself to make sure you still get the most that you can out of your courses this semester.” Although this piece of advice may sound cliche, it’s a cliche for a reason. If you’re absolutely set on making it through the class, just keep your head down and work hard. It won’t be easy, but your education is important, and you shouldn’t let a crabby professor stand in your way.

7. Drop the class

You need to value yourself above all else. Unless this is a class that’s only offered once a year, and you’ve tried every other approach to ease the situation, sometimes dropping the class is your best option. It’s not ideal, but if you’ve hit the point where you absolutely 100 percent feel that you cannot continue or that you’ve not been given a fair chance, this might be your next course of action. Sit down with your academic advisor (or your parents) and thoroughly talk through this decision just to make sure that you, your GPA, and your finances are able to face the consequences.

This list isn’t a cure-all for every situation - sometimes emotions run deep and there’s not always a simple way to fix them (especially if they’re the emotions of somebody else) but this is definitely a start. In the end, just do your best to hold on. After all, it’s just one semester.