By Laura Allan
When you enter into a problematic situation with a teacher, it can feel like you should get yourself a good lawyer. It might even seem like your grade is in danger. This is especially true if you know you're in the right in a situation or if you've had problems with that teacher before. In a way, viewing the conflict as a lawsuit can be a good idea.
As with any potential lawsuit, the first question to ask yourself is if extreme action is really necessary. If it's only one little problem and you won't ever have a class with that professor again, why risk your grade? If it's something you can overlook, even if you are in the right, why cause a big fuss? Sometimes it really is just better to suck it up and do the best you can going forward. However, if you decide you want to proceed into a conflict, then it's time to start building your case.
This is the most important part of any lawsuit, and it's the most important part of getting your way with a problem teacher. Before you ever approach them to talk, you should have a mountain of paper under your arm to back you up. And yes, it should be paper. Lawyers want everything in writing, so you should too. If you feel you did not do as well as a classmate even though you made similar points in an essay, use that classmate's essay and highlight points you believe are similar. If you believe your teacher is being unfair based on what they've said before, then bring their syllabus or assignment description to compare with what they're saying now. If they marked you wrong on a question and you believe your answer is correct, find sources online or in your textbook that support what you wrote. You never want to fall into the trap of 'but you said!' If you have no way of proving it, then it's just words.
Be Calm, Respectful and Tactful
It's an old saying that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. In this instance, that's absolutely true. Like it or not, your professor is in a position of power over you, so you need to treat him or her with the respect the position asks for. When you speak, sound professional and clear with your statements. Even if your professor gets under your collar, bite your tongue and continue to be respectful. Think about this in the lawsuit sense again. If you went into court and began yelling insults and obscenities about the defendant, you'd likely be put in jail for contempt of court and you'd lose your case. It's the same idea here.
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Be Reasonable with Demands
Any civil suit lawyer will urge their clients to make demands reasonable. You have to do the same. If you got a C on a paper and believe you deserved an A, you still shouldn't demand an A. Your teacher will be far more responsive if you ask for a B-. If you believe you got an answer right on a test and it's worth multiple points, ask for some of the points rather than all of them. The concept here is compromise. If you're willing to be reasonable with them, they're more likely to be reasonable with you.
Make Sure You Have Support
You don't need to get an actual lawyer, but you do need human support beyond your evidence. Talk to your advisor before you go to the problematic professor. If there have been problems in previous years with this professor, they may know about it and have tips on dealing with him or her. If other students have the same problem, ask them to come to the meeting with you like witnesses. If you really think that things will get dicey, bring a tape recorder and record your meeting - that way you can have others listen to it later in case your grades start being docked. You should also read through both the student and teacher handbooks so you know both your options and the teacher's as well. You may even find a way of facilitating a meeting or fixing the problem without serious conflict.
Know How to Go to the Supreme Court
This means figuratively, of course. Sometimes no matter what you do a conflict will still go sour. If that's the case you can either suck it up and try to get through the semester or you can go over your professor's head. Before you ever go to the meeting, you should already have an idea of the next step to take if it proves necessary. That might be the head of the department, the school president or head of the judiciary board if your school has one. Be aware of the options open to you if you find your grades are being docked after the incident, or if you truly feel you are still in the right and want to prove it. Just keep in mind that in these serious cases, as it is sometimes with lawsuits, the best option may be to keep your head low and accept defeat gracefully for the sake of your grade.
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