It might be overwhelming when you are not sure of a concept and are not exactly sure who you should ask for help. This can be especially true if you are just starting at the school or Post-Secondary Institution, as you are not exactly sure who is responsible for what. Here, we’re going to give some guidelines for who might be the best person to ask in certain situations, but be aware that all situations are unique and what works somewhere might not be the best approach in all circumstances.
First, in the situation where you only have a teacher (that is, no teaching assistants (TAs), or lab technicians), you generally have few options. One of the first should be others in your class. If you have friends in that class, they can be the first people to ask when you are confused. Classmates can explain difficult concepts to each other in ways that teachers and professors cannot. Through a shared vocabulary and different ways of understanding an idea, students can teach each other in ways teachers did not think possible. For example, a teacher or professor might not think to explain Hamlet through The Lion King, but other students might because of their shared vocabulary and their shared history. Often, your peers are a pretty good resource to ask if you are unsure about something the teacher/professor is teaching. Though, this is not always the case (they are students too), so students should not only rely on what another student said as the absolute truth. They should instead use it to complement their own studying/notes. We provide this advise because some teachers request that students first ask their peers (or a specific number of classmates) before coming to ask the teacher. If the person you ask to explain a concept or idea also does not know, it might be a good idea to ask the teacher or professor.
If, after asking your peers (or if you are not comfortable asking your classmates for help), you are still unclear, you can ask the teacher/professor for more help. It is very important to ask specific questions about what you do not understand. Generally, professors and teachers hate receiving the “I don’t understand” answer to their question of “What can I help you with?”. It is much easier on everyone if you provide a specific question or statement that you would like clarified. For example, “I do not understand the actions of Queen Gertrude and King Claudius in Act IV of Hamlet” is much easier to clarify than “I don’t understand Hamlet.”. You can save everyone a lot of time and effort by asking a specific question (or questions).
DID YOU KNOW?
Not everyone is comfortable asking their professor or teacher for help (especially in an auditorium or large classroom). Some students would rather ask in a smaller setting, such as a tutorial, office hours or their tutor.
If you are in the situation where you have multiple people you can ask (teacher/professor, teaching assistants, lab technicians, etc.), you should generally ask the person who is taking you through the material. For example, you should ask the professor/teacher about concepts that they covered in class, your TA for material covered in your tutorials and the lab technicians for topics covered in your lab exercises. If you ask someone who is not covering that material (e.g. asking your lab technician about what the professor taught yesterday), you will probably receive the answer to ask the person who covered that material. Now, this is not to say that you should not ask your peers. The same ideas are applicable as above, it is just that you have even more choices when there are more people who are working in a class.
Sometimes, students only feel comfortable talking to one person, be it the professor, TA, lab technician, or their classmate. If this is the case, and the person you ask tells you to contact the person who covers that material, it might be easier to send an email instead of asking face-to-face. A quick note, a lot of educational institutions will mark emails that do not originate from their organization (i.e. do not have the same domain) as spam, so be sure to use your student email when communicating with your teacher.
Now, what happens if you ask the person who you think you should ask, but you do not get a satisfactory answer? In general, there are a few options. First, you can ask the question again in a different way, or ask them to explain it again. Sometimes, this approach works. If you still do not understand, you can ask someone else, and mention that you already asked the first person, but would still like some clarification. If that still does not work, you can try sending the question in an email, as some educators will send you a better explanation when they more time to answer.
Often, the simple answer is the person who taught it to you is the person you should ask for clarification. Though, this is not always the case. Sometimes, your classmates are excellent resources in helping explain a concept or idea due to your shared history. Other times, a (specific) question to your teacher/professor is needed. As mentioned, it will be up to you who you think you should ask and how happy you are with their answer. This is, as always, not an exhaustive list, and is meant more as a guide where to start when asking for help.
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