What do you do if an instructor is hostile or indifferent to your needs? Read some real-world responses and suggestions from our mentors to help you stay assertive but positive.
When facing an instructor who seems hostile, indifferent or unknowledgeable, remember that 95% of the time, the person has good intentions, no matter how difficult they may be to discern. For instance, “This class is too visual for you” may simply be a code for, “I don’t want to see you fail.” However, as benign as an instructor or other staff member may be, you know what you need to be successful. The good intentions should simply remind you that he or she is human; a person’s ignorance about your abilities should never cause you to change your major, drop a class you want or need to take, or defer your dreams in any other way.
During high school, you may have talked to teachers yourself when there was a problem, or you may have asked your parent or TVI to intervene. In college, you are the leading representative of yourself. Many schools have support resources to help you, but when negotiating accommodations with your professor, try to resolve the problem yourself first. Most of the time, the professor will respect you more, and advocating for yourself will give you practice for the rest of your adult life.
When speaking to someone who is uncooperative, it is easy to become too passive or too aggressive. A person is passive when he gives in to someone’s expectations and aggressive when he talks in a combative tone or insults the other person. The path between passivity and aggression is assertiveness. Being assertive means that you stick to what you need without alienating a person. Often it helps people to remember to speak in “I” statements rather than “You” statements. For instance, say, “I learn best with verbal explanations,” rather than, “Your lectures are too visual.”
Our mentors generously supplied some real hostile or unknowing comments they fielded as undergraduates and possible responses to those comments. Remember that you can change the response to suit your needs. This is simply a starting point. Below are some examples.
Professor: I don't know how you're going to take this class if you can't see my hand gestures or what I'm writing on the board.
Student: I learn best with verbal explanations. If they are not possible, may I make an appointment during your office hours if I don’t understand part of the lecture?
Professor: Nobody gets access to materials in advance. You are no exception.
Student: I need access to the handouts the day before class starts so that I can make sure they are in a readable format. This helps me to participate fully in class.
Professor: Other blind students that I have taught in the past used human notetakers. Why don't you have someone taking notes for you to facilitate your time in this course?
Student: I prefer to take my own notes or to use the handouts, because these methods help me to access the lecture materials more thoroughly and more independently.
Professor: This class may be too visual for a student who is blind or visually impaired to succeed.
Student: I have taken many visual classes and am confident that this class will be fine. I will be sure to articulate my needs ahead of time.
Professor: The disabilities office is there for students to take tests. You have to take your test in the disabilities office.
Student: I suggested taking my quiz in the classroom, because I can ask you any questions I have which are relevant to the test. I can position myself in such a way so that other students won’t see my work, but you will also see that I’m not cheating.
In this last example, the mentor noted that in some cases, depending on the stringency of the rules at your university, you may need to follow protocol and take the test where you’re required to take it. Her follow-up advice was to choose your battles carefully. You’ll know, based on each situation, whether your request is worth further explanation or discussion.
Remember that even with your best efforts, a few instructors will continue to resist your advocacy. In these cases, you should seek out help from your school’s disabilities office, your dean of students, a counselor, or another support resource on campus. The voice of authority may be the only one which will work in extreme situations.
For further tips on overcoming resistance in the college setting, please connect with one of our College Success mentors. They can help you practice self-advocacy until it comes more naturally to you, give insight based on their experience and your particular situation, and will cheer when you accomplish your goals and dreams with the full cooperation of the members of your ever-expanding academic and social network.