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What Happens When Teachers Say, "Please See Me After Class!"

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Imagine sitting in a college classroom when the professor begins to hand back graded essays. You and your friends get antsy about finding out the grade for the big paper. Your friends get their papers back and begin sharing their grades to one another. You are the last to get your paper back and at the very top in red ink it states, “Please see me after class.”

The nervous feeling then begins to grow-- why does the professor want to see me? A study done by researchers from Eastern Kentucky University found that students who read a short note such as “See me after class” often get much more nervous than students reading a more descriptive note like “I want to help you with your writing, come see me after class”.


Students in a college classroom may feel judged by their peers. They want to perform their best on tests and other “major” assignments. When a student gets work back from the professor, the last thing he wants to see is “Please see me.” This can make the student feel that he has done something wrong, and consequently that student may zone out for the rest of class. Researchers designed an experiment in order to determine how a college student might react to a short note from a professor, versus a longer note with more explanation. They predicted that taking time to give a more lengthy explanation about meeting after class would help students feel more at ease about a future conversation with their professor.


A total of 294 undergraduate students participated in this study.  The students were asked to imagine a scenario in which they had performed poorly on a test and received a note in red ink from the professor. In one case, the note said, “Please see me.” In the other, the note said, “I would like to help you understand this material, please see me.” Students were then asked to document their reactions.


Students who read the short notes were more likely to have negative emotional reactions to the instructor’s feedback. Some reported feeling “like a failure.” (p. 16) Students who received longer notes were relatively more likely to think that their instructor wanted to help them. These results suggest that students who receive ambiguous feedback may be afraid and uneasy about talking to that instructor after class, and this may affect their ability to pay attention until that conversation happens.


Future educators can take this research and apply it to the way they grade students’ papers. Teachers may consider taking an extra moment to give notes with more detail when asking students to see them after class. After all, what’s wrong with wanting your students to feel relaxed when coming to talk to you about their grades? Who knows! Extra written feedback may even make the conversation more fruitful!


By Gary Byrd Jr., NC State Pre-Service Teacher
Perrine, R., M. & King, A. S. (2004). Why do you want to see me? Students’ Reactions to a professor’s request as a function of attachment and note clarity. Journal of Experimental Education, 73(1), 5-20.

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