I am a final year undergrad student in mathematics. This is an important detail as usually there are not many mathematics students, and even less in their final (because of the dropout rate). Because of this, the number of students is pretty small, around 12-18, which allows the teachers to notice every one of us, learn our names, habits and etc.

Now, one of the Teacher Assistant seems to dislike me. One of the reasons for this is at the beginning of the semester I spoke too much according to him. I took this criticism with no problem, and made sure to talk as little as possible during the classes, that is I spoke only when a classmate would ask a question based on the problem we were working on. Yet, he still seems to be irritated by me. I once answered my friends question in a quiet way, to which my teacher responded: "you're such a pain". He likes to ask questions first to me, which no one is able to answer. In a situation where my answer was far from being right he responded: "you would better not answer than give such an idiotic answer". This isn't very detailed, and shows only my point of view, but I wish to fix this situation or at least improve it. I am unsure if this Stack Exchange is suitable for this question, in case it's not, I will delete my question.

Now, I would like to talk to him as I want to fix this situation and to do so I would like to first send an email asking to meet up. I want to know what exactly should I state in the email? I definitely don't want this to backfire me in any way.

So my question: how should I phrase my email to ask for a meeting to discuss this situation while staying polite and very tactiful?

I will accept any advices concerning the handling of this situation.

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    I wonder why you would like to fix this situation through reconciliation? What you have described sounds like bullying and there may be alternative solutions specific to an academic context (e.g., discussing with his superiors). But in general, it's unclear to me whether contacting him is the right approach without knowing your objective. – Dr. Thomas C. King Mar 15 '18 at 15:26
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    You can try to ask your question there: interpersonal.stackexchange.com because I don't think it's on-topic here. Also honestly I don't see why you want to "fix" this relationship. We're in March, so I assume TA sessions are going to end in 2-3 months at most. Are you going to maintain contact with this TA after you graduate? If not, then just accept that someone dislikes you and move on. You can't win them all, as they say. – user9646 Mar 15 '18 at 15:31

I disagree with the posted answers and so wanted to weigh in.

It seems you have become the problem student in this TA's mind. I have witnessed this many times, and the pattern seems exactly as you have laid out. The student is overly informal and talkative/particapatory in class. It disrupts the flow of class, making the lecturer lose concentration and taking the conversation down tangents which are typically not relevant to the course direction. Then, rather than have a reasonable conversation after class with the student, the TA or lecturer tries to shame the student into submission by snarky comments during class. Then, because two wrongs don't make a right, both parties are aggrieved. At that point, the TA has labeled you as a "problem" and any even minor infractions are dealt with harshly.

If I wanted to repair the situation as a student, I would stop by office hours and begin by honestly apologizing to the TA for making their job more difficult. Listen to their response and repeat your apology if necessary. Then explain the efforts you are making to rectify the situation and ask if there is anything else you can or should be doing. Listen. Finally, offer an overall explanation for your behavior that might help the TA to see you in a different light. Probably your initial behavior was motivated by misplaced eagerness rather than malice, and if the TA can understand this they can perhaps reframe your current actions in their mind and respond differently.

Yes, this puts the onus on you to fix the situation. However, I think that is somewhat fair, given your behavior initiated the situation in the first place. Hopefully the TA recognizes your olive branch and extends one of her/his own. Good luck.

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    According to the question, the TA acts very unprofessionally. Does you answer presume that OP depends on something the TA is able to withhold or interfere with, rather than just wanting to straighten things out? If not, I see more reason for the TA to apologize (OP didn't refer to him as "a pain" or his lectures as "idiotic"). From that point, I can advocate for the OP to engage in reasonable conversation or to push back by whatever means available, but never to submit to bullying and apologize for being the subject of maltreatment. – user3209815 Mar 16 '18 at 7:31
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    Others already covered the "should I" side of this. I took the OP at his word that he wants to patch things up. It is a small department and he does not want the TA to damage his reputation. – Dawn Mar 16 '18 at 13:59
  • I think you have described the situation pretty well. I had no issues with my previous TAs or professors, all liked to make the classe very intereactive where the students would debate to death the problem. I assumed it would be the same with this teacher. After his remarks, I simply shut my mouth, and I almost don't speak in his class. I changed my behaviour, and my classmates noticed this. But this didn't change his behaviour. This is one of the reasons why I want to fix the situation. – John Mayne Mar 16 '18 at 17:20
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    There is an issue of match between behavior and class/lecturer style. So I am not surprised that your style is sometimes appreciated! The goal is to learn how to adjust style to the environment where you find yourself. – Dawn Mar 16 '18 at 20:06
  • @user3209815 "How do I fix this?" - "Tell the other party it's their responsibility to apologize" doesn't strike me as good advice. – sgf Mar 19 '18 at 14:38

As stated in the comments, this situation might not be worth salvaging the interpersonal relationship and be fixed by escalating this behavior. However, I will try to answer the question as it is.

Given that you are both reasonable adults, the main goal is to communicate (I know, it seems trivial). Keep your initial email short and polite, you should just state that you would like to meet for a couple of minutes and inquire a suitable time. The TA might not be inclined to answer and in this case it is up to you whether to pursue it further. If you do, send another polite email, repeat this until you either get the appointment or realize that it is not going to happen. The latter is also a clear and unambiguous outcome.

Once you get to the meeting, your goal is to honestly talk about the situation, be upfront that you perceive a problem between the two of you and that you want to fix it. Be polite and don't argue. Tell your side of the story, listen to his perception of the same events, ask what he would suggest to fix the situation and / or suggest a solution yourself.

If both of you are reasonable, you should be able to improve your professional relationship. Do keep in mind though, that you can't have a rational discussion with some people. This is also a valid outcome and a clear signal to walk away asap and keep any communication with this individual to a bare minimum required by your cooperation.

  • I have a hard time deciding if it's worth it or not. I don't him to influence the opinion of other teachers towards me, as I have good standing relationships with almost all of them. – John Mayne Mar 16 '18 at 17:24
  • Roll back my edit if it didn't capture your meaning correctly. – aparente001 Mar 19 '18 at 3:00

I will offer an alternative solution for you to consider.

Assert yourself. Here's an example of how this can be done in English:

I'm not accustomed to being spoken to that way.

Disengage. If he baits you (i.e. sets a trap with a difficult or impossible question), and you don't feel confident of your answer, just don't answer. If he pushes you:

I don't have a solution.

If he keeps pushing, assert yourself, for example:

I indicated that I don't have a solution. I do not wish to respond.

If he doesn't let go, you could stand your ground, for example:

You are pushing me for an answer. I'm uncomfortable with what you're doing.

If he keeps pushing, gather your things and leave the room.

Finally, check your university policies to see what sort of complaint you could file. Whether you decide to file one or not -- it's a good idea to inform yourself about your institution's policies and procedures.

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    I think it is better to check the university policies before engaging in the way you described. Better safe than sorry. – SK19 Mar 15 '18 at 23:53
  • As far as I know, my University won't be able to do much. We had a professor who didn't care much about the rules, insulting anyone he liked, be it students or TAs. He called the TAs who worked for his course as his "slaves", no one had any power. The person has to be willing itself to change. – John Mayne Mar 16 '18 at 17:17
  • Nevertheless, your tactics seem to be a very suitable approach in this case. – John Mayne Mar 16 '18 at 17:17

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