Advantage of Office Hours
By Emily Schiller
This is the first time Ive come to an office
hour. Youre the first professor Ive
ever met with one-on-one. How many times have
I heard this from students . . . from graduating seniors!
Theyd spent four or five years at the university
and not once taken advantage of one of the most valuable
learning tools we offer. Certainly some of those students
were just too busy with complicated class/work/family
schedules. Others felt shy about going to
a professors office hours, worrying that they
would be bothering a busy man or woman.
Of course there were always a few, concerned about getting
enough letters of recommendation for graduate school,
who would drop in constantly with little or no preparation
as though the office hour were a kind of happy
hour without the booze. But most students met
with professors and/or TAs only if conferencing was
Office Hours are the posted days and times a professor
can be expected to be in his/her office available to
students. This is a job requirement for all instructors.
In effect, students pay for those hours and, therefore,
should feel free to use them. However this is not a
social open house. Most professors expect that students
who show up for those hours have specific questions
or concerns related to the class they are taking. If
the conversation becomes more casual over time, great.
But the purpose of office hours is to give busy students
access to busy teachers.
Big lecture classes where TAs teach discussion sections
present more options. It is not feasible for the professor
to handle meetings with 300+ students,
but TAs are usually responsible for two sections of
25 students each and have more time to offer. So if
you are having trouble with the work and need further
help, maybe more detailed explanations, go to the TAs
hours first. Their job, in part, is to help students
with the lecture material. If you find that you need
more time and personal attention, think about looking
into your schools tutoring
program. Its usually free, and you can probably
schedule weekly appointments.
Although it is tempting to use an office hour visit
as a kind of confessional moment, declaring yourself
hopelessly lost and incapable of saving yourself,
this is not the best approach. Your professor will then
need to spend precious time trying to find out exactly
what is confusing you and why. By the time he/she has
figured out which concepts you understand and which
you dont, your times up and nothing has
been accomplished. The same goes for getting help with
papers. Showing up empty-handed saying I dont
know what to write about, gives the professor
nothing to work with. It also gives a very poor impression.
Are you saying that you dont know the material
well enough to come up with ideas? Or are you admitting
that you havent done any work yet and time is
running short? Worse yet, are you declaring, I
dont really want to spend the time myself, so
Id prefer you do my thinking and writing for me?
None of these may be true, but if you come in unprepared
you leave the impression that they are.
Professors and TAs have time limitations and other
students waiting to see them, so the more prepared you
are when you go to an office hour, the more you will
get done. Here are some suggestions:
1. Begin any appointment prepared with a pen and paper,
ready to take notes. Always, always, ALWAYS take notes.
Students worry that they are being rude,
but, remember, this is not a social occasion. There
is no way you can remember everything (or even anything)
from these meetings. This means there will
be periods of silence while you are writing things down.
Thats OK. You are not there to be entertaining.
You are there to get help with your work.