I am wholly dedicated to office hours. I want every student to feel welcomed, as they belong and as they are included in the class and in our shared learning process. Office hours give me the chance to really listen to and understand challenges a student is experiencing in class or with an assignment. Office hours give students a space to share frustrations, uncertainties, and recommendations for improvement so that I can enhance their classroom experience.
I’ve experimented with holding office hours in various places around campus. For two semesters I scheduled office hours at the Daily Grind with optional appointment times in my office. Sometimes students have taken me up on the offer to walk through campus as we talk through a challenge. I’ve found pros and cons in these less traditional settings. The coffee shop is more akin to a student space. When walking we meander through subjects. Often a student would like to discuss a matter that is personal in nature. For example, a student may want to ask for a paper extension because of a family member illness. Public places prevent us from feeling comfortable discussing a private matter. While on a walk or in a coffee shop, there’s a likelihood of running into a colleague, friend or other student. It’s tradition to say hello, introduce one another and in turn conversation is halted. So, for the most part I stick to office hours in my office.
Selecting the days and times for office hours is a challenge each semester. While I’d rather start my day with office hours, early mornings are generally not conducive to student schedules. Many have classes and most have a morning routine. Late morning through mid-afternoon is also challenging for most students as they move from one class to another. For now, I provide office hours two days/week with two hour blocks 10 am –noon. I regularly remind students that we can meet other times by appointment.
On the first day of class I provide the days and times of office hours along with my philosophy on best use of our time. I give suggestions for how to prepare for a meeting. For the students who are comfortable talking with professors, it’s a nice reminder. For the students who would not visit voluntarily, it brings us all closer to equity in office hours. By describing how I approach office hours, every student has the same information – a more equal start – in participating in an important part of college life.
There’s the potential for the power dynamic of student and professor to keep students from visiting, from expressing ideas or from asking clarifying questions. Some students had many opportunities to visit with teachers and advisors in high school while others, for various reasons, did not. Students come from all over the world, representing incredibly different school environments and cultural norms. For some, a conversation with a professor is akin to a talk with an older family member or mentor and for others it brings about anxiety due at least in part to the unfamiliarity with the setting. For others it implies wrong-doing such as a visit to the Principal’s office for misbehavior. I work hard to welcome every student by being intensely curious about what they have to say.
I urge students to stop by or set up a time to meet to get to know one another. Some students take me up on the idea every semester. I enjoy that. Without an agenda, dilemma or challenge to solve, we get to know one another. I want my students to leave confident that to me they matter, that they are welcome and that their challenges are important.