Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Just give me the ten minutes...." Fanny from Fairfax On Office Hours.

I hold office hours 5 hours a week, when I only required to hold 4. I have set aside a non-teaching day for office hours by appointment. This week? I am holding an extra hour and a half office hour. For many of the hours I sit in my office, I am prepping for the week, working on my own research, or thinking of new ways to torture my students (just kidding on one of those). Some students utilize my office hours... a majority do not. This majority define office hours as the ten minutes between class.

"Can you tell me how I am doing in your class?"

"How many absences do I have?"

"I missed class on (insert day) because (insert family relative) died. Can I still make up the work?"

"I missed class last week because I was in the hospital. Would you please tell me everything I missed?"

  • First, there is a syllabus that explains the absence policy.
  • Second, there is a schedule of classes that covers what you missed.
  • Third, the syllabus says you have to keep track of your absences.
  • Fourth, I don't carry my whole office with me when I leave my office.
  • Fifth, I have a policy where student issues should be discussed in private and not in front of the other 54 individuals waiting to ask me a question because they weren't listening in class.

When I am bombarded by 55 students at the end of a large lecture class asking questions, I tend to go a bit crazy and get a bit flustered. I may come across as rude. However unlike them, I may need to pee, catch my breath, prepare myself for the next class especially if I teach back to back. And when I don't, I want to get out of the way of the incoming class and professor because I know how slow the technology is in that room.

Students, visit your professor during office hours. They are there to HELP you not to add more torture, unlike when you jump them at the end of class when they have a full bladder or need another diet coke.


  1. I don't do questions after class when I am teaching a class right after. Students who try to ask me a question get directed to office hours. What's astonishing is how many of them don't bother to show up for office hours, even the ones I know for a fact are (a) still on campus and (b) not doing anything else at that time.

  2. I get a lot of questions after class too but I try to shoo them out of the room and deal with them as I walk back to my office.

    My greatest problem is students stopping by my office whenever it's convenient for them during the week. I used to stop what I was doing and speak with them. No more. It's a drain on my time to distract my attention from my research, focus on their issues then return to my work. Now I ask what they need. If it's unimportant to me then I tell them to come back during office hours. As Wylodmayer says, they rarely do. If the student has an emergency or something that will become a greater headache if I put it off, I'll deal with it then.

    1. Good sorting advice. Totally stealing this, dude.

  3. You (Fanny) must look very "approachable". What's the trick? (Other than being female, which is not necessary since clearly Ben is (or once was) seen as "approachable" too.)

    Sometimes students approach me at the end of lecture to ask a quick question, but no more than one or two, so it's not a problem. I think in part they want to "connect", want me to remember their names and faces. Nothing wrong with that; far preferable to the complete apathy that's much more common.

  4. This sounds very, very familiar (except that my classes are a bit smaller; on the other hand, the rooms are proportionately smaller).

    When I have back-to-back classes in the same room, I willingly use the time in between as consultation time. Realistically, that's when students are available to talk to me, and I'm happy to reciprocate (though I do reserve the right to use the bathroom if necessary).

    When I have some time after a single class, I'm willing to talk to students afterward in the hall outside the classroom. Getting them to move there (and to leave me completely alone for 2 minutes -- please!-- to concentrate on shutting down the instructor computer and gathering my stuff so that I don't leave something -- like my all-important flash drive -- behind) is far more difficult than it should be. Everybody's convinced that hir question can be squeezed in RIGHT NOW (probably because (s)he has a class or other commitment to go to). They are oblivious to other students streaming in the door, the next instructor hovering politely or impatiently near the door, etc., etc.

    The main problem, I think, is that students crowd their schedules with classes, paid work, and other activities, to the point that they really aren't available during my office hours. Of course, that raises the question of when they're doing the necessary 2-3 hours of prep for every hour they spend in class. It can't all be at night (they need to sleep, too) and/or on the weekend. A college students' schedule should have considerable flexible time to be devoted to studying or other academic activities, including office hours, but apparently that's a luxury many college students can no longer afford. The flipside is that they're often not getting the educations many of them are working so hard to pay for (and/or will work for years to pay off the loans for).

    tl;dr: I think the non-use of office hours is a symptom of a much, much larger problem.

  5. Great first post, Fanny! Welcome to the Misery. You already have the misery, but now it's official!

  6. Love the graphic, Cal!

  7. Welcome! We have 12 required office hours per week. The most I've ever been required to keep was 15 per week. Realistically, I spend most of those 12 hours dealing with administrative duties and fielding requests and conversations from my colleagues in my dept than my students.

  8. Welcome, Fanny. I'm with you in frustration to the point of seeming rude when students crowd around at the end of class with questions about an assignment or topic. Especially when throughout the class at key points, I asked if there were questions. GRRRRR.

    So I've put a statement in my syllabus that except for emergencies, I am unavailable to students between classes so I can get ready to teach the next one. I also have a policy in the syllabus that students lose participation points if they do certain impolite things, including not respecting my time between classes.

    But of course they don't read the syllabus or remember it, so lately I've also been issuing a warning before I give assignment instructions that if they ask me after class what the instructions are, I will say, "Oh, I already said that." The Little Dears get very, very quiet when I say this. Then they're afraid to ask after class.

    Finally, I learned from my high-level-executive sister that there's *what* you say and then there's *how* you say it. The words that sound rude when delivered flatly can sound reasonably friendly when delivered with a shrug and a grimace (primate submissive fear grin). I use this delivery system for a set of rehearsed standard responses, all delivered in a sincere*, thoughtful tone of voice, as I turn to the next student and head out the door. "Yeah, that's in the syllabus." "I need to step out. Let's talk about this at an office hour." "This is a topic for office hours." "Shoot me an email about that."

    It doesn't always work, but thinking of it as if I'm outsmarting them helps me to stay somewhat amused instead of turning to violence.

    As in, "once you can fake that, you've got it made."


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