Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Office Hour Thirsty

You're in your office, working on something. You have 30 minutes, 15 minutes, or 5 minutes until your office hour starts. Perhaps you have the door open to fit in with the department ethos and appear collegial. But what you're working on must be done soon.

Someone knocks, or doesn't knock. Perhaps a colleague comes in to shoot the breeze before the meeting she stuck around for. Perhaps you hear a cheery, athletic "Hey, Doc, I was passing by and since you're here, I just need a little help on my homework."

Perhaps you've closed the door, but the dept. chair knows you're there, so when there's a knock you answer it. Perhaps the knocker is a shy ESL student with frothing white goobers on his teeth. Perhaps a second, very needy student was already lurking and feels she's entitled to come in too.


Three times this semester I've asked brightly, "Oh, did we have an appointment?" and then turned the student away until the appointed hour, closing the door and feeling terribly callous. Right next to the dept. chair's open door.

I didn't say that to the senior colleague (who I like enough), and she sat down while I continued to look busy, hoping she'd get the hint.

THIRSTY: Do you turn away walk-in students outside of office hours? Do you limit colleagues' visits? How?


  1. I try to keep my door open when not having meetings. The strays are welcome, I will even chat if I don't have a pressing deadline. Often there are major catastrophes happening that a bit of my time helps solve.

    But when the colleagues chat on, I look at my watch - they usually take the hint. Others need a "Sorry, gotta get ready for a meeting." And if I assess the needy student as being overly dramatic, I point to office hours. So pretty much all of the above.

    Why do I do that? I am pretty much on top of the gossip by having colleagues stroll by. This has saved the bacon more than once. I also get to hear where problems in our system are by listening to students. But hey, that's my job, I'm responsible for everything that goes wrong here ;)

  2. I don't leave my door open. What I do instead is have a series of signs on my door: a green sign that reads "{name} is not busy, please feel free to knock", a yellow sign that reads "{name} is working, please knock only if it is important", and a red sign that reads "{name} is extremely busy, please knock only if it is an emergency".

    The second half of this is how I use the signs. I always have the green sign up during my office hour, but I also make sure to carve out some extra "green sign time" out of every day I'm in the office beyond that. The rest of the time I'm in there and working, the yellow sign is up. I've put the red sign up exactly twice in a fourteen-year career so far.

    Students and colleagues alike have always respected the signs. I can't guarantee that they would in a U.S. school (sometimes I feel like you folks have snowflakier snowflakes than we have up here in Canada) but it might be worth a try.

  3. The office is the worst in the world for getting serious work done. I go hide in the lab. I never turn away a student who wants to learn, partly because they're so rare. Students who want to snivel will pop in anytime they want, whether or not the door is open: there's no way to stop them. I just try to deal with them as efficiently as possible, but then almost none of them will go away happy, no matter what. No one dares follow me into the lab: it would have made Nikola Tesla proud, with one false move and you get 4000 volts through you.

  4. My door is always closed, and much of the time it's also locked. If I have something that ABSOLUTELY needs to get done, and it's not my office hours, I don't answer the door.

    But then I don't spend any time in my office that isn't offically "office hours" because as Froderick says it's the worst place in the world for getting serious work done.

    So this way, if someone knocks at my door during office hours, I'm happy to talk to them, student or colleague or whoever.

    If it's not your office hours, you're not responsible to anyone. You don't even have to answer the phone.

    Now I will say that if you start out at a job doing this, you may run the risk of your colleagues seeing you as "unfriendly" or "inaccessible". Before tenure it might make sense to have a bit higher profile.

    But I have real work to do, and my office is not the place to do it.

  5. I'm with Frod: students who want to learn are always welcome.

    I always have my door open, and nearly always tell students that they can come in and ask questions.

    That said, I have no time to do any research during term, and our class sizes are tiny compared to big schools, so there aren't that many students to haunt me.

  6. This is one of the few times that living in Hell, aka the South, is a blessing. My office has a window. If it's office hours or I welcome chat, I leave my door open and turn on the lights. Because it's so sunny much of the time, I can turn off my lights and close my door yet still get work done as long as the blinds are open. It's nearly impossible to see if I'm in the office from outside. I just have to be sure not to answer the phone lest I give my presence away.

  7. I warn students that I may not be able to help them when they see me outside of office hours, either in my office or anywhere else they see me on campus. I share an office and our door always seems to be open, whether I'm holding hours or not. Also, students think I am at their disposal from the moment I enter their view--whether I'm walking to a class, the bathroom, or just heading in or out for the day.

    Sometimes students get cranky when I tell them that I cannot help them if they encounter me outside of office hours, including in my office. I am polite, but tell them to come back during office hours if I am unable to drop every single thing just to accommodate them at that very moment.

    I wish I had a lab to run to, as Froderick does. I share an office with someone whose current and former students are always dropping by to chat, often blocking entry and egress and nearly always discussing (loudly) things not related to coursework. If the officemate isn't there and I'm not in official office hours, I can close the door and actually get work done in my office, with surprising efficiency; if not, I can count on getting nothing done when I'm there.

  8. I meet students in my office hours and by prior appointment. Otherwise the door is shut. I will open to a firm, confident knock because that will be one of my colleagues. I only open to tentative "student knocks" if I have time. I warn students not to try to reach me immediately before class because even if I am in my office, I am preparing the lecture and won't have time to talk. I'm always willing to talk to students after class, though, if they want to walk back to my office with me.

  9. Nobody knocks on a closed door where I work. And that's the way it should be. Open door = come on in. Closed door = go away.

  10. I have posted office hours. Crickets. My door is ajar (ha), my light is on, I'm on CM. If I have a lot to do, once my office hours are over, door is closed; sign is picture of snarling Kodiak bear. "If you have an appointment, please knock. Otherwise, prepare to lose a hand. Send an email with your questions and I will answer it as soon as I can. Or you may come back during regular office hours. Your choice."

    Nobody knocks when the Kodiak is on the door.

  11. It's obvious that you shower too often.

  12. Students here have this weird tendency to knock, then immediately try to open the door. I have no clue why they think that's appropriate.

    And this really *is* my students coming to ask for help, not just thieves roaming the building (we get them from time to time, too)

  13. Ugh. I hate this. New regulations mandate a window in every office door. I can't pick a booger without someone possibly seeing it. I do have a blind, but as boss does not like it, it is only for emergencies. Pre-window, I kept my door closed or only cracked (which I hoped people understood as "I am working. Only important matters, please.) much of the time. I also had the problem that Stew had of the knock immediately followed by the knob-turn. Finally I put up a sign on my door stating proper etiquette, such as "Step 1: knock; Step 2: wait for response, etc." It's now on my syllabus, but with the window, what's the point?

  14. We have that stupid window rule now too. Luckily the previous occupant of my office installed film over it that makes it translucent. I'm just an academic; what do I know about fixing windows?

  15. They may mandate a window, but do they specifically mandate not covering up said window with a few sheets of paper? ;-)

    Or like was the last person that did it. What do you mean I could just peel it off?

  16. Lots of good advice here; thanks, everybody.

    Tips I'll use include:

    10. Lower expectations for getting things done with the door open.

    9. Recognize and celebrate students who are making an extra effort to learn, as long as they don't follow me into bathroom with their questions.

    8. Keep the door open sometimes outside of office hours.

    7. Listen to hallway gossip occasionally to stay informed.

    6. Close and lock the door and ditch the guilt at other times.

    5. Use door signs about whether it's a good time to knock.

    4. Assess the knock for confidence before opening.

    3. Be grateful to have my own office with a door.

    2. Be grateful said door has no window.

    1. Take fewer showers, and cultivate the frothy white goobers on my teeth.

  17. Oops, wrong link on Tip #9. It should link to this post:


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