Conversations with fellow professors often turn to the topic of office hours and their frustrated comments about how students never utilize this time. In contrast to some my colleagues, my office hours are always wonderfully busy with students. Frequently, I even have a line of students waiting to visit with me! Sometimes there are so many students that we all visit and pool our thoughts as a group, as I hold office hours in a conference room.
Over half of my 150 students this semester have come at least once during office hours. Most of those who’ve come once, come again and again. Sometimes visitors are former students from past semesters! And students who come clearly care and because they care, they usually do really well in their classes.
How do I get so many students to come?
I do “bribe” students to some degree. They receive 5 bonus points on a major exam or paper. Some come having forgotten they receive a bit of extra credit. But even when I haven’t offered such extra credit, students have always come during office hours.
Additionally, I send out regular emails announcing that “Office hours are in session now!” or “Office hours this week – usual times – come by, even just to chat!” Reminders are provided during class, too.
I will also regularly invite specific students or groups of students to come by.
Maybe most importantly, I really emphasize always being friendly toward students and making the classroom a comfortable–and challenging–place. In part because of this, office hours seem less intimidating. I make office hours especially laid back and safe. The Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Offices have free cold water and free hot coffee available, so I make sure students know about this.
And most importantly, I have more than just one or two hours set aside for students to drop in. This semester, I have about ten office hours each week, and with just a handful of exceptions, I have students all ten hours every and every week. Even the first week of each semesters, students come!
What do we talk about?
Office hours belong to students. So they guide what we talk about! We get loud occasionally!
Sometimes we just chat about nothing and everything. This might include cats and dogs, college experiences, health problems, majors, families, or books.
Typically, however, we discuss their writing in some way or another. I thoroughly enjoy using office hours to discuss ideas and how we communicate those ideas. When needed and welcomed, I enjoy discussing a paper sentence-by-sentence with the dedicated student.
Because I have office hours in a conference room, I’ll invite students to stay and work on their papers or a particular concern. Then, if they have questions, I’m available. In one specific case this past week, I was working with one advanced student, and I would give them particular items to address one-at-a-time while working with other students in-between.
Some students stay only 2-3 minutes, most stay 10-20 minutes, some stay two hours.
I never have students complain about grades by email or by face-to-face visits during office hours. Office hours are always pleasant and productive 99 percent of the time. I can only remember telling one student once, “This coversation is not productive right now, so we can visit more later on.” I don’t remember anything else.
Final thoughts about office hours.
Office hours provide one of the only chances to really get to know students. Two weeks ago, I was telling one student who took me for a different class last semester that it seemed like I hadn’t seen them all semester since they hadn’t been by office hours just yet. They came this week, and we had a wonderful conversation.
One-on-one conversations happen during office hours.
Sometimes unforgettably high-level, inspiring ones!
If you’re a professor, I highly recommend setting aside at least several hours each week for the sole purpose of learning from and with students and of listening to their wisdom.
Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda