Thursday, March 8, 2012

Office Hours

Here it is, another 10 p.m., me just arriving home from one of my marathon Tuesday/Thursday office days. My schedule this semester means that I've got a giant block of time between my noon class and my night class. And, of course, I use a large chunk of that time for office hours. And therein lies today's dilemma.

When I was an undergraduate at a semi-fancy liberal arts college, a lot of my learning took place in professors' office hours. A naturally curious person, I quickly learned the difference between the kind of question you ask in class, and the kind of question that is tangential, and best held for a one-on-one discussion. At least once a week, I was in some professor's office hours for twenty minutes or more, taking advantage of the opportunity to go into some thing that we had touched on in class or in the readings, but hadn't really explored in depth. I learned to see my professors as human beings, and they got to know me as the same.

But for the majority of us professor-types who don't work at liberal arts colleges, office hours are lonely times. For various reasons having to do with the culture of most universities, students just don't visit us. I've always thought this was a little sad -- as I said, some of my best learning took place in these one-on-one discussions. But over the years, I've gotten used to office hours being time where I could:
  • get some grading done
  • finish writing a lecture
  • clean up committee work and paperwork
  • run to the library to grab a book
  • eat my lunch
This semester, however, has been different. Part of it is how I'm structuring assignments -- students in all three of my classes need to develop their own projects, and so a lot more are coming to see me to talk about ideas and get suggestions. I have five "official" office hours a week, and these are now packed -- or, at most, I have 10 minutes here and there. Even more, students will stop by and ask for 15 minutes when I'm in, even if it's outside of official office hours. Most of the time, if I'm in my office, I don't feel comfortable turning away a student, unless I'm truly at DEFCON 1, because they're seeking out help, and my own experience has taught me the value of one-on-one time for real learning. I want to encourage that. I want them to really see that we're both on the same team, and both striving for the same goals.

On the other hand, I've got about a dozen little 15-minute projects all piled up. And today I ate my "lunch" at 5 p.m.

Obviously, I've got some mental rearranging to do.

On the plus side: I've redecorated my office, so it's a really nice space now. So there's that.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I'm always shocked when students come to office hours. I used them myself as a student, but very few of my own students come, despite my constant invitations. I use that time for grading and prep almost every day. And like you, I'm in the office a lot in addition to my official hours. Oh well. Their loss.

clio's disciple said...

I do teach at a liberal arts college, and students don't always use my office hours, either. Sometimes: when assignments are coming due, or it's registration time, or whatever. And the better students tend to. I find that a lot of students here don't want to "be a bother," though.

Historiann said...

I think that the use of office hours has declined a LOT since we were in college, Notorious and Clio's Disciple. (I'm not ignoring Fie, I just don't know how old she is.) E-mail is my more typical medium of communication with students, and it's just easier for the students to get little questions or problems addressed that way. (Easier for them and for faculty, I would say.)

But, Notorious girlfriend: you've got to give yourself a break. I know you enjoy teaching and you love your students, but that's the kind of schedule that will leave nothing left over for anyone else.

You teach a 4-4 load. That's more than enough as it is. It's not up to you to paste over the inadequacies and funding deficits of your crumbling state uni system with your own blood and brain cells.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks for the words of concern, H'ann. Just to clarify: I've only got three real "classes" this semester -- the rest are just a few independent readings with assorted grad students.

And it looks like still only 3 next fall, too! And all things I've got prepped and ready to go! Hooray!