Many times my office hours were taken up by the usual tasks of creating attendance sheets and other administrative duties. At the beginning of my teaching career I didn’t have my many students drop in for help, encouragement or advice. It took a few semesters before I began to realize the opportunities my students were missing by not dropping by office for a chat.
At the beginning of each semester I would tell the students that I have an open door office policy for an hour before class and that I was also available after class. The problem is that they didn’t feel invited to see me in my office; in fact, most students didn’t even know where my office was located.
With one particularly challenging course, I wanted the students to drop in so we could informally talk about any issues they may be experiencing in the course. To encourage this, the first assignment had to be handed to me in my office at least 20 minutes before the third class.
Some students handed the assignment to me in the class before it was due (I always have at least a two-week lead time for assignments), while others scrambled at the last minute to catch me before I left the office to go to class. Nonetheless, my mission was accomplished; most students knew where my office, they had crossed the threshold, and I had the opportunity to have a short conversation with most of them.
As the semester progressed, I invited a few students to my office prior to each class. Sometimes the conversation would be about some of the difficulties they were having with the course, or working in teams with other students.
More often than not, students would ask me questions to clarity a point or concept they didn’t understand, or ask for advice about an upcoming assignment. I would listen, I would offer them ideas and guidance, but they needed more one-on-one time with a professor that they simply couldn’t get in a large class.
Listening to the student also gave me insights into how I could improve the course. They asked questions and so did I, and all of us gained something very worthwhile out of my office hours. The valuable lesson I learnt from that is to regularly announce my office hours throughout the each course and personally invite some students who are struggling to meet with me during office hours