The Overlooked Importance of Instructor Office Hours

Too few students use this ready resource.

Posted Sep 12, 2018

The fall semester is well underway on most college and university campuses. Football, family weekends, admissions open houses, and, of courses, college classes, are all happening. Midterm exams and brief fall breaks will be here before too long, just as will cooler weather. Whether they are first-year students, seniors, or somewhere in between, all students should take stock of how they are doing in their classes about now. If you are a student (or you know a student, perhaps a son or a daughter), one question they should ask themselves is this: Am I doing everything I should be doing to ensure that I will earn the best grade possible in my courses?

If the answer is anything but a resounding “yes,” then it is time to take steps to correct the course in the course. The next question is to consider is whether you are using all available resources to your full advantage. Many, even most, college courses have a variety of tools available for students to use in order to study better and to learn the course material. Textbooks invariably have end-of-chapter reviews, which often contain key terms, a sample quiz or two, and summary information worth studying. Some textbooks also have websites where students can go and take practice quizzes and tests. College departments often maintain a list of gratis tutors who are reading, willing, and able to help students with course work. Virtually all colleges and universities have a Writing Center to help students understand and complete a writing assignment, like research or reflection papers.

Amidst all these resources, however, one often goes overlooked and unused: The regular office hours maintained by instructors. Faculty members often hold regular office hours weekly in order to be available to help their students and advisees with a variety of questions, including those that concern a particular course. All a student has to do is to show up at or sometime during the appointed hour(s) and chat with his or her instructor. Sounds simple and helpful, right?

The problem is that many students feel uncomfortable just dropping by—so they don’t. Instead, they may send an email, which is fine, but the instructor will never share as much information in a reply than he or she will share in a face-to-face encounter. Most instructors really do care about their students and they sincerely want to be helpful resources. Yet some students feel that they are “bothering” or “disturbing” their teachers—or they feel awkward asking for help because they are a little shy or simply uncertain how to behave in such a private setting as a faculty member’s office.

Getting to know a faculty member outside the classroom can be beneficial or a variety of reasons. Here are a few: First, many instructors have a classroom persona that is very different from the one they have in their offices (i.e., they may be highly extraverted in class so as to keep the audience’s attention but they may be much more soft spoken and friendly in their offices). Second, especially in large lecture courses, it’s hard to get to know students unless they come to office hours—doing so helps instructors match a student’s name to his face. Third, what could be better than learning from the source if you have questions or concerns about a class? Fourth, you may find that your instructor can provide you with insights and academic advice that goes beyond your course. Sometimes meetings with a faculty member during office hours can help shape your undergraduate experience in a very positive direction—perhaps your instructor will become your major adviser? Or, you may learn that there is an opening in the instructor’s lab so that you can gain research experience. There are many possibilities.

So, before any more time passes, start taking advantage of your instructors’ office hours. Being proactive in this way has many dividends that can be beneficial.

References

Dunn, D. S. & Halonen, J. S. (2017). The psychology major's companion: Everything you need to know to get where you want to go. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.