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It's true. I know, I was shocked to learn this, too. I recently completed my first semester with office hours as a graduate teaching assistant. On Wednesdays at noon, I excitedly sat at my desk and waited expectantly for a student to arrive. Every week. For sixteen weeks. And every Wednesday at two, I packed my stuff back up and left for class, having spoken to no one for the two whole hours and having spent more time playing Two Dots than being productive. Only twice did anyone show up.

I was surprised by two things: 1. That no one came, week after week and 2. That I really wanted them to come. I don't know why I was surprised by the first point; I could probably count on one hand how many times, in my too-many years of higher education, I have utilized my professors' office hours. I was even more surprised by the second point. I had always assumed that professors held office hours because they had to but that they'd rather we not show up so they can get their work done. I was wrong.

So I've come here from my liminal role of student and teacher to tell you: USE YOUR PROFESSORS' OFFICE HOURS

You aren’t bothering them. Your question isn’t dumb. You don’t have to know everything. They’re there to help you. And when you use their office hours, you help them. Students asking for help helps professors to identify what is and isn’t working in the classroom. Maybe their lectures aren’t landing right or maybe the assignments are too challenging, or maybe everything is perfect (doubtful). When you use the office hours, professors can assess all this based on the conversation, on your questions, on what you do and don’t understand.

So how exactly should you use office hours? I’m glad you asked. Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for you to keep in mind.

Do:

  • Have some questions in mind before you walk in.
  • Bring the relevant materials with you.
  • Ask the professor for recommendations on studying for their class.
  • Use the time to review the professor’s feedback on previous tests or papers.
  • Ask for clarification and speak up. If you still don’t get it, say so.
  • Ask for career advice. If the professor teaches something that you’re interested in pursuing, chances are they might have some suggestions.
  • Stop by early in the semester to introduce yourself, especially if it’s a large lecture class. Your professor wants to know you and it will make it easier to ask for help later if you know them.

Don’t:

  • Ask your professor to do your assignment for you.
  • Use the time to beg for extra credit and “grade-grub.”
  • Wait until the end of the semester to use office hours.
  • Arrive late or unprepared.
  • Complain about the class/assignments/tests or attack the professor.
  • Lie about why you missed class or turned something in late.
  • Arrive unprepared and empty-handed. At a minimum, bring something to take notes.

Office hours are one of the best kept secrets in college. Now you know, they exist for a reason and everyone benefits from you using them. Check your syllabus to see when and where your professor holds office hours and make a plan to go after the first essay is handed back or before the midterm exam. If you happen to walk into my office hours and find me playing Two Dots, please interrupt me, I’ve been trying to beat this level for a day and a half and I would much rather talk about your essay.