Lonely Office Hours

On September 15, 2014, in Being a GA/TA, Teaching Tips, by gregorynpaziuk

Yes, one is the loneliest number, but it’s not like your office number is “111”, so why don’t students ever come to visit during office hours? Those of you lamenting that very problem right now – the GAs and TAs who sit in their office for hours just waiting for a student to pop in with a question/concern/ANYTHING – are not alone. In fact, in the first few weeks of classes, office hours can feel like the saddest birthday party ever/getting stood-up on a blind date/the waiting room in a dentist’s office. Why don’t your students use your office hours? It could just be that they don’t have questions yet. More likely though, you should consider trying the following:

Spread the Word

First and foremost, make sure that your office hours, your office location, your office number, and any other pertinent details about how students can contact you are displayed somewhere prominently for your students. If they aren’t already in there, it’s likely too late to add these details to the syllabus now. Even so, ask your instructor to share information about your hours somewhere that is highly visible to students. Healthy repetition doesn’t hurt either, so remind students about your hours, especially close to assignment deadlines, mid-terms, and exams.

Introduce Yourself

Different classes mean different forms of participation for TAs. As such, you may not always get the chance to interact with your students in class, face-to-face. If not, find another way to introduce yourself: ask the instructor for 5 minutes at the end of class, send out a welcoming email, or post an introduction using one of the tools on CLEW. Making yourself more familiar to your students is sure to increase traffic during your office hours, as students become more comfortable with your role as a resource and an aide.

Encourage Your Students

One of the funny things about office hours is that, no matter how anxious students are to have you available for questions, many still avoid visiting. This can be due to embarrassment, stressful scheduling, shyness, or any number of reasons. As Nyquist and Wulff (1996) note, one of the most important things you can do to encourage students to visit is show you’re interested in helping them. Being “available” is not the same as being “approachable”. Being friendly isn’t enough either. Students need to know you care about their questions.

For more on Nyquist and Wulff’s advice, including a template for office hour appointments, read “Tomorrow’s Professor Msg.#1348 Enhancing the Effectiveness of TA Office Hours“.