Office Hours That Work

Effective office hours between instructor and student


Office hours are a great resource for not only helping students with questions they may have regarding course materials, but also for getting to better acquaint yourself with your students. Improving your personal relationships with your students will help to energize both your teaching as well as their learning. Here we, discuss the general guidelines and goals of office hours, how to schedule your own office hours, and what you can do to increase office hour traffic.

Guidelines for Office Hours

Both professors and teaching assistants can accomplish some of their most rewarding teaching in the office. Office hours are valuable both for highly motivated students and for those with difficulties. Students often say that they want to work harder for teachers with whom they have gotten acquainted; getting to know your students can also increase your own motivation for teaching the course. Moreover, contact and candid discussion with even just a few students can provide a great deal of insight into how the course is going.

Scheduling Office Hours

Instructors generally are expected to keep at least two or three office hours a week during a teaching quarter. TAs will probably need to schedule more time at certain points in the quarter. Laboratory assistants in particular can expect to spend about ten hours a week helping students during regular hours and arranged appointments, and will probably want to hold some of their office hours in the lab to answer procedural questions. Plan your office hours well in advance, to avoid scheduling conflicts. Try to choose a combination of times when your students are likely to be free and add “and by appointment” to the listing of hours; otherwise, a person who wants to come in but can’t make your regular hours may not come forward. Finally, be consistent about keeping the hours you schedule.

How to Increase Traffic

However consistent you are, you may find your office hours slipping by without a single student stopping by. How can you encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to talk with you informally?

  • The friendlier you are in class, and the more accessible after a lecture—a good time for making appointments—the more likely students are to come around.
  • Invite your students to drop by, and repeat the invitation several times during the quarter.
  • Suggest the kinds of things they might want to discuss, such as questions about projects, assignments, graduate school, research opportunities, or careers in your field.
  • It’s also a good idea to put a map on the syllabus if your office is not in the same building as your classroom; it may seem a bit silly, but it will signal to students that you really do want them to stop by.

Some instructors go further and actually require students to come to office hours at least once in the quarter. Although this can be time-consuming for you and is only practical if your class is fairly small, instructors who do it are enthusiastic about the results. They report that it provides them with a much better understanding of their class, and that they get to know otherwise quiet or shy students much sooner. They also find that students are more likely to repeat a visit or to ask questions after class, because the instructor has become less intimidating to them.

Understanding the Flow of the Quarter

You can expect more business when students are putting projects together, studying for exams, or writing papers. TAs should be willing to adjust their office hours according to the changing needs of the students. It can be particularly hard for TAs to limit office hours in a challenging course; a class full of anxious students can make unreasonable requests on a TA’s time. In this case, you may want to require office-hour sign-ups and limit meetings to fifteen minutes each. Also plan to be available after class to arrange appointments and to answer simple questions that otherwise might absorb office hour time.

See Also

  Office Hours Handout from 2014 TA Orientation workshop