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Holding office hours

Both faculty members and teaching assistants (TAs) can accomplish some of their most rewarding teaching in the office. Here are some general strategies on holding office hours from Barbara Gross Davis’ Tools for Teaching.

Before the semester begins:

  • ask about your department’s policy on how much time should be devoted to office hours (usually two to four hours / week)
  • plan to vary the times and days and be available by appointment
  • list your office hours, office room number, telephone extension, email address and fax number on the course syllabus and post them outside your office door
  • consider if some office hours could be held online and if these would meet the needs of some of your students as well, or better than, face-to-face office hours

A welcome matOn the first day of class, mention your office hours and explain to your students that office hours give them the opportunity to talk to you informally, ask questions about assignments, review graded work, or get suggestions for further reading.

Often an instructor may find that students hesitate to make use of office hours. How can you encourage students to drop by? Davis suggests:

  • be friendly and accessible – stay after class
  • invite students to come to your office hours several times throughout the term
  • post answers to quizzes or homework by your office door
  • return students’ work with a “Please see me during office hours” notation

Some instructors may find that too many students come at once. Here are some strategies you might try:

  • advise students to prepare their questions and not ask for an explanation of an entire chapter or a recap of a class lecture they missed
  • if several students express similar concerns or questions, group the students together
  • devote particular office hours to reviewing certain difficult topics

Here are some more general tips for conducting office hours:

  • use small talk when students arrive to help create a relaxed mood
  • let the student tell you the purpose of the visit; if the student needs prompting, ask “What can I do for you?”
  • give your students your undivided attention by putting aside your work and postponing lengthy conversations with others who phone or visit
  • if students arrive five minutes before the end of your office hour, thank them for coming but add that you only have a few minutes right now. Encourage them to return near the beginning of your next office hour, or book an appointment at another mutually convenient time.

(Adapted from the September 1997 issue of On Track, a TRACE publication for TAs)

teaching tipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Holding office hours. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.