Being a Student: Crazy, Mentoring, and Office Hours

Everyone who has taught first-year students in higher education knows it: besides teaching the subject matter of the course (“Introduction to X”), we are also triage nurses in the task of academic formation: writing skills, critical thinking, academic integrity, time management, methods in collaboration and mutual support, and so on. In short, being a student. All of this depends in part on soliciting the students’ trust so that they’ll hear our sage advice. Some of my recent reading has me considering all this under the umbrella of “mentorship.”

Sparked by a post about faculty mentoring in Inside Higher Ed, there has been a conversation in the academic blogs about mentoring in grad school. In the final link below, Dr. Crazy writes about her strategies for forcing students to accept mentoring.

  1. Historiann: Mentors and mentoring: whose responsibility?
  2. Sisyphus: Lessons for Girls: Don’t Just Ask, Insist on Help (even if it makes you feel weird)
  3. Dr. Crazy: How to Force Students to Let You Be Their Mentor

In a nutshell (and in my own words), Crazy wants to say two words to you, Ben. Just two words. Are you listening? “Office hours.” Face-time is the necessary-though-not-sufficient ground for a protegé/mentor relationship. This accords pretty well with my own experience, though “office” for many adjuncts will often and awkwardly mean the library, a quiet corner of cafeteria, or an unused classroom.

Like “extra credit,” the “office hours” strategy has a common drawback: the students who take advantage of it are almost always the ones who are already going to earn top marks in the course. So how does one draw in the students who need it most?

Crazy’s strategy is to frighten them early and often, while wearing a sandwich board sign saying, “This way to my office.” For example, she describes the tactic of responding to a written assignment with “see me” and holding back on other feedback until the students shows up to meet.

This probably sounds controlling to some, but in my experience, students who are struggling with the course really resist interaction with the prof: it’s just that natural, poisonous impulse to “get one’s act together” before meeting with the powerful authority figure. It often takes a trigger incident of some kind to prod the student out of the slow freeze of inchoate anxiety and into motion toward the office-hours sign-up sheet.

This term, I also have a plan for driving students to my door. I am starting our first-year students off a very short written assignment that a mean to be enjoyable and low-stakes (graded only as done/not done). After it’s finished, we will discuss it during a brief office appointment. If nothing else, it will help me learn their names, and it will show them the way to my office with a suggestion that I don’t mind company as long as an appointment is made in my available hours. As Crazy writes, students who have found the office once will tend to come back again.

If you are a student, what sorts of “carrots and sticks” drive you to a professor’s office? If you teach, do office hours have a role in your efforts to offer mentorship, and if so, what experience can you offer to other teachers or to students?

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2 Responses

  1. Amazing. Thank you for this article. As someone going into education (not in higher ed, but in higher power… ha ha Christian Ed joke), I am thankful and inspired by professors who actually care about the way their students learn, who are proactive about becoming a better teacher, and who are progressive in their teaching style. I saw this in Adam’s hebrew class and I see it in your blog.

    As for your question to students: I am one of those who shows. But, I do think making it mandatory at least in the beginning gives you the opportunity to say, “I’m not scary” and “I am here to help”… this is uncommon with many faculty who sometimes seem bothered by office hours and student questions. When your students see that it is powerful and indeed fruitful to have a faculty member work with them and care for them, they will continue to show… but they have to experience it and not be told “its for their own good” or “I know what’s best”. This is what you are doing for your students with your first assignment.

    Y.E.S.

  2. I had a professor who had cookies in his office, that he would give to students. I didn’t struggle in any of his classes but I liked stopping by, chatting with him and eating cookies.

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