“If you don’t get them in [to the office] during
the first month, it’s over” when it comes
to establishing any kind of one-on-one rapport.
“Even though students show up intermittently, my view is that being
available each week at a specified time shows commitment to students’
learning,” says Rosemary Polegato, a professor of commerce at Mount
Allison University. Whether they accept it or not, she suggests, “it is an
invitation to students. It’s also a way for faculty members to manage their
time around commitments to their courses, research and service.”
Dr. Polegato, who laughs as she describes her office as “quite a mess,”
also makes sure students realize that office hours are set aside for longer
discussions that go beyond the quick Q&A’s that constitute most e-mail
communication between professors and students today. Students may
prefer fast and easy electronic exchanges, but for most professors, being
on call for any concern 24/7 is not an option.
“They can e-mail me at two in the morning if they like, but they know
that I only answer during set hours – for me, it’s between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.,
which I think is fair. For my own sanity, there has to be a cut-off.” Dr.
Polegato posts a schedule where students can book 15-minute blocks of
time – which they do in predictably higher numbers around the time larger
assignments are due, or after they’ve received them back and want more
feedback on their mark. Dr. Polegato sets another boundary, requesting
that students speak to her after class, not before when she’s busy preparing
At Western, Dr. MacEachern jokes that one way to signal office availabil-
ity to students might be a colour code: “It would make a great doormat –
red for do not enter, yellow for approach with caution, green for come on
in.” Joking aside, he says, “I actually like to work with my door open. I
think we all want to avoid a sense of isolation.” That, after all, is in the
interests of both students and professors. “At the beginning of the school
year, I try to be welcoming, learn students’ names. I tell them I’ll be the
one walking around campus with a dumb look on my face, and if they see
me, they should come and talk to me. This way I meet them, and it breaks
Does it mean he’s always “on?” Not really. But it does mean it’s more
likely that a student will feel comfortable tapping on the professor’s door
with a nagging question – and maybe even ending up having the kind of
conversation that is remembered for a lifetime.
Moira Farr has written for many publications including
After Daniel: A Suicide Survivor’s Tale
, was shortlisted for several awards. She teaches
magazine writing at Carleton University’s school of journalism.
TIPS FOR MEETINGS WITH STUDENTS
New students need an incentive to visit
a professor’s office.
Post a schedule offering 15-minute
Make the meeting purposeful.
Survey your students to learn more about
them, and vice versa.
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