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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Perspective: Professors should empower students to attend office hours

Almost halfway through my sophomore year at GW, the weight of not having developed deep connections with my professors is growing heavy. Leaving home to start a new life at college can be daunting but feeling comfortable talking and forming relationships with professors shouldn’t be.

Coming from a public school in Mississippi where my class sizes usually ranged from 10 to 30 people, forming relationships with teachers came easily. Even now, almost two years after high school graduation, I still communicate with my past teachers frequently. Coming to GW, where the total enrollment rivals the size of my hometown, I knew class size would take some getting used to, but I wasn’t prepared to feel so disconnected from my professors.

From the beginning of students’ time in college, it is instilled in them to form meaningful relationships with professors because they are integral to future letters of recommendation or connections to desired career paths. But when students are thrust into the world of college having never experienced office hours, we don’t quite know how to best take advantage of the time professors set aside for us.

With every new set of classes students take, they are given a syllabus with the professors’ office hours. Usually a two-hour window that takes place on one or two days of the week, GW professors apportion time to make themselves available to students. But students’ free time does not always align with professor’s office hours, leading some students to never even attend them.

Even if students are able to show up to a professor’s office hours it can be incredibly intimidating. This fear is further exacerbated if students are attending office hours for a 100-person lecture where the professor has probably never even seen most students’ faces before.

A student’s ability to attend office hours is impacted by their personal experiences, academic needs and even personality. I’ve found office hours are easiest for me to attend when I have a specific question for the professor about an assignment — I feel like I have a reason to be there. Despite wanting to regularly attend office hours, I often don’t because I fear I may be taking the time from someone else.

In my prior educational experiences, connection with teachers happened inside the classroom and was not something you had to seek out – it was created naturally. But college is an unknown landscape, with office hours being a difficult route to follow. Simply being available for two hours a week is not enough for professors, they need to encourage personable relationships with students as well.

Even in smaller classes where I feel more connected to the professor and have gone to office hours, the relationship seems to end with the class. There is no guidance on what is appropriate when trying to stay in touch with professors as both a current and past student.

Professors should let students in on how best to stay in contact with them. Without instruction and guidance from professors, students may let the relationship end to avoid feeling as though they are burdening their professor. The responsibility to form a relationship with professors should not lie solely on students — it’s a two way street.

At UC Berkeley, the Center for Teaching and Learning suggests that professors alleviate students’ fears by leading the way in outlining what to discuss at office hours and offering guidance on how to start conversations with professors.

GW professors shouldn’t stop with just a one-time introduction to office hours at the beginning of the course but continue the trend. Especially as course load and stress ramps up throughout the semester, professors should continue to verbalize their ability and willingness to help students.

When students experience a personal connection with their professors, they become more engaged and actively participate in their studies. Fostering a more personable and encouraging approach during class and office hours allows students to get the most out of their education. Students can also help form more meaningful relationships with professors by being open about barriers they face.

GW professors are some of the leading voices in their fields. Many of them have years of research and publications to their name, making them arguably GW students’ greatest resource for expert, first-hand knowledge. It is a disservice to students to not foster an environment that makes taking advantage of these opportunities comfortable.

It took me almost a year at GW to get comfortable going out of my way to ask professors for help, but I still carry a feeling of impending doom that by the time I graduate I won’t have made meaningful connections with professors. Professors need to take initiative and cultivate relationships with students that guide them to success.

Riley Didion, a sophomore majoring in political science and English, is an opinions writer.

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