Many of us don’t have the luxury of understanding office hour politics only from the point of view of the student’s chair. Many of us are called upon to switch chairs sometimes and to, unfortunately, deal with the other side of the story.
Hard as it can be to enter such a space as the student—and it absolutely can seem monumentally intimidating when all the books are staring at you from the shelves and there’s a line out the hall—it’s also incredibly hard for the instructor. I have my office hours for an hour after each class every week. Sometimes, that can feel like doubling my workload for the day. I have seen students rage and cry, have minor epiphanies, and leave anywhere between hopeful and crushed. I have been told wildly inappropriate intimate details of their lives, the most absurd of excuses (actually said by students: "Sorry, there was this concert I had to go to last night and I couldn't write the paper." “I couldn’t find the classroom. That’s why I couldn’t e-mail you my paper” and an email saying that student couldn't e-mail me his paper because there was a blackout in the Library), and everything that happens to cross their minds as they sit in a panic in my tiny closet-of-an-office. Sometimes, I wonder if they are capable of filtering themselves at all.
It’s not always so easy to brush off what’s said in that tiny space. Sometimes, they can be horribly cruel, hurt, or angry. Painful though it is in the moment, I have to find a way to understand each time....and I usually do. I remember how hard the first year of college can seem. I remember suddenly not being the star of the class and having to work for the first time to get the grades that used to appear effortlessly. And if I’m the one they need to take that out on, then so be it.
On the other hand, I can see progress happen in my office in a way I can’t in the classroom. Students who use resistance as their basic modus operandi crumble into acceptance with a little direct attention. Those who never speak suddenly have the nerve to say surprisingly cogent things. If I could, I would transform my whole Intro To College Writing course into a ten-minute one-on-one meeting with each student each week.
I suppose you have to take the bitter with the sweet.
About the Author
Bessie McAdams, Ph.D. Student, English
Published in: Student Voices