Professor Office Hours: Do's and Don'ts

Most students make these unfortunate mistakes without the slightest clue they're torpedoing what could have been a great office hour meeting.

Elizabeth Hoyt

April 09, 2015

Professor Office Hours: Do's and Don'ts Professor Office Hours: Do's and Don'ts

You’ve been told you’re as unique as a snowflake since you were a young tike. But, in the eyes of college professors sitting tirelessly in office hours each semester, dealing with students who look alike, act alike and repeat the same shenanigans – you’re just another student.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Terrible, but true.

With the end of the semester nearing, many students will make last minute attempts to head into each of their professor’s office hours and make some unfortunate mistakes without the slightest clue they’re torpedoing what could have been a great office hour meeting.

The last thing you want to do, little snowflake, is repeat every annoying student habit that drives professors up the wall.

The good news, however, is that the things that annoy professors during office hours aren’t a secret and most of them are annoyed by the same things. So, we made a list of don’ts for you to avoid.

Even better news? We also know what professors like in students. So, we also included a list of those, too.

It looks like your snowflake status may become a reality after all!

Office Hour Dos & Don’ts

Don’t Remain Silent
Nothing is worse than awkward silence, especially when it’s your job to lead the conversation. You went into their office for a reason, right?

Don’t just sit there and stare at them – ask them a question or say something!

Remember. professors aren’t mind readers and they don’t have an agenda prepared for your office hour visit – that’s your job.

Do Arrive Prepared
Start by introducing yourself (since they may not even know your name) and go from there. It’s natural to be nervous or intimidated because professors can be intimidating.

If you anticipate being nervous, write down your questions beforehand, so that you know what to say in case you clam up.

Don’t Go While You’re Sick
Nobody wants your germs – especially professors, who are busy juggling teaching, research and personal lives. They don’t like being put at risk of catching your illness and won’t think it shows you’re more dedicated if you show up to office hours while you’re still ill.

While on the topic, don’t send a friend to their office hours in your place, either. They want to see you – not someone that’s not even in their course.

Do Touch Base If You Miss Class
It’s perfectly acceptable to send an email explaining why you’ve missed class and say that you’ll visit them during office hours when you’re well so as not to put them at risk of catching anything.

They’ll know you care about the course and appreciate your courtesy for their health.

Don’t Cry & Whine
College is preparing you for adulthood. And, just as you would act in any professional situation, professors don’t want to hear your excuses or, worse, see your tears and hear you whine like a child. Sorry to be harsh here but you need to hear it. Suck it up, act like the adult you are (and tell your parents they should treat you as) and act like it.

Do Calmly Explain Your Situation
If you need to ask for something, ask. You don’t need to cry about it. Professors, believe it or not, are people. They understand that life happens. If you want a deadline adjustment, explain the situation and limit the waterworks as best you can.

Don’t Arrive & Attack
If you don’t like your professor and your main goal of going into their office hours is to criticize or attack them, their teaching style or something in the like it’s probably best to NOT GO.

This is in reference to students insulting professor’s lesson plans, teaching styles, etc. (This actually happens.) After all, they do give you a grade at the end of the semester. Odds are, that won’t be weighted in your favor if it comes down to the option of you getting a higher or lower grade so save your negative opinions for the end of semester survey.

Do Speak Up
A healthy debate, however, about issues brought up in class (professors will likely even enjoy this) or a question about why you received a particular grade are completely different. That’s not what’s meant by “attacking” – they are completely appropriate and, often, necessary.

Such topics are perfectly acceptable to discuss, as long as the conversations are conducted in both a polite and courteous manner.

Don’t Make Lame Excuses
If you’re going into their office hours to make lame excuses about why you’ve been slacking off, missing classes or getting poor grades, save your time.

Professors have heard it all and they can see a last minute attempt to excuse bad behavior from miles away.

Do Be Honest
If you are actually having issues, personally, academically or otherwise, be honest about it – but only if it’s the truth. Professors can be very understanding and are willing to be flexible when students are dealing with issues in their lives.

It’s when students are dishonest and take advantage of a professor’s trust that make professors less willing to be understanding.

However, if your situation is real, speak up and your professor is more than likely to be willing to work with you on it.

Don’t Send Your Parents
Your parents have no place visiting your professor during his or her office hours. That time is set for professors to meet with students, not their parents.

Now that you are an adult, you should be the sole person handling any discussion of your grade disputes, assignments or extensions.

It’s completely inappropriate for your parents to contact your professors on your behalf unless you are, for some reason, literally incapacitated and incapable of doing so on your own.

Do Fight Your Own Battles
If you have an issue with a grade you received or are having trouble keeping up with your course load, talk to your professor about it.

Instead of relying on someone else (like your parents) to speak up for you, go to your professors office hours and talk to them about any issues you may be having.

Talk openly and honestly – professors are often more understanding than you may think and are willing to help, but they can’t help if they don’t know what’s going on.

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