Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Did You Get Stood Up This Week? So Did Your Prof! What You Should Know About Office Hours

(Before I start with my regular programming--I'm sure I'll write about relationships again--I wanted to say a heartfelt thank you for all the public and private words about my last two posts. Many posts are my head. Those were clearly my heart. They were therapeutic to write and I hope equally so for you to read. I'm in reflection mode... still. I imagine you are, too, and I wish you gentle thoughts on that journey! 

Okay, back to it: In so many of my posts, I am a big promoter of seeing your prof during office hours. I thought it would be a good idea to devote a post to the subject and what really happens behind the scenes of that scheduled time.)

I've been stood up.


I'm beginning to wonder:  What is it?

My Bath and Body Works Enchanted Orchid lotion? (Too many floral notes?)

My clothes? (I don't have spit-up on my shoulder. My son is 3!).

My personality? (Not possible!)

Oh, wait...

It can't be any of those things.

I'm not waiting for a date (my husband wouldn't like that, would he now?);

I'm waiting on a student!

And the student didn't show!


Students would be surprised that on a college campus, more "no shows" happen in the student-professor relationship than in their romantic relationships/friendships.


I've had students frantically call or e-mail, sounding the alarms that they MUST come talk to me. They set an appointment, and, well, let's just say I'd still be waiting for them to show up.

No call.

No e-mail.

No carrier pigeon. 

No follow-through.

If you're thinking, "Oh, here it comes... she's going to say, 'Don't stand up your prof!'", that's pretty obvious. Courtesy and manners dictate that you give a prof--or anyone!--a heads-up that you won't make an appointment... unless you've been taken out by a freight train or lifted by aliens and you have no cell phone service.

More importantly, let me take you behind the scenes of office hours. Because that's what I'm here for, right? To demystify some of the professor-student happenings. And office hours can be pretty mysterious, all right!

When the Hell Are They There?
Profs are contractually required to hold a certain number of office hours. Yes, there are times that we are taken away from those office hours due to meetings or other on-campus obligations. However, if we simply miss office hours (and, to be fair, I know many, many students show up during a prof's office hours only to find that the prof is a no-show--and that's not okay either), then there should be a note on our door saying why we're not there and when we'll return. If the prof uses a course management system, sometimes they will e-mail their classes and let them know that office hours are canceled. Lesson here is that it's a good idea to always check your e-mail!

The number of office hours varies, based on the prof's contractual obligation with the college. At my college, five office hours are required. At other colleges, twice that number are required. A prof usually has flexibility to select when their office hours occur and, ideally, they will come at a time that also works for students. Many profs put in "unofficial hours"  because their office serves as a basecamp to do other college-related work. I've seen my colleagues in their offices late at night, on weekends, and on their "e-mail office" seemingly 24-7. I realize that latter does not help a student who shows up at a prof's door, but recognize that the term "office hours" can mean virtual. One of my colleagues even holds office hours some Sundays on Elluminate. Still, many colleges do require actual in-person presence for at least some hours on campus. If your prof is never there, find out what's required (any department/building secretary can tell you). 

And When the Prof is In-Office...
Most profs will see students outside of their office hours, by appointment, and some by drop-in, if they aren't tied up with a meeting, other students, class prep, or a particular project. If the prof has set a meeting time with you, then he/she has probably already worked around any possible conflicts, such as committee meetings (another contractual obligation with the college). If the prof knows that your time is limited and you've set an appointment to meet, he/she may have walked out of a meeting or rushed over from across campus... which is all fine, as long as you show up!

Your Prof Has Personal Obligations, Too.
I know some profs who have to be out the college door at 2:30 to get their children by 3 p.m.  Sometimes, the prof is part of a carpool that leaves at a particular time, or he/she may have to drive to another campus. If you set an appointment with the prof, especially at an "unconventional" time i.e., early morning, later afternoon/evening, etc., then that person may have jumped through personal logistical hoops to meet with you. All the more reason why you should honor that appointment!

So what's the communication lesson here?

First, when you set the appointment with your prof, be 95% sure that you can make it. You can say to your prof, "My schedule is clear, but if something comes up and I cannot make this appointment, how should I get in touch with you?" I'm not suggesting exchanging cell phone numbers, but if you and your prof both get e-mail on your phones, that may be a way to confirm the meeting. It's also good to be open about what the constraints are i.e., childcare, your job, or potential traffic if you are leaving for the college at a different time than usual.

Speaking of which, it is not a bad idea to confirm a scheduled meeting with your prof. By e-mail is sufficient. Say, "I have an appointment scheduled with you tomorrow at 2:30. Just making sure this still works." Once you're confirmed, be on time! You never know if your prof has another appointment right after yours. The same goes for your prof:  He should be on time, too, or have left word with the department secretary giving you a heads-up if he's running behind. If you are meeting right after your prof's class, know that he may have been held up by a student who needed immediate consultation. Give him/her about 15 minutes to get there, and then leave a note with your phone number if he still doesn't show.

If you have to leave work or make alternate arrangements to meet with your prof, let her know that:  "I am going to take off from work an hour early so I can make this appointment" or "I have to get a babysitter in order to meet you." This way, the prof will know that she shouldn't let any issues get in the way of meeting you.

So let's say that you did stand up your prof. If a crisis arose, tell the prof as soon as you know you can't make it. E-mail is probably best since he may get that sooner if out-of-office. Back up with a phone call to the person's voice mail and also press "0", which should take you to the department secretary and enable you to leave a message there, too.

If you simply forgot the appointment, you don't have to admit that you forgot, but be apologetic: "I'm sorry that I missed my appointment with you. I will not let this happen again." You may want to just use the prof's office hours next time or make another appointment, but be darned sure that you will be there. Two no-shows would be, well, let's just say very, very bad.

And if you're the one feeling stood up? 
Let's get back to the "My prof is never there!" issue. If this is the case, tell the prof after your next class, "I have tried to come to your office three times during office hours and seem to be missing you. I need to meet with you. What would be a good time to do that?"

You can also ask the department/building secretary, "When is Professor Jones usually in her office? I've tried to see her three times now and the office is always dark. Do you recommend another way to get in touch with her?"

When you do meet with your prof, if you need to see him/her again, ask, "I would like to come back. What times are you generally here because I must have missed you during office hours a couple of times?"

If you are finding that you habitually cannot get to your prof during office hours, catch her after after class and commit to a meeting time, but more importantly, note this on your student evaluation.

Remember, while face-to-face interaction is ideal in many instances, profs are typically connected to students in all sorts of other ways, like I said before. Some profs are even using new programs to make student scheduling faster and easier: YouCanBook.Me was discussed in a blog post by a colleague of mine and some faculty on my campus are singing its praises.

Bottom line? An appointment is an appointment. Keep open communication with your prof about your need to interact and the way you'd like to do that. Ask directly about his/her availability. Most of all, show up.

Leave the stand-ups and no-shows for the dating world.

(For others in the dating world... you wouldn't do that, right?).  

Students, how much do you feel you want/need to see profs in person? Do you rely largely on e-mail for your communication? What topics do you think are more appropriate for face-to-face conversations? Faculty, what office hours insight do you have for students? 

(Updated 2:16 p.m. Tuesday: Addendum: Another important perspective from an anonymous reader who gave me permission to share:  "Thank you for the recent rant on being stood up. There’s one thing I noticed that you didn’t cover but irks me. I schedule appointments for students to come see me regarding resumes, work study, financial aid, etc. I set aside that 30 minutes for that student. If that student doesn’t show, they’re taking away precious time that another student could have used. I can only see so many students a day, so when a student no-shows, I feel bad for the student I had to schedule next week (as I’m only part time) and they desperately need a job."

This reader is SO right! The time that is taken up with waiting could have gone to someone else!)

(Updated 12:05 p.m. 11/7: Another addendum! My colleague who writes the Technology for Educators blog just wrote in recommending these programs so students can keep track of their appointments:  Followup.cc will send you an email reminder whenever you want it. (Read more here: http://suefrantz.com/2010/12/10/followup-cc-remind-yourself/). If you live by text message try this service: http://www.textmemos.com/. Thanks, Sue Frantz!)


  1. I love what you mentioned about not being able to connect with a prof in their office. My students complain that I am never in my office, but they usually just miss me because I stepped out for 2 minutes. The best way to communicate if this happens is through email or voicemail. Let me know that you stopped by, I can't read your mind! Great stuff Ellen!

  2. I like the bottom line...an appointment is an appointment. I also appreciate that you point out that it is not OK for the professor to be a no-show unless they communicated beforehand.

    A friend of mine who hated being stood up used to make the *somewhat arrogant* statement that "don't assume your time is more valuable than mine". What he really meant is do not show disrespect by being a no-show with no explanation.

  3. Eric, I agree. The same thing happens to me if I get caught at the copier, in a colleague's office, or in the rest room! E-mail and voice mail need to come back into fashion for these types of situations! Thank you for commenting!!! Ellen

  4. Brian, I really appreciated your words and, sure, we are guilty of the no-show, too.

    What your friend said reminded me of the way I've felt in doctor's offices at times. When I'm waiting an hour past my appointment, does this mean that my time is less valuable? I have absolutely felt that way before, so I understand what your friend was saying.

    Thank you very much for writing! Ellen

  5. I'm going to knock on wood here, but I don't think I've ever been stood up by a student who scheduled an appointment with me. I will, however, say that I hear entirely too often how intimidating I am. Maybe students are scared to stand me up?

    I do work closely, daily with students as the director of student publications. Those are most of the students who are in my classes and who I advise. Perhaps they're afraid to stand me up because they know they'll have to see me soon afterward. I'm their professor and their manager.

  6. Okay, Kenna, so I'm officially jealous! :-) I agree that when students know they have to see you again, there is more at stake and they want to save face. Also, they know that standing you up REALLY translates into poor work ethic, especially when they are working with you in another realm. I think many other students could take a lesson from how your students are accountable!!! Thank you, as always, for your words! Ellen

  7. My students have my email (of course) and also my cell number so they can text me. I don't mind giving them my cell number -- sometimes being able to text comes in really handy! Like yesterday, when my son was sick and I needed to go home. I had an appointment with a student in less than an hour, so I texted him to ask if we could reschedule, and he said sure. The appointment was rescheduled and problem solved. Students have also texted me to say they're running late or won't be in class for some last-minute reason. Works great for me!

  8. Yowordgirl, thank you so much for your comment! You know, I have totally done the same thing and a couple of students have abused it--calling me at odd times for other help. That's why I mentioned it wasn't necessary to exchange cell phone numbers because that can get a little too personal. But I agree with what you're saying. There have been times I wished I had a student's number for that same convenience. I really appreciate you writing! Ellen

  9. I haven't had it abused so far! They actually never call -- only text. At the beginning of the the semester, I ask them to give me their cell numbers, if they're willing, and most do. I also ask them not to text after 9. :) But I can so relate to what you're saying! They miss you once and then suddenly you're 'never' in your office. Texting is my friend. (And funny enough, I almost never text in my personal life!)

  10. Yowordgirl, right... I'm with you! I try to text as little as possible in my personal life. In fact, I just authored a 12Most post on this topic :-). http://12most.com/2011/10/27/12-practical-reasons-increase-talking-texting/

    When I go back into the classroom next year, I'll have to rethink my position on cell phone use. The texting piece makes sense. Also, I do service learning every term and I have no choice but to give out a cell phone number on that day in case a student has trouble finding our location or will not make it. Again, thank you so much!

  11. As a student I made appointments with my professors, and, frankly, sometimes I just forgot I had an appointment. I even had it on my calendar -- I just didn't remember to look at my calendar.

    Here are two services I wish I had oh-so-many years ago. Followup.cc will send you an email reminder whenever you want it. (Read more here: http://suefrantz.com/2010/12/10/followup-cc-remind-yourself/). If you live by text message try this service: http://www.textmemos.com/. I haven't tried it, but it sounds good -- it will send you a text message whenever you'd like. Have an appointment on Monday? Set reminders for Sunday night and Monday morning.

  12. Awesome tips, Sue! I'm going to update with those services. Thank you! Ellen

  13. That's just plain rough, Ellen! I can seriously understand the predicament. From my view of being younger and in the college realm, I can honestly say it's a lack of appreciation for teachers.

    Sadly, it comes down to a lot of students not really caring much for their teachers and their lives. It's sad to see, really!

    And I don't really know how to fix the problem, as it's really a societal problem on a whole. Great post! Gets me thinking!

  14. Christian, I sure appreciate your candor on this one. And I agree that it is a societal problem, on a whole.

    I'm going to take a positive spin that while respect may be flailing, maybe some of the technological conveniences of remembering appointments (such as my colleague Sue shared) will result in an increase of "shows" :-).

    I can hope, right?

    Thank you, as always, for your thoughts!