Monday, April 07, 2008

Some things, I just don't get

I realize I'm not the sharpest tack on the bulletin board, but there are things I just don't get. Here's one:

A student in my class asks me to help him/her with some piece of writing, usually an application for study abroad, a statement of purpose for grad school or an internship, it could be almost anything.

So I suggest that the student come to my office hours, that happen to begin an hour and a half (or so) before our class (the one s/he's taking from me).

And inevitably, the student shows up 15 minutes before class starts, paper in hand.

I just don't quite understand what the student expects in this situation. My practice is to read the paper with the student there, to give him/her some feedback, and explain things as I go. But how am I supposed to do that in 10 minutes (because I actually have to walk to class)?

This happened here the other day. It's happened innumerable times in the States. And I still don't get it. These are students who've gone over classwork with me, so they know that it takes a while to go over a paper. And these are intelligent folks, but I just don't know what to think.


  1. I think you need to specify the time and what you will do and set boundaries that if they are late you will need to reschedule. An alternative would be to ask for the paper ahead of time so that you could read it and then have them show up 45 min before class to meet for 1/2 hour. I think for some it is anxiety-producing to have an expert review his/her work -- even though they have actively sought your help. I experienced this when I taught and I have also experienced it with novice employees when they aren't use to working collaboratively. Getting past that anxiousness of having someone critique your work in your presence is a big hurdle.

  2. young people aren't necessarily good planners yet. they learn that. even really smart students may just not think about the time involved in a review that might be helpful to them.

    maybe they are hoping you'll just write comments in the margin that night, and they won't have to sit there and listen. [could be boredom; could be insecurity; but the collaboration and discussion is probably most useful.]

  3. It's in the student handbook -- instructors don't mind if you're late because they have nothing better to do!

    Sorry. Is that snarky? This comes after a few weeks of working in a writing lab where students have to make appointments to work with a tutor, but few rarely show up.

  4. * "they learn that." as a mother, my opinion is that they learn that by screwing up, and hearing exactly what they need to do instead of what they did. because they can't plan. and they will listen to professors/instructors more than they will listen to moms.

    charlotte, please snark away. i swear, most of us don't raise them this way. their prefrontal cortexes are not fully developed. they need appropriate stimulation for full adult mental development. we parents are grateful, more than we can possibly say.

  5. Well, first up, the reason they (ok, we) come at the END of office hours rather than the beginning is almost certainly because we want to go straight from there to class, so as to minimise how much earlier we have to come in/ time away from research/ time away from the pub.

    As for why we don't turn up until fifteen minutes before the end of office hours, a couple of reasons:
    * nervousness/ not wanting to take up too much time or attention
    * actually not thinking through how long it will take
    * chronic lateness. are the students in question those who turn up ten minutes late for class every week? maybe they're AIMING for half an hour's review and failing. As Kathy noted, young people as a group aren't good planners, and nerdy types tend to have their heads in the clouds anyway. Or perhaps those who need the review are those who can't organise their life and research anyway- ergo, it is unlikely that they will be organised enough to be on time for anything either.

    Me, I have such a flexible schedule that I find it hard to remember when it is that i HAVE to be somewhere on time, and that other people have more rigid timetables than me. That's the head-in-the-clouds effect for you.

    If you particularly want to minimise this effect, can you organise your office hours to be AFTER class? In that case, they will be right there already, and if you have more than one student to deal with, you can ask student B to go grab a coffee for twenty minutes and come back.

    Alternatively, officialy close office hours 15 minutes before class, and let it be known that you will be reviewing lecture notes in that time, so they'd better be there earlier?

  6. if it was me? I'd still be writing it up until that 15 minutes before it can't be any later. and I don't have the prefontal-teenage excuse. just can't seem to get things done before they're due.

    I like the idea of ending office hours 15 minutes before class starts. I do tend to have office hours after class rather than before (except night classes).

  7. Cam, Good idea to specify a time. I don't like to read things like this without the student there because I still have to go over it with him/her, so it takes way longer. And it feels like grading.

    Kathy A, good point!

    Charlotte, I have to be there anyway, and I always find plenty to keep me busy. But if this were a set appointment, then it would be frustrating!

    Highlyeccentric, Very good ideas! I do have office hours before and after different classes; since this class ends at 4pm, most students are really ready to rush off and get to work or whatever.

    Timna, right. It's not like I don't procrastinate myself!