Going into college, I was terrified to go to a professor’s office hours. At my very competitive and sometimes stressful high school, going to ask a teacher a question or to help with an assignment after class ended was seen as a sign of weakness or a result of getting in trouble. “If you could not learn everything you needed to know within that class period, you must not understand the material” was the shared mentality of people from my school so I refused to ever do it. Then I started going to Scripps, where going to a professor’s office hours is common and encouraged. Throughout my entire first semester at Scripps, I never visited a professor’s office or dared to ask a question outside of class, despite having incredibly welcoming professors who all mentioned that they enjoyed meeting people during office hours.
It was not until my sophomore year of college that I finally dared to go to office hours, and only by the requirement of the professor. In my CORE III class, Realism and Anti-Realism in Art and Literature, with Professor Aaron Matz, we were given the freedom to write a final research paper on anything that interested us related to what we learned about literature and art. Because this prompt allowed us to work outside of the confines of the curriculum, he required us to meet with him throughout our writing process to make sure that we were on track to finish a coherent paper by the end of the semester. It was then, and only then, that I went to his office hours to first get my paper topic approved so that I could begin the researching phase of this assignment. We would lose points on our final grade if we did not show up, so I finally had the incentive to visit a professor’s office.
After leaving my first trip to office hours, I felt utterly stupid. But not for the reasons that I thought. I felt stupid because attending office hours was the easiest, and most helpful experience. I left Professor Matz office with the confidence that I had a strong research paper topic (and if you’ve been to one of my Information Sessions, you’ll know I wrote a GREAT title for the paper that speaks for itself) and that he was excited to see how my paper would look the next time that we met.
That experience opened the flood gates of me going to a professor’s office hours whenever I had a question, if I wanted positive reinforcement, or if I just wanted to say hi. I have seen the inside of all my professors’ offices since that class and I typically feel better or at least more focused on what I need to do for a specific class when I leave. As a first-year, I had no idea how beneficial and supportive the practice of going to office hours could be. It has only strengthened my relationships with my professors as it gives us both time to get to know each other better and to have more in depth conversations. Professors at Scripps, and at the 5Cs, truly love interacting with their students and hearing what we have to say. Our classrooms are already conversational and collaborative, but office hours create an added opportunity to improve the classroom experience and environment.
Now as a senior, and especially in quarantine, I think about the times at Scripps where I really could have used going to a professor’s office hours or the times my professors encouraged me to talk to them outside of class that I never took them up on. While I did well academically and overall during my first year at Scripps, there were many missed opportunities where I could have understood the material or have gotten to know a professor better if I had just taken that small leap to their office. Professors are an email or a knock on the door away from answering all your questions and giving you reassurance in whatever you are not confident in. I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self that professors are not as intimidating as they are intelligent and that talking to them outside of class is not as scary as it sounds. Asking for help and clarity, in any situation, but especially in terms of talking to professors and teachers, can truly make a difference in your college experience, and it will typically work out better than your fears make it seem.