#quicktips: professor office hours/extra help sessions

Posted on March 18th, 2020 to College transition

Asking for help is a hard thing for a lot of students to do. For some it’s an open admission of their imperfection. For others it’s an awkward encounter they would just rather avoid all together. Either way, the difficulty in accessing support readily available to you prevents you from using a crucial tool in any successful student’s tool bag. So how do you bridge the divide? How do you reconcile the dissonance you feel? I think there are a handful of things you can do. Try them out and see if this helps you reach your full potential as a student. See if these tips help you take steps closure towards achieving your academic goals! As always, I am here to help–so don’t hesitate to reach out with questions!

1. Reframe you’re perception

Nearly all the students I have worked with have had a deep seeded fear of asking for help. In their brains it was akin to exposing their imperfections to the world. This is often further complicated for students from marginalized backgrounds. Not only exposure of one’s faults, but also the fear of fulfilling negative stereotypes of classmates and teachers. The fact of the matter is the only person who knows why you are going to office hours or extra help sessions is you. You might be there with subject matter questions, or to continue an intellectual conversation, perhaps to develop a relationship with the teacher/professor/TA, or maybe even ask for a letter of recommendation. No one knows unless you tell them! Additionally, I expect you have academic goals. Meeting with your teacher can be the lynchpin to achieving those goals. It can be difficult to quiet the side of our brain that concerns us with what others think–this is just one of those times you will find it worthwhile to do so.

2. Show up

Sometimes in life just showing up is enough. New experiences require us to become comfortable, and often times the only way to get comfortable is to just blindly immerse ourself in the new experience. In other words, in the case of office hours or extra help sessions it means showing up. This doesn’t mean you have to completely forget who you are. In fact you want to do the complete opposite and embrace yourself in all of your quirky goodness. If you are more the “sit back and observe” personality type, cool. Show up, sit in the back of the room, and observe away. Wait until the opportune moment you feel comfortable to step into the moment. If you are good at just jumping into the fray, cool. Show up, and mix yourself right into the discussion. Showing up is like 90% of the challenge!

3. Listen or ask….either is OK

In my experience working with students, I have heard first hand the miss-conception that one should only attend office hours or extra help sessions with questions. Ehhhhh….that’s not entirely true. Certainly, if you have questions than you should bring them and ask them. That is, in essence, what these offerings are for–to get and receive help and support. However, even just listening to your classmates questions and discussions can help you more deeply understand the subject matter. Perhaps a new perspective is offered that shifts your understanding. Maybe a question opens your mind to a niche detail you had overlooked. These kinds of enlightening moments only happen when you escape the echo chamber of your own brain, and enter an open forum surrounded by others also trying to understand. 

4. Keep showing up

Once you start, don’t stop. Again, in my work with students I have heard a myriad of experiences that would make any reasonable person stop showing up. Things like misogyny, micro-aggressions, racism, and so on. These things suck and are wrong, there is no question about it. I get that if you have the choice of avoiding these uncomfortable and hurtful experiences than you would. I would too. Unfortunately, your teacher/professor/TA is still in charge of the class. As much as they might desperately need bias training, you aren’t necessarily in a position to change their personality in this particular moment. You will have to find a way to work with the situation so that you can gain the understanding you need and earn the grade you want. Now, this doesn’t mean you should do nothing if your course instructor is making you uncomfortable–I strongly urge you to work with the department chair, faculty dean, dean of students, principal, etc. to make sure this situation gets addressed!

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