13 Assisting Students in the Office

Office Hours

Adapted with permission from Unruh, 1986

The TA’s office is an important extension of the classroom. This is one of the few places where the protective shield of impersonality at the University can be broken. Most TAs have office hours but students are not necessarily required to come in during those times. Usually, office hours are scheduled before the semester begins and announced to the students during the first week. One alternative is to check with the students about convenient times before scheduling. Some professors may ask that you schedule your office hours at times which alternate with hers or his, thus increasing the time that one or the other of you is available to students. UF requires that faculty and teaching assistants establish office hours equal to at least one hour per week per credit hour. This includes conferences, of course, and can vary from week to week as long as your overall office hours balance out. You should announce changes in your posted office hours in advance of the change, if possible, to prevent students coming when you are not there.

How do you get students to come in? Let them know frequently that they are welcome. Invite them individually. A comment on a paper (e.g., “Please see me about this”) brings about a 75% response. Stress the importance and value of office visits both to you and to them. Most TAs deal with freshmen and sophomores who are not used to personal contact at the University. If those first few who come in have positive experiences, the word will spread. Some TAs find that posting the answers to quiz or homework problems on or around their door is an effective means of attracting students to office hours.

Helping Students Individually

Adapted with permission from Unruh, 1986

Getting students to come to your office hours is not always a problem; you may find that many students will come in, and for many different reasons. You may find yourself helping a student with the material for your course, with the logistics of a course that contains unfamiliar material, or with a personal problem. You should be aware of ways to facilitate a helpful tutorial or counseling session:

  1. Try to be as approachable as possible. The best action to take when a student comes in during your office hours is to make him or her feel welcome. It is very easy to make students feel that they are intruding; it takes only a little bit of care to create a relaxed, pleasant atmosphere in which communication is natural and easy.
  2. Rely on the student to tell you what he or she has come to see you about. You may suspect some hidden problem, but you should not press the student to disclose it. You can help the students if they actively request your help, but your responsibility need not extend further than their requests.
  3. Listen to your students when they come to your office. Give them your undivided attention. This is all part of making students feel welcome and encouraging communication. The best way to show that you are listening is to ask questions — it also shows students that you find their concerns important. Students often fear that they are wasting your time; by listening attentively and responding thoroughly, you can help allay their anxiety.

Finally, you should realize that you won’t always be able to provide the answers or information that are needed. If you are helping a student in the material for your own course, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know, but I can find out for you.”

In a situation in which a student is asking for more personal counseling, remember that you are not always the best qualified person for the student to be talking to. If you feel that the student needs more specific advice, you may be able to suggest someone who can provide it. Part Three has been included to serve as a referral list for you. This referral list may not be able to solve all of the problems you are confronted with, but it is a start. When in doubt, you should always consult the faculty member you are working with — especially if you feel that a student may be having serious emotional or some other kind of difficulties.

While in general not as many people will take advantage of office hours as could, on occasion you may encounter students who are overly-dependent on you either for assistance with course material or for companionship and counsel. It may be necessary to set limits with these students. You might try encouraging them to tackle assignments on their own before coming to you for help, or explain to them that you have limited time to spend with each student and must, therefore, restrict the frequency and duration of office visits. As indicated above, seriously troubled students who seek your assistance may be referred to the University’s professional counseling services.

Assisting Emotionally Troubled Students

Should a student come to you with serious emotional problems or, if you become concerned about a student’s emotional health because of comments made in class or in writing, you may want to refer the student to the University Counseling and Wellness Center at 3190 Radio Rd. (352-392-1575). The Counseling Center is a service agency within the Division of Student Affairs provided by the University of Florida for full-time undergraduate and graduate students in any of the University’s colleges or professional schools. The major goal of all Center programs and services is to provide counseling and student development services that help each student grow and develop intellectually, emotionally, and interpersonally. Individual, couples, and group counseling are available to help students with personal, academic, and career concerns.

Additionally, the Counseling and Wellness Center conducts programs in crisis intervention, multicultural counseling, eating disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual assault/abuse and recovery. Staff members are available to consult with students, faculty, administrators, and colleagues in the university community on issues related to the emotional and psychological well-being of individual students. Staff members also are available to campus departments, agencies, organizations, task forces, and committees to address overall issues affecting the climate of life on campus.

Counseling information and records are confidential except when release is required by law or when a client is judged to be dangerous to him/herself or to others. Appointments to see a counselor may be made in person or by telephone.

Understanding Student Differences

In dealing with students both individually and in classroom settings, you should keep in mind the diversity of students attending UF. Undergraduates may vary in age, cultural or national background, level of academic ability, experience in urban settings, or general maturity. Sensitivity to these differences in your interactions with students may foster your sense of rapport with them since they will be more likely to perceive you as understanding and tolerant. Moreover, many dimensions of differences in students directly affect instructional outcomes depending on the style of instruction they receive. Part Three has been included to serve as a referral list for you.


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UF TA Handbook Copyright © by John Jordi; Genavie Cueman; and Jennifer K. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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