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February 23, 2006


The Happy Feminist

When I was in high school or college, I never once took advantage of a teacher or professor's visiting hours. I was always a bit mystified by those who did. Now I realize that I probably lost out.

My major stumbling block was that, to me, a professor or teacher was someone to be impressed. I couldn't imagine going to a professor and admitting to having difficulty or being perplexed by something. My entire goal if perplexed or in difficulty was to hide that fact, not advertise it!

When I did have trouble with certain classes, I didn't have the foggiest idea how I might use the professor to help me. When I struggled in one class in high school, someone suggested that I see the teacher. But I couldn't imagine seeing the teacher without having made an effort to solve my own difficulties and I assumed that if I really made an effort then I wouldn't need to see the teacher!

I think maybe colleges should have some sort of orientation as to how to effectively take advantage of access to a professor and what professors can and can't do to help their students one-on-one!


I'm also one of those "scared of the prof" people. I've always been paranoid of looking incompetent in front of instructors. NOT talking to them probably has done that far more than admitting I needed help, but irrational fears are just that: irrational.

Especially now, when I'm contemplating grad school and needing recommendation letters, I've been putting off applying because I can't think of one prof I didn't say something exceedingly stupid to in class or write something stupid in a paper or otherwise made myself look like an idiot.

Of course, I rarely e-mail them either, but if I absolutely have to communicate with one of them, that's usually what I do, but it's generally a last resort and I tend to keep them short, neutral and business-like and don't get upset if I don't get a reply.

I think a lot of profs don't realize that some of the "pushyness" of their students is likely a result of nerves and the student trying to mask their own lack of confidence by being boorish. A lot of profs also forget that their students are often very keenly aware of the power they have over their academic career and possibly their future (like getting into grad school).

There are some students who are genuinely rude and disrespectful, but I don't think that's most of them.


Good point about office hours. I remember in the late 90's when I was a TA. The office hour session most immediately preceeding an exam; there would be students crowding in and around the door, and I'd let them take turns asking questions, and we'd have these great impromptu review sessions where they were helping each other as much as I was helping them. That never happens anymore, and I miss it.

And for some reason I'm really unproductive during empty office hours, even for email or something.


breadfish: I can't imagine there are too many faculty (although I'm sure they're out there) who remember students by their most foolish or confused moments. Those aren't interesting at all--we remember students in the moments they shine. It's much more memorable, and besides, undergraduates are supposed to be confused and wrong a good portion of the time. Those of us with our egos under control even remember when we were foolish, confused and wrong in class.

M Light

As an undergraduate, I was one of those students who were too shy, most of the time, to go talk to a professor during office hours. I generally tried to figure things out on my own.

I went back to graduate school after working for a few years and after having my first child so I wasn't nearly as shy anymore. I really enjoyed the chance to have conversations with the professors and to talk to them about how to improve my papers. But, I still felt like I was taking up their time and tried to be as efficient as possible. I wish I'd spent a bit less time worrying, and more time finding out about their ideas.


I teach part time at a major university. One reason I am loathe to give out my e-mail address is that I get bombarded with e-mails from students wanting me to explain my they got an A- instead of an A!

So I ended up having a form reply that said I do not discuss such issues via e-mail.

Q Grrl

I had the truly lucky experience of having a mentor in my last two years of college. I soaked up hours of her presence, her wit, her intelligence, and her advice -- all of which is still tangible and meaningful some 15 years later. [Props go to history prof Ellen Eslinger, now at DePaul Univ.] She still is the touchstone and inspiration for my academic pursuits.

If email had been available, I would have made an even sketchier and remote student than I already was. I would have created too many excuses and loopholes, me thinks.


I had a couple of professors in college who required their students to visit them during office hours a few times a quarter. My screenwriting prof, for example, had us visit with him one-on-one to discuss our screenplays, and I had an honors history seminar where I was required to meet regularly with my professor to discuss my research topic.

Sadly, I pretty much never went to office hours unless I was required to, but I learned more and felt closer to the professors in the classes where it was required (and, therefore, where I went). That's just one of the things I'd do if I went back to school - take advantage of office hours regularly!


Surprisingly enough, I feel like it's LESS of an intrusion to email a professor. If I email them, they can respond to me on their own time, as opposed to visiting them and feeling like I'm demanding that they talk to me NOW.

And, let me say ditto to the whole "afraid of the professor thing". If there's a prof I really like, I hate to look incompetent to them. If it's a professor I hate, I'm afraid some of my body language will slip and s/he'll realize how much of a bore I find her/his class, and will reflect poorly on my grade.

Not to mention, the person to person thing intimidates me, wheras asking questions in class, I feel like her/his attention is dispursed.


Honestly, after reading that article, I don't think I'd e-mail, call, visit or have any kind of contact whatsoever with some of those professors. While I can understand being frustrated when students are especially rude or when they expect extra services/special treatment from professors, some of the complaints quoted in the article seemed incredibly petty and even a little mean-spirited.

Was it really necessary to mock that poor freshman who didn't know which notebook to buy (particularly since I, at least, have been in numerous classes in which professors actually did recommend that we purchase a certain type of folder/notebook/binder for our notes and handouts)? And why is it "going too far" to contact a professor if you're concerned that he's going through the material too quickly for you to effectively grasp it? I can't tell if the message there was "these issues should be discussed face-to-face instead of in e-mail" or "you shouldn't ever dare to say anything remotely negative about a professor's teaching style"; I hope it was the former (though I don't see why that really makes a difference).

Maybe it's just that I'm looking at this from the perspective of a student (one more semester to go!) and not as someone who's actually worked as a teacher or professor, but I honestly think that some of these professors' comments reflected more negatively on themselves than on their students. They seem to have forgotten that although their students do have a responsibility to be respectful, they also have a responsibility to teach effectively, be responsive to student concerns, and ideally care about their students as individuals. Which means once in a while sucking it up and helping the confused freshman even though it's not really their responsibility, or actually listening and not taking a superior "how dare you criticize me" attitude when students suggest (respectfully and appropriately) that they may not be teaching as effectively as they could be.

(Note that none of this is intended as a criticism of Hugo, or any other professor who posts here-- just responding to the specific people quoted in the article!)


Interesting topic...I am a chemistry professor at a small liberal arts college, and I love email! It's a great way for students to ask questions that, frankly, they might not ask if they had to walk their way over to my office. I have very small classes, however; I might feel differently if I had huge amounts of email questions coming my way. Also, these small classes mean that I get to know my students well in class and lab. I don't feel any obligation to answer these emails immediately, or even to reply at all via email--sometimes I'll just make a note to mention a particular concept and answer the question in class. I also find email to be a great way to communicate with my class as a whole (along with course management sites like Blackboard)...such as in the event of a class cancellation, error on a problem set, etc. I've come to the realization that even though I didn't grow up with email, for most of my students, it's how they're used to communicating.

I was a bit taken aback as well with the professor in the article that seemed to think that the notebook question was somehow out-of-bounds--some classes do have specific requirements, but more than that, how long would it have taken to reply with a quick "it doesn't really matter...any kind will do" message? A lot less time, I'd bet, than it took to worry about what her response should be.

For those students who hesitate to visit or email their professors for fear of appearing dumb....AAAARRRRRGGGHHHHHH!!! That's like a knife to the chest for me! You know, it's not just the fabulously generous salary or glamorous jet-set lifestyle that draws us to a career teaching college...most of us actually like helping/talking with/arguing with/joking around with students! Really! And the few who might really think less of you for asking a question--who cares? I'm much more impressed with students who ask questions (even the occasional obvious one) than with those who never go out on that limb. And that will be reflected in recommendation letters.

So...just my $0.02.

Medic Blog

In the last seven or eight years, I've seen what must be an 80-90% drop in the number of those who are willing to come and knock on my door. E-mail is not only much more convenient for the students in terms of time, it's also much easier for the introverted and the shy.

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