“The Missed Opportunity of Office Hours,” an article in the September 1st issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, laments, “Meeting with a professor can help students learn, or even change their lives. So why don’t more students do it?” (p. 29)
Fear not. Instructors around the country are becoming more proactive in engaging students outside of the classroom. Consider the following three examples:
— At UMass-Amherst, Sociology Professor Nevina Praline converted a 50-year-old taco food truck into a recreational cannabis and soft-serve ice cream dispensary (“Sweet Dreams”). She then set up shop on the perimeter of the campus quadrangle. Although Sweet Dreams is open to everyone, Praline’s students receive a 20% discount on all purchases.
“There’s nothing like a little weed to loosen students up and make them feel comfortable sharing their concerns about how they’re doing in my course,” says Praline. “And it gives me the opportunity to offer advice right on the spot. Of course, the extra income I derive from Sweet Dreams turns this venture into a win-win. Let’s face it: my salary as an assistant professor sucks. I can now afford the Camembert Du Bocage at my favorite cheese boutique in town. Yay!”
— Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon during the fall semester, Stanford University Finance Professor Grady Spurling carries a folding chair and small table into the all-gender restroom across the hallway from the classroom where he teaches Introduction to Technology Wealth Management, the most popular undergraduate offering at the Palo Alto school.
Spurling notes that “because my course meets twice a week for three hours with no break, many students REALLY have to pee when class is over. I station myself right next to the sink section and put an “Open for Business” tent card on the table. I also place a small bowl of Starburst candies there. When one of my students stops by for a treat, I strike up a conversation. The flushing toilets and gurgling urinals can make it difficult for us to hear each other — and don’t get me started on the electric hand dryers that roar like leaf blowers — but the effort is worth it. In addition, I find out who washes their hands and who doesn’t. As a result, I’ve stopped shaking hands with most of my male students, especially Virgil.”
— At Oberlin College last spring, Classics Professor Winston Selbane began phoning his students on a regular basis between 2:00 am and 4:00 am, whispering the greeting, “Yo, wassup, mofo?”
Dr. Selbane is no longer employed at Oberlin.
Yes, reaching out to students can be risky.
But some risks are worth taking. The future of your students is at stake.