Picture it. The year was 2012. The scene: a frigid March morning in Buffalo where the snow stood five feet deep on the sides of nearly every road in Western New York. Now three and a half months into a relentless gray winter broken only by the rhythmic cycle of lake effect snowstorms dropping 8-20 inches of the white flakes every week or so, a younger, slimmer version of me dragged himself out of bed to drive twenty minutes away to the University at Buffalo History Department to wait in a nondescript office for the next two hours. The ride in was cold. My car didn’t actually fully get toasty until I had entered the university parking lot. But I had an obligation to fulfill every Thursday between 8:30 and 10:30: office hours. Every week without fail, I showed up on my “off” day (which was usually also devoted to reading one entire book and writing a response paper for one of my three graduate courses) to make myself available to students who might have questions about how to succeed in their World Civilizations or U.S. History course.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of students did not even bother to do that: show up.
When I was hired at Episcopal, I decided to highlight the importance of showing up to office hours to all of my students. I argue that it is the single most underutilized aspect of their high school and college careers. Showing up to office hours even once a month for each class leads to a whole list of benefits for students. These include but are not limited to:
If our students leave Episcopal and are comfortable approaching their college professors, managers, and bosses, they are more likely to succeed. In addition to getting higher grades, they turn their classroom experiences into early-career-defining moments. Last year, for example, an alum came back to campus and mentioned how stunned she was that so many of her college classmates did not take lectures and office hours seriously. She said that she sat in the front row for each class meeting, made sure to ask at least one meaningful content-related question per lecture, and went to office hours to meet with her professor for at least 10-15 minutes each week to clarify her own reading notes. Not only was the student regarded by the faculty in her department as a rock star by the end of her first semester of Freshman year, but she was also offered a paid summer internship by one of her professors because they recognized her potential. She is not the only one. I’ve lost count of how many students have gone on to serve on Capitol Hill, work for large non-profit organizations, and intern for large, impressive corporations during the summer.
The one thing most of them have in common? They went to office hours. Intentionally. Consistently. Doing so gave them a leg up on the students who had not. Professors would love to point serious students in the direction of opportunities that would turn their majors and minors into a career by the time they leave with a Bachelor’s degree in hand. While everyone else is avoiding office hours, I’m proud to hear that a good number of Episcopal alums who developed the habit of going to office hours to meet with instructors continue to show up.
Dr. Billy Pritchard
Dr. Billy Pritchard is a native of Winn Parish, Louisiana. He and his wife, Lisa, came to Episcopal in 2015 after spending the previous decade in Buffalo, New York. Dr. Pritchard is a 1999 graduate of the Louisiana School of Math, Science, and the Arts. In addition, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Centenary College of Louisiana, a master’s degree from Ole Miss and doctorate from SUNY-Buffalo. Dr. Pritchard teaches U.S. History, Honors AP U.S. History, American Presidency and the Civil Rights Movement.