Staff Editorial: Office hours lacks consistency among teachers, needs reform

In the wake of the novel coronavirus and virtual learning, it is commendable that the Poway Unified School District (PUSD) has taken steps to ensure an online environment that reflects life on campus. From creating a similar class structure to in-person learning, to offering internet help to students, PUSD strived to bring a sense of familiarity to Zoom classes. 

Among other changes, the school has tried to recreate one of the most notable features of on-campus learning: Wolverine Time, a 25-minute period for students to consult teachers, visit counselors or take a break in between classes. With the transition to online school, however, a model of Wolverine Time has proven to be ineffective. 

As a reflection of Wolverine Time, Westview has implemented office hours, a 25-minute Zoom period where students can connect with teachers just as they would during the on-campus Wolverine Time. 

While the function of on-campus Wolverine Time was clearly outlined for both teachers and students, the purpose of office hours varies among teachers. Some are leaving students in the waiting room to talk to students individually, while others don’t even start a Zoom call. Because there is no specific standard to hold teachers to for office hours, not all students are getting the help they need to succeed. 

In addition, many students find that speaking directly to a teacher about missed work, an upcoming assignment, or simply how they are feeling about online learning is easier when meeting one-on-one. This is necessary for students who don’t feel comfortable sharing their work in front of others, something that the on-campus Wolverine Time provided. 

In math and science classes, for example, students learn difficult key concepts and often rely on one-on-one meetings with their teacher to revisit them. In classes that require essay writing, personal feedback and guidance from teachers are helpful when writing papers. However, according to Matthew Guiao (12), the uncomfortable setting of office hours turns many students away from reaching out to teachers for individual help, even when they need it. 

“It’s awkward to ask questions in front of the class, especially when you’re used to asking questions in an actual classroom,” Guiao said.  “You can’t see other people or your teacher. You’re just in front of a screen by yourself.” 

In turn, the inability to get individual attention via Zoom takes away a student’s willingness to attend office hours, leaving many teachers to sit on Zoom without students, or to simply log off. 

This lack of consistency in the ways teachers approach office hours prevents many students from getting into individual contact with their teachers. Given that one of the top priorities for students is success in school, having a teacher-student connection is essential in order to accomplish this, something that office hours is only sporadically providing. As students venture into a new school year filled with uncertainties and doubts, being able to have a conversation with a teacher can be tremendously helpful in ways beyond just schoolwork. Conversing with teachers can alleviate stress, create new ideas, and strengthen relationships; but without a set standard for what the office hours period is, these benefits are not accessible to all students. 

In order to combat this, a clear purpose for office hours is necessary, something that is similar to how Wolverine Time functioned on-campus. The solutions that some teachers are already pursuing are allowing students to set up appointments during office hours, letting them share their screen to show projects, and leaving people in the waiting room to speak to students individually. These effective methods for conducting office hours should and need to be widespread among teachers, which can be accomplished through teachers sharing their strategies that work. 

Making office hours a meaningful 25 minutes starts with those conducting it: the teachers. It’s exploring new ways to make office hours useful to all students. It’s ensuring that these new effective methods are widespread among all Westview teachers. And it’s understanding that students appreciate individual help and can benefit from it. 

By adopting a model of office hours that provides individual help, as well as actively participating in the 25-minute period, teachers can help all students succeed, not just a few.