Friday, 11 July 2014

Hot Topic: Schools Should Not Require Office Hours

Office hours aka "desk warming time" is a hot topic amongst TEFL teachers. Many TEFL teachers don't use office hours productively either and can be often found lurking on Facebook, Waygook, Dave's ESL Cafe, Raoul's China Saloon, Ajarn, or any of the other websites for TEFL teachers around the world. Some teachers would rather accept a lower paying job rather than desk warm.

From lbcommuter.com
ESLCafeLatte sums it up nicely here. "4. Duties- Asking faculty to do things for "free", that is to come in for events or tasks or meetings beyond their contracted hours, is to diminish the worth of a highly educated instructor pool. It is petty and demeaning, again, rather like Walmart. Beyond that, demanding that faculty "log in" when they arrive and leave is an anathema in academe. Teaching hours and a reasonable commitment to office hours are all that professors and instructors ought to be accountable for. These are posted on office doors, web-sites, and on the syllabus. Students and the administration can reach any employee by cell-phone or email, just like the rest of the world does.?

What Other Teachers Think
mashkif also has something to say about it. "Faculty members of a higher education institution are not regular service-sector workers whose productivity and value are measured by the amount of time they sojourn at a desk or behind a counter. Other than interfacing with their students (formally in the class or in individual conferences during office hours) and attending departmental/institutional engagements, there is absolutely no reason for faculty to sit behind their desks for a specified period of time. Period.

By insisting on mandatory working hours, you are basically making faculty justify their salaries. But you are also creating a workforce that is resentful and disloyal. Mandatory working hours are NOT the norm in higher education. And the reason they're not the standard is that every half-decent institution recognizes that it would be counterproductive to make them such. By forcing such a ridiculous practice on faculty, you end up with people who despise you and your institution, and who are unhappy with their jobs."

My take on office hours
There seem to be two reasons for office hours and I disagree with both of them.

Reason 1. Students, staff, and admin have to be able to reach you.
Rebuttal: Let's wake up and smell the coffee, very little of that communication has to take place in person. I'm going to go out an a limb here and say that most people do not want to meet with you in person because they feel that their English level isn't good enough and they'll be afraid to make mistakes. Most of the communication I have had with students, staff, and admin has been through technology: emails, texts, kakaotalk, and phone calls. Very rarely will someone come to my office unless I tell them they have to.

Reason 2: You have to be able to plan your classes.
Rebuttal: I can't even believe that in this day and age people think this is a logic argument. Depending on your office evironment it might be next to impossible to get any work done. When I worked in an open plan office with over a dozen teachers, the teachers' room was always buzzing. It was a great atmosphere for socialising, but pretty hard to get an serious work done. If you have a shared office or your own office, it'll be quieter and you can get work done. However, if you're like many teachers, when you're not in class you need a bit of downtime. I can also work at home if I need to. That's not an issue.

Summary
Having a few office hours a week seem to be ok. By few I mean 2-3. However, so many schools require a heck of a lot more. They'll say that you only have to teach 15-20 hours a week, but neglect to tell you that you-ll be spending up to 20 hours a week desk warming, erm, I mean doing office hours.

Office hours can be useful. I know plenty of people who have used their time wisely and gotten a master degree, TEFL diploma, studied a language, or done something worthwhile with their time. Most teachers don't do this though.

Other places use "office hours" as an excuse for you to be their slave. They'll have you proofread and edit gibberish until you pull your hair out, give placement tests to students, meet with admin, etc. The problem with this is that office hours aren't meant for this. Office hours are meant for you to do what you have to do, whether that be plan classes, grade, create tests, or meet with your students.

Bottom line: if schools are going to require office hours, they shouldn't require too many nor should they fill up your office hours with things they want you to do. There are much better ways schools can motivate teachers. Though on the other hand, teaching English abroad requires a lot of give and take.

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