Office Hours

– A Poem by Taylor Mali

A good teacher will often announce to his or her classes

Office Hours

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that students who think they might need extra help
should feel free—would be well advised—to make
an appointment to meet with the teacher after school.

The word behoove may well be used.

In fact, good teachers always do this. And if they don’t,
then they probably shouldn’t be called good teachers.
There, I said it. Office hours: The time teachers set aside
to be around in case you need them;
the time they come to resent because
almost no one ever takes them up on this offer.

Office hours: an untapped goldmine of extra help
and motivation. Genius. All the difference in the galaxy.

But here’s the black hole: The students who are actually
smart enough to take advantage of a teacher’s office hours
are never the ones who need it most. Or if they are,
it’s hard to tell because they quickly become something else.

Either way, be that. Be that student.

The one who appears in the door two days before a chapter test
and says: I have five questions I’d like to ask you. Do you have a minute?

The teacher is stunned.

Never in a million planets would the teacher have expected you.
The teacher was just going to get some coffee.
Because that’s all the teacher ever does during office hours.
Drink coffee. Office hours = Coffee hours.
But you! Here, come in! Yes. Ask away. The teacher is all ears.

And wonder. And respect.

But now it’s your turn. Now you have to have five questions to ask.
And they can’t be idiot questions like: What will the test be on?
How should I study for it? Can you summarize everything.

I should have been paying attention to in class when you said it the first time?

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This is the hardest part for you. Because you have to have completed
most of your homework to be able to ask a good question.
Bring in connections to old material. This reminds me
of what you taught us at the beginning of the year;
is that a valuable insight? Or just a curious observation
to make note of and move on?

The teacher is amazed. The teacher hadn’t thought of that.
Inside, the teacher is pumping a fist like Tiger Woods.

I’m probably least familiar with the material at the end of the chapter.
Would it be wiser for me study that in the next few days?
Or maybe there won’t be as much of that on the test?
Don’t, of course, tell me anything you shouldn’t.

The teacher actually hasn’t written the test yet.
The teacher is deciding right now what exactly the test will be on.
The teacher says, I don’t want to tip my hand
or give you an advantage that other students don’t have, but . . .

The teacher is then likely to give you an advantage
other students will never have.

Right place. Right time. But you have to do the work.
Any idiot can ask an idiotic question.
But a good question, an informed question—
the word trenchant comes to mind—
is evidence of intellectual curiosity.

And that’s all any teacher ever wants to see you have.
Call it a kind of spark, a cognitive fire to light up the dark.
Desire for learning akin to burning.
Physical proof that you actually are
some kind of amazing, shooting star.

Taylor Mali curates the Page Meets Stage reading series at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. The author of two books of poetry, Mali was one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam. His latest book, What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, is based on a poem of his seen millions of times on YouTube.


Office Hours

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