Ever since I started teaching at the University of Rwanda (UR) as a TEFL lecturer for my Peace Corps Response assignment, I have embraced the opportunity to introduce the practice of informal teacher-to-student meetings on a regular basis via office hours. A former volunteer colleague gave me the key to her vacant office (because she did all of her work from home) when I first arrived; I was grateful to have a neutral space that I could use to do my work and to meet with students outside of class.
UR is a governmental institution of higher learning and is the largest, oldest and best university in the country. Over 8,000 students study at the main campus where I teach; ergo, the average class size ranges anywhere from 30 to 100 or more students, especially if, for example, the nursing, pharmacy and medicine students are combined into one class like Anatomy (where only one lecturer teaches it). Considering these facts, it is understandable that the instructors are so boggled down with all of the responsibility that comes from having so many students in addition to all of their other duties as full-time, salaried university employees.
Then, I arrive as a volunteer at the bottom of the institutional totem pole and with no high expectations [from my colleagues and supervisor] for my work performance, though I do hold myself to a high standard as is the norm for a perpetual overachiever. Once I started teaching classes and getting a feel for the general English proficiency level of the students, I thought that instituting office hours would be a way to offer more academic, individualized support to students who both needed and wanted it. Now having done it, I am glad that it worked.
One of the first things I noticed upon establishing office hours is that students who were usually reserved in class felt more comfortable to open up and converse with me. They really had something to say, and a one-to-one informal meeting with them allowed them to express themselves without the fear of being judged by their peers for fear of making a mistake. I was astounded! Some of them even talked about their hobbies with me and wanted to know more about me; and one person asked me to read his brief literary manuscript for a book that he wants to publish.
Getting to meet with students almost every week during the trimester has proven to be one of my favorite aspects of guest lecturing at a foreign university. It reminds me of my writing tutor days both in college and at the local university in my hometown where I worked as a graduate writing tutor for one year before my first Peace Corps stint. University instructors wear many hats; we are facilitators of learning, academics, actors, authors, administrators, mentors, role models, tutors and [life] coaches. As an aspiring professor, it is a badge or hat I wear with honor.