Outside the Classroom

This section introduces you to:

  • Office hours
  • Student wellbeing
  • Learning development for students

Managing your office hours

At LSE, office hours are used as a way of providing additional support for individual students. GTA contracts now pay, as a default, for one office hour per three classes that you teach, although there may be variation across departments and at different times of the year. Most class teachers timetable a mutually convenient time with their students and stick to the same hour each week. Ideally it should be timed on the half hour (eg, 10.30-11.30am) to avoid timetable clashes for the greatest number of students. If there are still some students who are unable to make your office hour timing, you may want to check with your department what alternative arrangements can be made or, alternatively, agree a different time with individual students convenient to both of you.

Some class teachers encourage their students to contact them using email. This may be convenient for both you and your students, but do be aware that this method of communicating can be more difficult to manage – and managing your own time should be a major concern from the outset. If it is easy for students to contact you by email, and you encourage them with detailed written answers to their questions, it can result in students asking for answers rather than thinking things through for themselves first. Do not be afraid of setting clear boundaries for use of email and for the turnaround time in responding to student emails. Please check that the expectations you set are in line you’re your department policy.

Moodle courses contain forums which you can use to facilitate better communication with and among your students. Revision questions that students email in might be posted here anonymously withanswers from you, as is the practice in a large Economics course, for example, and the glossary function can be used to create a quick and simple FAQ bank. Contact the LSE Eden Centre who will be happy to advise you on any of this.

In the office hour, you may see very motivated and interested students who want to discuss topics in more detail, you may see students who are shy, or lacking in confidence in their spoken English to ask you questions in class or you may see students who have a particular problem.

In practice the office hour tends to be underused by students. You may wish to encourage your students to use the office hour and repeat your invitation to attend several times during the term.

Helping students to study effectively

Do think about the key differences between lectures, classes and office hours. The office hour is an ideal opportunity to develop your mentoring skills. There are two main elements involved. The first is working with individual students to encourage them to identify misunderstandings, and see what they do understand and how they can express themselves in the language of the discipline you are teaching. The second is to help them to learn “how to think” as an economist, a historian, an anthropologist, etc. and to develop detailed insight into the thinking processes of the discipline. Recognising the peculiarities of each “academic world” can be particularly important where you are working with students whose home department is different from the course they are studying with you (for example, helping someone who is well on their way to becoming a historian to grasp how an economist thinks and works). If you want to develop your ideas on being an effective mentor, contact the LSE Eden Centre for further guidance.

Students are more likely to visit your office hour when they are preparing for a class assignment or when they are revising for the end-of-course examinations. Many of the questions will be about parts of the curriculum that they are struggling to understand or apply and you will be called upon to listen carefully and use probing questions to try and tease out the specific causes of difficulty or concern. You may at times also be asked to give concise explanations and respond to your students’ questions. However, you should not try to do the students’ work for them and your approach should be to encourage, prompt and guide students towards understanding rather than to simply “give the answers” or solve the problem for them.

Especially when it comes to revising, students may need your help in developing an effective approach to their work and methods of studying. You could recommend they visit LSE LIFE, which offers workshops, one-to-one sessions and resources on developing effective study skills.

Responding to students’ requests for advice on personal matters

As you get to know your students better, they may ask for your advice on academic-related matters (eg, “Should I change courses?” or “I get so nervous during exams that I can’t sleep”) and they may also want to talk to you about more personal concerns (eg, “I can’t pay my rent,” “I suspect my partner is using drugs” or “I think I am pregnant”). In such cases you may wish to offer a listening ear but you should not feel responsible for your students’ choices or actions. In other words offer support but not open-ended assistance. At LSE there is a wide range of student support services and specialist sources of advice and guidance. Your role, therefore, is probably one of referral, putting the student in touch with the people at LSE who have the specialist knowledge and expertise to offer them information, help and guidance. GTAs are not expected to be trained counsellors or to offer advice in these situations and, with the best of intentions, you may actually do more harm than good.

The first person you can encourage your students to turn to is their academic mentor. This may be particularly appropriate for issues around course choice, initial ideas on future careers or other course and department-related issues. For the wide range of pastoral and personal issues, you may wish to familiarise yourself with the many student services, or alternatively point students to how to find these out for themselves on the School website, or in the undergraduate and graduate handbooks.

When you work with students in this way, you should keep a careful written record of your conversations and correspondence with them and be aware of issues of confidentiality. In your dealings with your students always strive to be open and honest. As a general rule you should respect your students’ privacy and keep their confidences. However, there may be some circumstances where it may also be sensible to liaise with the course convenor of the course and/ or the student’s academic mentor. If this is the case you should make your views clear to the student and gain their consent and permission to take things further. Even better, it may be possible to support the student in resolving their own problem or encouraging them to talk to the relevant people for themselves.

If you are uneasy about a student’s personal/mental state, do seek advice even if you do not think it is yet an emergency situation. You can always speak to a member of your department or one of the specialist student support services on a no-names basis in the first instance. It is important that you do not try and tackle difficult student problems on your own. There is now detailed advice in the booklet Cause for concern: guidance to working with students in difficulty .

Finally, there are some circumstances where it is vital that you inform others. In particular, if you suspect that a student may be at risk of harm to themselves or to others, contact either a senior member of staff in your department without delay or contact Adam Sandelson on ext. 3627 or a.sandelson@lse.ac.uk.

To protect students’ interests and to maintain a professional teacher-student relationship, it is better to avoid getting too friendly with your students or gossiping or colluding with their moans and complaints. It is unwise for GTAs to get drawn into discussions about individual members of academic staff and other GTAs or to be openly critical of the course, the department or the School. If there are issues that do need bringing to the attention of the course convenor or the department, do so tactfully but assertively. The ability of the GTA to act as a communication bridge between students and the academic staff responsible for the course is one of the enormous benefits of the class teaching system at LSE. Note that you have a formal opportunity to provide feedback on the course on which you are teaching in the Lent Term.

Many departments now have a member of full-time academic staff who acts as adviser to GTAs and a point of contact for when they have concerns. The other key person you may wish to contact is the Head of Department or Institute.

Responding to students’ requests for private tutoring

On occasions, students have asked GTAs if they can hire them as private tutors. While there is no formal School policy on this, there are some fairly strong views on ethical practice. The recommendation is that the School/department/Eden Centre do not put forward persons to act as private tutors – it is up to the student to find someone and agree terms. It would be inappropriate for a GTA to act as a private tutor to a person they teach. You may, however, wish to point the student to the free learning development opportunities available at LSE through LSE LIFE.

Personal relationships with students

Given that you may have supervisory, pastoral care or assessment responsibility for students, it is important to recognise that you are in a position of power. Therefore, to maintain a professional teacher/ student relationship and to avoid conflicts of interest, it is advisable not to enter into personal relationships with students. In some cases, engaging in a personal relationship with a student may constitute misconduct and/or harassment. If you are in a pre-existing relationship with a student or a conflict of interest still remains, please inform their line manager or the Head of Department, and disclose the relationship by email to ethics@lse.ac.uk. There are other steps you would need to take with respect to small-group teaching, marking, pastoral support. Please consult the LSE Policy and Procedure on Personal Relationships for more detail.

Please note that such boundaries also need to be maintained outside of class time and office hours, such as at social gatherings in pubs and in communication via email or social media.

Further Reading

This is a list of learning development resources that are available to students through LSE Library.

  • Dunleavy, Patrick (1986), Studying for a degree in the humanities and social sciences, Macmillan, London, pp213. LB2395 D92
  • Levin, Peter (2004), Write great essays! Reading and essay writing for undergraduates and taught postgraduates, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp136. LB2369 L66
  • Levin, Peter (2004), Successful teamwork! For undergraduates and taught postgraduates working on group projects, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp136. LB1032 L66
  • Levin, Peter (2004), Sail through exams! Preparing for traditional exams for undergraduates and taught postgraduates, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp112. LB2367.G7 L66
  • Levin, Peter (2005), Excellent dissertations! Planning, managing and writing a dissertation project for undergraduates and taught postgraduates, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp136. LB2369 L66