Thursday, August 15, 2013

Good Intentions

I know I'm not saying anything new here, but I got this email yesterday morning:

Hello i am in your class what books do i need?

Of course, I teach several classes.  Yes, I could figure out from the email what the student's name is (no salutation, no signature), find him on one of the course lists, and figure it out that way -- but why the hell should I have to?

My first reaction to be snotty:  "All the books.  You need all the books in the whole world."  But then I realize, this student thinks he is doing something great.  He's been told, "contact your professors before the class starts, and then they'll know who you are."  Yeah, but . . . he's just asked me to do extra work (granted, not much extra work, and having spent this time writing a post for CM, I don't have the right to complain, but I will anyway).  I hate it when people ask me to do unnecessary work.  It's the week before classes.  I have syllabi to finish, a book I was supposed to have done three weeks ago, and a pile of research in my field that I should probably catch up on (wait, they discovered a new kind of hamster?  Since when?).

Then again, it's hard not to interpret "in your class" as "In the only class that matters or is relevant because it's the one I'm in, and I am the snowflake center of the universe."

He is not the only student who has done this so far.  This semester is a record number of "what are the books!" questions, and one, "do I need the books?"  Oh, honey, I'm not turned on by filling out bookstore requisitions; I have other reasons for doing so.  Like, say, the books are required.

20 comments:

  1. I love that not only do you have a healthy amount of misery to convey here, you also have the awareness that posting about it is more work -- but it's not even work, right?

    It's therapy. We post here so we don't accidentally commit a crime.

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    1. I'm far from crime, but not so far from being downright mean and snotty to students. This helps me get that out of my system so I can be "approachable."

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  2. I have had this happen twice....both of my replies were, "Which class?"

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  3. "You need the one in the bookstore."

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  4. I cut and paste this message into a reply:

    It helps me to answer your question if you would include your full name and the course and section number in your e-mail.
    Thanks

    Most of the time, I don't hear back from them.

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  5. I love it when they say they want to get a jump on the readings. "What should I read?

    "Oh," I say, "Read it all, since you're in a rush!"

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  6. I, too, email back with some brief, polite version of "which section are you in? I teach 4" (which is true even if they give just the course number; I need the section number to know which group of disciplines they're writing in). That does, in fact, take less time than logging into the registration software and checking 4 class lists. And they usually don't reply.

    "Do I really need the book?" is getting more and more common, fed, I'm sure, by the ridiculous laws our legislators keep passing about when book orders must be in (which seem to assume that we get the sort of perks from textbook publishers that they get from, oh, big pharma, and other parts of the business community. As if I didn't know from the news that they're doing a lot better than foot-long subs cut into 2" segments and sodas in the hallway).

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    1. And another reason I want them to know about the other 3 sections (and in fact usually mention them while going over the syllabus): while I can be somewhat flexible with deadlines (if asked nicely), and don't generally impose grade penalties (at least not on individual work; activities that contribute to group work have clear, strict penalties, to discourage inconveniencing other group members) , I do expect students to accept the practical consequences of giving me work late: delayed and/or curtailed feedback. That's because I create a grading calendar at the same time I'm creating course calendars, and adjust the two to assure that my grading load will be relatively steady over the course of the semester. It's the only way to survive a 4/4 writing-intensive load (at least year after year after decade, with summer teaching on top of that).

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    2. A grading calendar sounds like a good idea, but I'm sure I wouldn't stick to it. I'd end up planning to do two papers a day, but wait until the last minute anyway. I hate grading so much, and I'm in a writing-heavy discipline. Wish I taught math.

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    3. Well, I can't claim I manage to stick to it faithfully (especially since my pace is more like 8-12 papers a day), but at least it gives me an idea of what a sane approach to the whole mess would look like.

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    4. I usually end up grading 2-3 papers a day fewer than I should, and then the days off I plan (and really, desperately need) turn into catch-up days. Oh, dear; I really don't want to think about this right now.

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  7. Dear student,

    Thank you for allowing me to help you prepare for the upcoming semester.

    You need all the books listed on the syllabus, which are the same books provided at the bookstore.

    In addition to those texts that are specifically selected for your class, I strongly recommend a book that will help you learn to write a proper letter to your professor. I remember learning about writing letters in fourth grade. Perhaps you could start at that level and see how far it takes you. If you choose not to purchase such a book, you could find tutors on campus to help you. Many of our students major in elementary school education - they can be a great resource.

    Regards,

    Professor B. Ben

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  8. Professor B. Ben's reply is deliciously snarky and I have used the second paragraph on occasion.

    Lately I just add a generic reply to my out-of-office message with links to the course web sites and the bookstore web site. My textbooks don't change year to year, except for editions, and I post any changes to my websites before leaving on break.

    I also add a statement about the college Add policy and how I follow it to the letter. (I.e., I will ignore your early email about how much you really really need my class and how you've heard that I'm SUCH an outstanding professor.)

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    1. I once got an email saying "I'd love to add your class because I've heard so much about your wonderful teaching." The problem? I hadn't yet started teaching there.

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  9. And now the extended corollary: the unchanged/absent subject line.

    I have lost count of the number of students who send one EMail and then just "hit reply" for the rest of the term. "Discussion feedback" may have been a perfectly legitimate subject back in Week 1 or 2, but as we are now approaching the due date for the final project, your questions related to that might get a bit more attention if it was clear that IS what they were about.

    Or, for the love of Dog, the utter uselessness of the "communication console" our school's version of Blackhole. So very helpfully, it automatically begins the subject line with the Blackhole course number. Note Blackhole not university course number. So instead of a helpful PSY101-B, I get something like XYZ-123-FU-456-DIEITDIE to which, of course, the students add nothing.

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    1. Oh, yes. This problem is exacerbated if you've got an email system that groups emails in "conversations" (gmail, and now at least one Microsoft competitor/knockoff). I need to remind them about appropriate subject lines -- and, yes, the complications of blackholeboard email (though I'm not sure our version allows students to send emails; or perhaps most them just haven't discovered that function. At least when I send them a message about something on the Discussion Board, it gives the message the post title, which is presumably useful to them, and definitely useful to me if/when they reply. On the other hand, unless I remember to check a fiddly little box, the copy that lands in my inbox doesn't tell me to *whom* sent the email. The salutation helps a bit, but not when I've got a class with 3 Brandons, as recently happened.)

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  10. Thank god I have 5 weeks left before the quarter starts. It's round about now that I start appreciating the quarter system, though I hate you all in June.

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  11. You could put the same amount of effort into your reply that the student put into hir email. You could just reply with the link below. No greeting, no signature, just the link.

    http://www.wikihow.com/Email-a-Professor

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