Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Faculty Brat Sends in Some Student Email.

My father will readily admit that he's got it pretty good as far as academic life goes: tenured and promoted at a regionally well-regarded professional school, a nice group of friends among his colleagues, opportunities to do some interesting research. He came to academia as a second career, and it seems to leave him really happy and fulfilled.

But into even such a life, the occasional 'flake must fall. He received the following e-mail, interestingly enough a few weeks before final grades were issued:

I am a tough critic, not only of others but more so of myself. I work extremely hard because I expect a lot out of myself, and therefore I apply the same rationale to others. Whether my opinion has been warranted or not, I have been impressed with very few professors at Local School of Hamsterology.
However, I have been extremely impressed with not only your teaching, but also with the way you have treated myself and my colleagues. You treated us as colleagues rather than as students, and that was very clear. Whether my performance reflects it or not, I feel I have learned more about Hamster Law than any other area of hamsterology.
Even though it is very unlikely that I will be practicing in that area (I'll likely be doing Hamster Handicrafts), you have peaked [sic] my interest and given me a great appreciation for Hamster Attorneys. I appreciate your time and expertise, and wish you the best in the future.
Snow Flake


  1. Captain Subtext asked me to forward this partial translation:


    I am self-important. I believe I worked extremely hard on this course, but I am worried about my grade. My previous professors had the nerve and poor judgment to treat me as the smarmy, entitled brown-noser that I am, but you? You seem like an easier target for flattery. Therefore I'd like to tell you that I have learned a great deal from your class.

    Yes, that is what I'd LIKE to say. But since we both know it isn't true, I will say that I learned MORE from your class than from any other class at Local School of Hamsterology. That is the truth, though it's not saying much.

    What I really like about you, my colleague, is that you expect us all to be mature adults capable of managing our time and of accepting the consequences when we don't. I appreciate your expectations even if I failed to meet them this semester.

    Even though it is very unlikely that I will ever use anything you worked so hard to teach me, I won't miss those skills, because I have peaked already. I trust that flatternizing [sic ] you will effect my grad.

    In mutual admiration of me,

    Snow Flake

    1. Yeah, Captain Subtext was whispering in my ear the whole time, too. I'm such a cynic.

      "Yourself has treated myself and myclassmateselves in the manner to which we feel entitled. I will omit the preceeding in the nearly identical emails I am sending to all my other profselfs. I will also not remind theirselves that familiarity breeds contempt. The following mathematical impossibility will however be copy/pasted into those emails:

      "You are my mostest favorite professor and I learned more from you than any other professor.

      "Please have mercy on my immortal transcript."

    2. Oh yes, the profusion of reflexive pronouns. That always classes up an email!

    3. Yes, Ogre's addendum makes it even more perfecter.

  2. "...myself and my colleagues."

    I can just hear my Dad screaming,


    This one has a distinguished career in law ahead, clearly.

  3. "Please tell Mrs. Cleaver that she looks lovely today."

    1. That is EXACTLY what I was thinking/hearing!
      You beat me to it!

    2. They can sound oddly old-fashioned sometimes when they're being sincere (and/or trying to sound so) in writing. I was struck by how old-fashioned the midshipman who died in the recent Amtrak derailment sounded in his letter to his uncle. I figured in that case maybe it was the audience (he was writing to his uncle in the register he thought his uncle would expect/appreciate) or maybe perhaps the genre (letters, and even email, are, to this generation, an "old fashioned" form).

      The difference between the midshipman and this guy is that, stilted language notwithstanding, I found myself liking (and thus mourning) the midshipman.

  4. I wouldn't be so sure that the email is insincere. However, it is rude for a student to say that the professor is treating students as his colleagues or equals even if it almost looks that way. If he must (who asked him anyway?), the student can say that he is being treated as an adult, fairly, with respect, etc.

  5. from Faculty Brat:

    In case anyone's curious, my father replied with something along the
    lines of, "Thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed the class."
    This shows a restraint that must come from experience, as I probably
    would have written something like, "Perhaps you meant well, but you
    should really never, never send an e-mail like this again. Ever. To

    I rather like Proffie's interpretation that this is perhaps not the
    tone-deaf, pompous backhanded compliment it seems to be, but is in
    fact some sort of tone-deaf cry for help. And yes, Frod, the "myself"
    . . . and the odd capitalization choices . . . sigh.

    1. I've replied to this sort of email as your dad does, Faculty Brat. But just the other day I said your reply to a student's face. This kid is in the class that follows mine in the same classroom. He has been bugging me all semester between classes: loud, attention-seeking, with Eddie Haskell-level courtesy. On this day he was calling me "Miss" and asking me loudly for a full summary of a major topic likely to be on the test he was about to take. I finally got my chance to shut him down. ("First of all, please use your inside voice. Secondly, you should never, ever call a woman "Miss." It implies that you consider yourself superior to her. Try "Professor" or "Ma'am" or learn her name.") Then I walked out without answering his question about the structure of hamster noses. It felt very, very right.

    2. PG, that's a mike drop moment.

  6. I've written pretty much that email, verbatim, more than once.*

    And yes, I'm always suspicious of the thank-you notes that come just before final grades are due. Some, I suspect, are sincere, and some, whether sincere or not, are probably the result of early training/habit (it's polite to thank people; one should thank one's teachers at the end of the semester, etc.). Others are very clearly pure brown-nosing. And many, even the sincere ones, are very awkwardly worded (somebody said they enjoyed having me as "their educator" this semester. Maybe they weren't sure whether to call the instructor in a 200-level class a professor or a teacher? But I did say on the first day that "professor" is one of several forms of address I accept, and, if they really wondered, they could check my title on the department website. I'm also perfectly happy to be referred to as a teacher, unlike one professor whose recent column has received a good deal of attention in my facebook feed. But I've never liked "educator," which to me seems like an overly-fancy term most often adopted by people who taught briefly at the K-12 level, but then moved on to better-paid, more prestigious administrative work, but somehow still want to retain the positive moral penumbra of being associated with education, even as they avoid working with actual students. Others' associations may, of course, vary).

    tl;dr for any students who may be reading: if you want the thank-you note to be believed, send it after final grades are posted, or, better yet, months or years later when you realize something in the class has been helpful/continued to spark your interest. Those are the thank-you notes we enjoy (at least if they're not combined with/immediately followed by a request for recommendation.)

    *The thanks/glad you enjoyed one