Monday, February 14, 2011

A Totally Possible Impossibility

I received an email this morning from a 'flake:

Hi Mesto!
I know the syllabus says that it's totally not possible, but I was just wondering if it is all possible for me to get an extension for Big Important Assignment that is due today. I know it's probably not possible, but if there is any possibility, that would be great. Let me know asap!

How did I respond?


  1. Any student email that includes the acronym ASAP (unless it's in reference to when the student will get overdue work to you, and even then I'm not so sure) deserves to be deleted, or at least sat on until your promised turnaround time for emails has nearly expired. Further demerits for the imperative voice and the exclamation point. I'm glad your syllabus made using the "delete" key possible. The only other approach I can think of is to save it in your "examples of how not to write to proffies -- or anyone in authority" file.

  2. You could delete it. Or you could just write "You're entirely correct. It's not possible." I've disovered some students will ask no matter what your syllabus says, becuase they figure it can't hurt to try. You can ignore them, or you can say "no, you can't do that."

    The only thing that makes me want to answer these emails immediately is that then they can't get it in their heads that you "weren't responsive to questions". A lot of that and they begin thinking they deserve extensions just because you didn't immediately tell them they couldn't have one. Or they could see it as a "making a welcome of indifference" sort of situation, where you didn't say "no" immediately so that means "yes."

    Firm, brief email. Takes two seconds. "No, you can't." Then, hopefully it's over. Any follow-ups containing sob stories are directed to the syllabus.

  3. An unusual case--clearly the student has read the relevant part of the syllabus; they just don't seem to understand what a syllabus *is*. Were it me, I would probably give a brief, frosty response on the order of "the information on the syllabus is course policy for all students, not excepting yourself" and leave it at that. Deletion is also an option, but, as Stella mentioned, you don't want to suggest that you're actively ignoring them.

    That being said, if I could send out a majority of emails to students in a semester that don't start with "as stated on the syllabus..." I could die happy.

  4. A consequence of raising a generation in which every kid gets a trophy, not just the winners, is that every last man-jack and woman-jill among them thinks that the rules don't apply to wonderful them.

  5. "Me fail English? That's unpossible!"
    --Ralph Wiggum, The Simpsons

  6. I cannot bring myself to delete an e-mail from a student without responding at all. At least a short response is always called for, a la Stella's recommendation. I consider deleting an e-mail the same as this: a student comes up to you after class and asks a question. You turn and walk out the door. You wouldn't do that, would you? No matter how stupid the question is.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.