One reader writes:
I was having Thanksgiving dinner with a few professors from different universities, and talk turned to poorly written and unprofessional emails from students. Most of the others said that they simply delete emails that are poorly written or that ask for last-minute extensions, and I have to admit that I was a bit horrified at the thought of this. I've never deleted a student email without sending a response, even if the response was tearing them apart for being irresponsible. I just feel like responding to student emails is part of the job, and ignoring emails from students is terribly unprofessional. I realize that many of these messages from students are unprofessional, but we should have higher standards for ourselves, especially when we're setting an example for students who need to understand the importance of good communication.
I have to reply to student emails. When I don't, the students send emails to my chair, and in one case, to a Dean. The chair called me on the carpet and said, "Don't you want to help your students? I can't imagine an instance where a question from a student wouldn't be welcomed by any professional!" I'd rather not sometimes, especially when they're so poorly done, or about inane things already on the syllabus, but I've been scared shitless.
Q: So, for realz, who does and does not respond to student emails, and what's the threshold?
I consider answering my students emails as part of my job. Might nit be the answer they are hoping for, but they do get an answer.ReplyDelete
Same philosophy here. I don't always manage the 24-hour turnaround I promise on the syllabus, but apparently, from the comments I get, I'm pretty fast in comparison to some other proffies at my institution (which may suggest that some of them are going the "delete" route).Delete
I don't, however, answer instantaneously, and rarely late at night, even if I'm reading emails then. I deliberately let the great majority of emails with the most-frantic subject lines (and those #$%! red exclamation points) season for at least a few hours, and preferably overnight; often the student solves the problem hirself.
Its in my syllabus that impolite emails and emails using text language will not be replied to. I follow this strictly. All other emails are replied to very qu8ickly, even if it is just to say, "sorry, no" to some ridiculous request.ReplyDelete
I always reply, but sometimes deploy polite bafflement, as in 'I'm really not sure what you are asking, do please visit during office hours so we can discuss this further' (standard phrases kept in a word doc for copying and pasting as needed).ReplyDelete
And being an Old Fogey I never understand anything in text speak...ReplyDelete
The second reader's dean should be more imaginative. There are situations in which not responding to e-mail from students is justified.ReplyDelete
One such circumstance is anonymous love notes from students. These are dangerous to have around: I delete them at once. No one can prove that you didn't just hit the "delete" key by accident. I certainly don't reply to them! Even when they're anonymous, it's easy to tell that a love note is from a student, since they're always full of spelling and composition errors, much like nearly all the postings on the-site-that-will-not-be-named. I've never had a love note from a student that wasn't anonymous. If I got one, I certainly wouldn't answer it!
Another circumstance of e-mail that should not be answered is angry e-mail. Replying to angry e-mail from anyone, not just students, especially if it makes you angry too, almost always creates more trouble than whatever the sender was angry about in the first place. The ability of e-mail to fire a person's words back at them makes this particularly dangerous. Angry e-mail is best deleted immediately.
Threatening e-mail should be forwarded immediately to the campus police. They can respond to it much better than you can, and you don't have to put up with it, ever.
Trivial e-mail, such as requests from students about what precise kind of notebook or school supplies to get, I do answer. I try to make it brief, and to point out to the student that "you'll need to use your own best judgement here." This is often the best reply I can give to this, since it is so often a result of over-supervised, helicopter parenting. If it falls to me to teach students to think for themselves, then so be it.
I sometimes delete without reply e-mail from students that are obvious lies. I also often delete requests to accept late work, or requests to e-mail in work. I repeat during nearly every class that all work is to be turned in as paper copies handed in during the first five minutes of class, in class, so if a student is dense enough to think I don't mean it, there's not much I can do to help this student in any case.
I agree with the consensus in the earlier posts that inexcusably sloppy, undecipherable, "text-ese" e-mail from students should be returned, but I don't delete it. I reply: "I'm sorry, but I don't understand your e-mail. If you'd please rewrite it with standard English spelling, grammar, composition, I'll do my best to answer it, if I can understand it."
Despite being an old fuck, I like to think of myself as a hip, far-out-and-groovy, modern-a-go-go kind of dude. I can, therefore, understand some text-ese. I still return it, requesting it be rewritten in English, in the manner of an old fogey. Text-ese from youngsters will not fly with employers, and more than enough employers have groused to me about it.Delete
I agree with your handling of anonymous love notes -- and I'm impressed that you get them. I never have (and, to be honest, I'm relieved; I'd be weirded out, and very uncomfortable), but also intrigued. Do others experience this phenomenon.Delete
Good strategy! I reply to every single email, even if it's to say: "I don't understand what you mean. Please rewrite in standard English."Delete
The anonymous love emails? Frod, you're on your own there. :)
I respond to all e-mail. It is pretty much mandated here at Huge Corporate Online U. I will express my bafflement or include advice about spelling, punctuation, etc. in appropriate cases, however. But each mail gets an individual response. The only exception is when I get several e-mails on the same issue and it is of general concern (a broken link in the classroom, a self-contradiction or gap on the syllabus). Then I send a single e-mail to the whole class or post an announcement. That mail or announcement will also thank those who pointed out the problem, albeit not always by name.ReplyDelete
I find that students e-mail me information that needs no reply. "I won't be in class tomorrow." Or "here is my essay." (Assuming I have previously given them permission to send it to me.) I have not responded to these at times, and they get upset. "I e-mailed you and you did not respond." I think this is amusing. I don't think it is unprofessional not to reply, but I have stepped up my replies to these kinds of e-mails since they so want to hear from me!ReplyDelete
As for questions, I always respond. Like grumpy academic, I sometimes express bafflement at what they are asking, and ask them to rephrase. Sometimes, I wait as long as my syllabus suggests I might (within 24 hours is a magic phrase) but only if they are being stoopid or annoying. As Cassandra said, they use us as Google stand ins sometimes, and it is good for them to try finding some information themselves. Sometimes I'll answer "That is information you should be learning to find for yourself. Did you look here? Did you check there? Did you know that information is available to you 24 hours a day over yonder?"
Angry e-mails. I don't delete them. They are evidence. I always wait the 24 hours. Never wise to shoot off a reply because they probably pissed me off if they were pissed. I always have my husband read my replies, and, God bless him, he always suggests I tone it down here or there. I have never ignored his advice. It is good to reply to harsh words with calm words.
If a student is asking permission to hand in a late assignment when they know damn well I have already said I won't accept it (this happens often) I do ignore the request once. If they ask a second time, I remind them that we have already talked about this in class, and no. The answer is no. Sometimes, they choose that moment to get mad. See above for angry e-mail responses.
Actually, it's good to reply to a submission e-mail (as in "here's my essay" with an attachment). It lets them know that you got their assignment all right, and removes some of the stress at a cost of no more than 30 seconds of your time.Delete
It also points out to students who think they can send in junk files so they can get a free extension, that they are responsible for ensuring that their files are OK before they send them.
Oh, and both schools I teach for now have separate e-mail systems, meaning I have three inboxes to check daily. Also, both schools also have special "message" sections in the online platform for each class, raising the number of inboxes I have to check to even greater hights. The great part is that those message sections don't take attachments. So I'm constantly having to switch back and forth. The universities seem to have fallen into this web ideology that if you just keep opening more and more channels, more and more good things will happen. Instead, it just contributes to the oatmealization of my mind.ReplyDelete
There are two kinds of emails I delete right away. The first are those ones that inform me about their various minor physical ailments in great detail. I hope to communicate my disinterest through my silence. The second are requests that I "connect" with them on some f$*&ing networking site. Other than that, I reply as tersely as possible to almost everything.ReplyDelete
Indeed, those are the worst of all. I do not need to have graphic imagery of a car accident that almost tore your knee off, or the colonoscopy you suffered through last week.Delete
To forestall complaints that I didn't respond to a frantic email sent to me at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday, I have placed the following statement in my syllabus. Feel free to copy it.ReplyDelete
If you have questions, comments, concerns, etc., please call or stop by during my regular office hours (see first page of syllabus). If these hours are not conducive to your schedule, I will try to schedule an appointment time that is mutually beneficial. Please feel free to contact me via email or leave me a voicemail and I will help you as much as I can. However, I am not a 7/11 (i.e. open 24/7). Correspondence on my end happens on weekdays between 8am and 4pm. Turnaround time can be up to 24 hours. If you email me after 4pm or over the weekend, do not expect an immediate reply.
In another area about email, I have a box that saysDelete
NB: I do not respond to “What did I miss in class?” emails. Check [LMS], check the reading calendar, email a classmate. I do not have time to go over course material more than once. Exceptions are made in cases of serious illness resulting in extended absence.
My BIGGEST pet peeve about poorly-written emails is the professional who still writes like an undergrad.ReplyDelete
Case 1) My Department's Service TA, who is responsible for keeping us up to date on presentations and events. He refuses to use capital letters. Ever.
Case 2) Our secretary. She sends out pictures of bluebirds and things with text speak in the title but empty emails themselves, sometimes with attachments named "asdfjasdflkjalsjflskdj" that scream "virus" but I'm supposed to open it in order to see what the hell she wants.
Case 3) The Director of a fellowship who replied to my very formal application letter with a single half-sentence, no capitals, no salutation, and no answer to my goddamned question. She's 50. She is savvy. She should know better.
In my syllabus, I have cutoff times for email answering. If I receive an email prior to the close of business, I generally get to it that same day; however, I reserve the right to take up to 24 hours to respond during the week. I also say that I will answer email only "sporadically" or "on a time-available basis" during the weekends.ReplyDelete
I generally answer every email, unless the student emails me at midnight and asks me about it first thing in the morning.
This term, I have one student who I would talk to about her (late) emails first thing in class, and then she would send another email asking if I had gotten her other message. As a CYOA measure, I now respond to all her emails.
The joys of contingency.
I have my personal work email and I manage the generic department account.ReplyDelete
I reply to every email, but I reply to the ones in the generic account first, especially if I get the same request/question in both accounts. Then I reply from my account, "It looks like that has been taken care of already." They have no idea it's me doing it. I like to think it steers them to the generic email and away from my personal account. For that matter, I've been known to forward emails from my account to the generic account and respond from it.
That way if I'm out for an extended period of time, they will still get a reply (others cover the generic account when I'm gone) and they can't say, "I emailed Sawyer and never got a reply."
For the classes I teach, I reply to questions ("What did I miss?" "Ask someone who was there,") but not to "information" ("I'm sick.")
While I don't delete or ignore student emails, it's amazing how many of the inane emails end up in the "Junk E-mail" folder. At least that way when I'm confronted by an angry student during office hours, I can say, "Oh, there it is. I guess my Outlook filter is having issues."ReplyDelete
Generally e-mails end up in the junk folder because the little dears didn't bother with standard email etiquette. To be fair, they probably were never taught to use subject lines, never mind decent grammar and syntax.Delete
I am compulsive so I respond to each email or message that comes on our LMS, until 8 p.m. on any work day (this is my syllabus policy). Anything that comes in after that is addressed when I come in the next morning. My responses end up being short or brief if it's a silly question (something in the syllabus or something that I've covered in class), but I do respond.ReplyDelete
For things like: "y did u take off points from my quiz," I request that standard English by used. Those students usually don't respond back to me.
Campus Announcements, I delete or file.
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I encourage students to bring questions to my office hours rather than email them to me. In office hours, I feel I can control (okay, manipulate) the conversation a little better.Delete
As someone who has recently returned to the university as a student, I must say I cringe at this a bit. Countless hours did I spend over the past 18 months in long lines in front of professors' doors so that I could have a very brief exchange - things that could have been cleared up by e-mail in no less time for them and MUCH, MUCH less time for me - multiplied by most of my fellow students in that line outside. Office hours have their place, but for some communication, they are grossly inefficient.
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"My years in corporate America made me paranoid about committing anything to paper."
I don't quite understand this. I am far more professional than my students, my policies are all clearly outlined on my syllabus, and every time I deny a student request or dismiss a student complaint, it is completely justified by those policies.
I want permanent evidence of my correspondence with my students, because it covers my ass on the rare occasions that they whine to the Chair or the Dean about me. When asked what the story is, I can easily go back through my email, find the relevant messages, and send them to the Chair or Dean. After seeing that I've been nothing but professional and consistent, they can then tell the student to go away.
A trail of evidence, in my opinion, is only a bad thing if you're doing something unprofessional.
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