There are three types of e-mails that all professors dread. I call it the Unholy Trinity. It just so happens that I received all three this week.
What are the components of the Unholy Trinity, you ask?
Type One: “Hey, prof, I totally missed class. What did we do? Can you get me caught up?”
This one is frustrating, especially if you clearly stated on the first day of class that students themselves are responsible for staying caught up and informed. I even said, “If you miss class, you should consult with a classmate as soon as you can to get up to speed and borrow notes. Don’t expect me to go above and beyond when you failed to meet the minimum expectations.” This semester, I’m taking a different approach to my classes. Rather than having some highly legalistic system, I’ve instituted a climate of professionalism. The gist is that if you wouldn’t get away with it at a real job, you don’t get away with it in my class. Miss a day of class? Your prerogative, but you have responsibilities to manage. If you’re sick, hungover, playing video games, going to a funeral, etc., I don’t really care. Fact is, you’re not in class. Didn’t do the reading? When we do group work, you’re the weak link. Do it too often, and no one wants to work with you. Hate it for you. This has eliminated a lot of administrative headache for me, and has (strangely) resulted in higher-than-average attendance in all of my classes. When they know I’m not going to coddle them, they remarkably fall in line.
Type Two: “Um, so even though Thanksgiving break doesn’t start until Wednesday, can I just leave 5 days early?”
Somewhat related to Type One, although different. The e-mail was worded in such a way that the student seemingly was asking my permission to ditch class. I am of course sympathetic to needing to travel great distances to see family, but planning to leave campus nearly a week before Thanksgiving seems a bit ridiculous. Sure wish I could, but there’s no way I could meet my responsibilities if I did that. Welcome to the big leagues, y’know? I basically said, “You have a textbook and a syllabus, so you know what we’re doing that day. Only you can make this decision. I am not going to tell you that’s it’s kosher to miss class, because I’m not you.” That’s the beauty of not having an attendance policy: It’s all on them, as it should be.
Type Three: “I am a special snowflake who deserves perfect grades. What can I do to get my precious A on this quiz?”
Grade-grubbing itself is annoying, but when you out yourself as totally uninterested in learning and self-improvement, I really don’t like you. Student did poorly on a quiz, e-mails me asking what can be done to raise the grade. I said, “Quiz grades are non-negotiable, but if you want to meet to go over what you missed, here are the times I am available.” Utter silence. In-fucking-deed.
But never mind all that. I got a great e-mail from a student yesterday thanking me for taking time out to talk to her about her class project and about career possibilities. It’s nice to know that most students are pretty good overall, and I try to focus on those rather than the small handful that drive me to drink and premature aging.