If you are a professor, you know what I’m talking about. Over the years I have received more and more emails that look like this:
Where’s the assignment for this week
Where’s the assignment?
—— #3 ———-
i prolly wont’ be ther today im sick
send me the paper assignment i wasn’t in class
I could go on and on, as there are endless versions of these things. I’m sure many of you have favorite versions or pet peeves. Some of the emails I get are just careless, and some are just rude. Overall, I think, the main problems that I see boil down to:
1. The addressee is not addressed at all, or is not properly addressed. If I’m addressed, it might be as “hey” or as “Panza”. Just to be clear: I don’t want to be called “Dr. Panza” – that’s not my beef. Actually I ask students to call me “CP” so that will do. My main issue here is that “hey” is far too informal (I’m your professor not your buddy) and “Panza” is rude (only my best friends call me that).
Although I’m not a stickler for hierarchy, this _is_ a student/teacher relationship, and a properly composed email really should have an addressee. This doesn’t mean that our relationship can’t be somewhat informal, because it can be (mine often are). However, “hey” or “Panza” come off as rude (though I don’t think it is intended to come off this way most times). Ways of composing an email to a friend don’t immediately carry over to the ways you can speak to a professor, even one you know well or one that you goof around with to some degree.
2. The email is not signed. Why not?
3. The email uses no proper capitalization and is full of spelling errors or IM speak. Again, this is not an email to your friend, so “prolly” and “coulpa” and other such words should actually be spelled out. Frankly, a badly composed email at this level gives off a very bad impression about you, your intelligence level, and your character (it says that you are disrespectful, lazy, etc.). Why would you do that?
4. The email demands things without the required softening language. “I need X” or “Get me X” is not appropriate way to talk in a student to teacher email. Something like “Could you send me X?” is perfectly appropriate, sends the same message, and maintains a respectful tone.
5. There is no subject line in the email at all. This is a basic courtesy. People get lots of emails, and often need to prioritize which ones get read when. Besides, I like to know what it’s about before I open it.
6. The email has an attachment inside with no subject line and with no writing in it at all. Something like “CP, here’s my paper. Thanks, Poindexter” will do.
It all boils down to a few things for me.
a) If you don’t know the person well on a friendly non-formal level, then you should write an email the same way you would actually type a letter that you would print and send in the mail (not that this happens anymore!). Moreover, you should type that letter remembering that this is a form of communication like any other – and so it says something about you. It leaves an impression. If you were talking to your boss at work, you wouldn’t slur your words or use IM speak or say “hey” or call your boss by her last name only or say “get me X”.
b) A teacher-student relationship requires _some_ level of respect going up and down. Much as it offends sensitive ears raised in the “consumer model” culture, the teacher/student relationship _is_ a hierarchical relationship – I know more than you do about this subject, and I’m going to teach you that material. But for that relationship to work right requires respect on both sides, even if that respect has different rituals depending on the role you are in (student or teacher). I will always be respectful to you, so be respectful to me. Communication (in class, in office, and email) counts.
I’m also worried, to be honest, that these students will graduate thinking that this way of conducting a virtual email exchange is okay, and then will be embarrassed in the workplace (or worse yet, never know that they’ve created a sloppy impression of who they are for others to take away from such exchanges).
Do we instructors have a responsibility to stop students from writing emails like this – to at least make it clear that it is unacceptable? If so, how do we put that into practice?
Of course, it is also very possible that I shouldn’t be worked up about this at all. It could be that bosses come from the IM culture too, so they don’t care. Soon enough, professors will email students and other people the same way. So it could be that the offense I take from these emails is an artifact of me being brought up in a non-internet world when I was their age. As a consequence, acceptable written communication, for me, has a different set of rituals. Is that right?
Should I lighten up, or is this really a growing problem that needs to be addressed?