Wednesday, February 27, 2008

PLEASE, Professor, Would You Do All the Thinking for Me?

So, I got an email that left me feeling a bit irritable. You know the capitalized "please" in the title? Yeah, that's actually a direct quote from the email. I shouldn't write in a more specific way about this than that, as really, I think the student is just wigging out as a result of some insecurity, and I'll handle it, and it will be fine.

However. Here are just a few small suggestions that students might follow, should they be so inclined, when dealing with professors:

  1. Do not email a professor a note in which you use the capital letters of shouting in which you imply that the professor has not offered you the information that you need to begin work on an assignment when a) she gave you a very detailed assignment sheet a month ago, b) that assignment sheet includes a model for the format for each part of the assignment (although no, it's not identical to the topic that students will pursue in this class and no it's not a complete version of the assignment), and c) when the assignment isn't due for a full month and there is a day on the syllabus next week when the professor has scheduled time in class for talking about it and what it leads up to.
  2. Do not expect a professor to do your thinking for you. Dude, the whole point is that you learn how to have ideas of your own.
  3. Do not forget that a professor is more likely to be responsive if you actually have done some thinking about an assignment before you badger the professor for help. In other words, if you say, "I've looked at the assignment sheet and I have questions about x, y, and z" that's going to get a much more favorable response than, "Can you tell me more about this assignment for which I've already got a three page assignment sheet? Can you spend class time on it even though you've already scheduled class time to talk about this and that's listed on the syllabus?"
  4. Prioritize people. Don't stress out about something that isn't due for a month and that's worth only a tiny portion of your grade and that leads up to something else that is due at the end of the semester when you have a midterm to worry about.
I'm sure I could come up with more, but again, it's just that this student is having a bout of insecurity. I get that, and I am sympathetic to it. And I'm going to try to talk the student off the ledge, and it will be ok, ultimately. But jeez oh man. I mean, maybe the point of some assignments is to challenge students and to get them out of their comfort zones, and maybe there is value in struggling independently for a little bit with an assignment to see what one comes up with before wigging out in the direction of the professor. You know, it's times like these when I long for the pre-lapserian past in which there was no such thing as email.


Seeking Solace said...

I remind my students that emiling me is a professional form of communication; therefore, they should not use text speak when writing to me.

You would think that we would not have to explain such things to students...

Renaissance Girl said...

For my part, I'm trying to figure out a better way to communicate to students that, while I'm happy to look over drafts in advance of a paper's due date, their course of action shouldn't be to attach it to an email saying, "Here it is," but rather to explain what they'd like me to consider as I look it over (and not "Whether it's good"). So far, this term, they're not so much getting it.

Dr. Crazy said...

Ren Girl: How I handle that is that I state in my course policies that for most assignments I won't offer *written* feedback on drafts, though I'm happy to *meet* to talk about drafts. Such a meeting generally only takes 15-30 minutes (approximately the same amount of time it would take to offer substantive written feedback) and generally gets a lot more accomplished. Another benefit is that I can't procrastinate about looking at the draft. They bring it to the meeting, I read it in front of them making *brief* annotations, and then we talk. It's a one-stop-shopping sort of method. Also, it forces students to take ownership over scheduling the meeting and to respect my time a bit more.

In upper-level classes, for their big research paper which is worth a lot, I do offer an option to turn in a draft for written feedback with a stated deadline on the syllabus and assignment sheet (usually a full week or two weeks ahead of the paper deadline). They can turn in as little as an outline or as much as a complete draft. This eliminates any random submissions of drafts via email, and I'm able to schedule in time for responding into my schedule. Most students do not turn in drafts at this optional turn-in (they're not on the ball enough to have begun real work on the paper), so it's not a huge time-suck. If they want feedback and they miss that deadline, the rule about having to schedule a meeting with me goes back into effect.

SEK said...

Could you PLEASE help me write a comment? I haven't had time to think about how to respond to this post. Can you tell me more about what kind of response you expected? Or maybe write another three posts about how you want me to respond? THANKS.

Tad Suiter said...

I'm another person who doesn't respond well to all-caps. That said, I do make more allowances for it in email than I do elsewhere, as some people still don't have html-ready email, and can't put emphatics in italics.

That said, I *seriously* wish people would just learn to use the asterisk-flanked word instead. It's *much* less HOSTILE.

SEK said...

That said, I *seriously* wish people would just learn to use the asterisk-flanked word instead. It's *much* less HOSTILE.

Only then, a la Vonnegut, you're festooning your words with pictures of your asshole, which sends an entirely different (and, I hope, erroneous) message. /Might/ I suggest slashes, instead?

Brigindo said...

On the topic of drafts, I require students to submit a "process letter" along with a draft. This letter needs to explain what they are struggling with in the paper along with what they feel is going well. They also need to tell me, specifically, what they would like to get feedback on.

In return I write them a letter that addresses what their concerns. If they need feedback in another area than they have identified I'll provide that as well.

The_Myth said...

I love how these sorts of students tend to be the ones who complain about what a terrible instructor I am.

Because I actually expected them to think...and they didn''s all my fault.