A note for teacher


In the old days, i.e., when kids had to dress “appropriately” for public school (i.e., shirts and ties for boys, dresses for girls, shoes for everyone), teachers ruled the roost. If you did poorly in class, it was your own damn fault. There was very little in the way of recourse. Your parents usually sided with the school.

(And it wasn’t all that long ago, either, wise guy.)

By the time I got to middle school, boys had lost the ties and girls started wearing slacks, but it was what could now be considered “business casual.”

By high school, it was jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts. I was actually something of a rebel. I wore a “bucket hat” every day at a time when you had to remove all headwear inside the sacred halls of learning.

Nowadays kids pretty much wear whatever the hell they want (although many schools do have very loose dress codes, mostly barring girls from inflaming boys’ lipid’s with clothes that are too revealing.

So what am I leading up to? No, it’s not the problem of teenage sex. It’s the problem of familiarity with teachers as expressed through e-mail.

A front page article in The New York Times by Jonathan D. Glater on Feb. 25 (To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It’s All About Me) considered the increasing problems of students e-mailing their teachers for one reason or another. It may be a simple request for an explanation, or to alibi for a poor showing on a test (or a no-showing in class). Point is, access has become a problem for teachers already have too much on their plate. Unfortunately, the new Times Web site restricts the availability of the article, so I’ve pasted selected sections herein. (For those readers who subscribe to Times Select, here is the link.)

These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages — from 10 a week to 10 after every class — that are too informal or downright inappropriate.
”The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding,” said Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University. ” ‘I
need to know this and you need to tell me right now,’ with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative.”

Professor Ewick said 10 students in one class e-mailed her drafts of their papers days before they were due, seeking comments. ”It’s all different levels of presumption,” she said. ”One is that I’ll be able to drop everything and read 250 pages two days before I’m going to get 50 of these.”

College students say that e-mail makes it easier to ask questions and helps them to learn. ”If the only way I could communicate with my professors was by going to their office or calling them, there would be some sort of ranking or prioritization taking place,” said Cory Merrill, 19, a sophomore at Amherst. ”Is this question worth going over to the office?”
But student e-mail can go too far, said Robert B. Ahdieh, an associate professor at Emory Law School in Atlanta. He paraphrased some of the comments he had received: ”I think you’re covering the material too fast, or I don’t think we’re using the reading as much as we could in class, or I think it would be helpful if you would summarize what we’ve covered at the end of class in case we missed anything.”
Students also use e-mail to criticize one another, Professor Ahdieh said. He paraphrased this comment: ”You’re spending too much time with my moron classmates and you ought to be focusing on those of us who are getting the material.”

The situation is not limited to college students. Kids in high school and below also feel they have the right (if not an egocentric obligation) to keep in touch with teachers they have seen a half hour prior to their missive.

Bob Schieffer gave an excellent commentary on the Feb. 26 edition of Face the Nation, in which he opines that the down side of having instant access is that people have a tendency to write before they think.

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