Fall is the season of my discontent.

It’s the start of the semester down here “behind the Magnolia curtain” and time for a round of stupid emails. I call them “stupid” not because the students are objectively not-that-smart, but because they evince so little practical intelligence, and such wretched problem-solving skills, that I find their emails to be, to put a point on it, effing dumb.

For example:

“Dear Professor Lena, Where can I find the books for this course?”

As tempting as it is to set up some kind of Treasure Hunt or Physical Challenge course, I’ve helpfully ordered copies of the texts at the campus bookstore, provided citation information in case you wish to purchase them elsewhere, and made PDF copies of other readings available on the course website.


“Dear Professor Lena, I missed the first class session. Can you send me your class notes?”

Generally speaking, I don’t keep class notes. That’s because I’m teaching the class, and I find it difficult to write and teach at the first time. Instead, you can get class notes from people in the class. They’re the ones writing it all down.

And (a classic of the genre, really):

“Dear Professor Lena, I missed the first class session. Did I miss anything important?”

No. Not really. I taught some stuff, and I explained my expectations and discussed class policies, but I don’t really consider it all that important. I’ll have to repeat this information thousands of times in emails to students in the class, so it can’t be that important.



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12 responses to “Fall is the season of my discontent.

  1. Sarah

    I have a professor this semester who has attempted to protect himself from such questions by creating a syllabus that addresses any and every possible question a student of his could ask about him, the class, the test material, the grading, etc. And he told us that we’ll be tested on the syllabus on our second day of class (to ensure that we do read it).

    I find it amusing that your students have no shame about telling you they missed the first day of class… and that they don’t provide some excuse to cover their asses.

  2. Jenn Lena

    @ Sarah: I know folks who have used that “test on the syllabus” technique. My pedagogical approach is, succinctly, “You’re an adult, and I’m going to treat you as one by providing clear expectations and plenty of information, but no hand-holding.” I even describe the syllabus as a contract, and explain that they should read and understand any contract to which they agree. The consequence of this approach is that some students act like irresponsible adults.

    This morning’s dumb email: “Professor Lena, Did you tell us that we could re-take the (on-line) quiz until we got a perfect score?”

  3. Peter

    Of course, I just ignore these emails. Sometimes I even delete them so as not to be tempted to respond, since social and professional norms demand that I treat them seriously. I like to have them ask me in class face-to-face so I can pause to look at them blankly for a second or two before answering. Does this make me a bad professor?

  4. erinmcdonnell

    I have started to open some of my courses with funny looks back at things that students in previous classes have done. Very much in the tone and spirit of what you’ve presented above. Only I am inviting them to be inside the inner circle, as in “THOSE students did these things, can you believe it?” and I imply, because I’m letting them in on the joke, that THEY of course would not dream of being so stupid. And for the most part it works. Of course, it wont immunize you against the folks who miss the first day of class (and thus are not there to be in on the joke), but it customarily allows me to tell those folks to ask someone else in the class to explain it to them.

  5. Jenn Lena

    @erinmcdonnell: HA! I’ve done that too, although with worse results, it seems. I got a passel of course evals claiming that I was “sarcastic and condescending.”

  6. Paul-Brian

    I got this one yesterday after I responding to a student that couldn’t find a reading on Blackboard (because it was in a book I assigned): “Oh ok. Yes i wasnt able to get the book at this time so i was trying to see if you can scan that chapter for me and email me if that is possible. Thanks”

    I didn’t respond a la @Peter.

  7. I like Erin’s approach, might have to try it sometime! I also like this poem:

    Did I miss anything?

  8. Re: “Did I miss anything important?” Years ago, someone passed around a menu of answers to this one. The only one I remember went something like, “No, when we saw you weren’t there, we just put our heads on our desks and had quiet time.”

  9. Jenn Lena

    @Jay Livingston: Sounds a lot like the poem that Andy Perrin linked in his comment.

  10. @10 Thanks. I hadn’t followed the link. 1994 – that might have been it, though I can’t say that the rest sounds familiar.

  11. Bridget

    I’ve had several that make me want to bang my head against the table. Though I can’t imagine just not answering. Can you do that? This is a revelation.

    My favorite:

    Student: What’s the text for the course?
    Me: See your syllabus.
    Student: I have looked through the syllabus and the book title is (aparently) hard to find. Please, what is the name of the book that is needed for the class?
    Me: Screen cap of syllabus showing the all caps and bold REQUIRED TEXT with the information.

    As for “did I miss anything important?” I say, first day of class: “DO NOT ASK ME THAT. What do you think? You missed class. Of course you missed something important. We don’t sit around, hold hands, and talk about how much we miss you. We have class.”
    Without fail, someone will come up after class say “I have to miss next week, am I going to miss anything.”


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