DEAR MISS MANNERS: I teach at the university level and recently regretted some of my communication with students. The issue is twofold.
First, the students were unmotivated and came to class unprepared (or not at all). They pay a high premium to be here, and they are all adults who can choose to leave college at any time. I am baffled by their lack of involvement.
However, what really gets me is their constant stream of emails: “I didn’t feel it, so I didn’t come to class today, sorry.” “I needed a mental health day, so I skipped our discussion.” “I was too hungover, so I slept in this morning instead of coming to class.”
Finally there was this one: “I’ve been messed up all weekend, so I didn’t manage to complete the assignment on time, but can I still turn it in?” This email is the subject of my second issue.
This student has known this short assignment since the first day of class, 14 weeks ago, thanks to the syllabus. Even before this incident, she was not doing well in class. But when I complained about this email, some of my fellow instructors responded and said I should have offered her information about counseling services. (That information is also in the syllabus and is available on campus in many other ways.)
I suggested that it was assuming too much on my part, and that a “funk” isn’t a serious ailment – it sounds to me like a pity party thrown by a college freshman going through her first week of finals.
Isn’t it fair that I find these emails unusually casual and personal to the student/instructor dynamic? Is it really my responsibility to take details about students’ lives and direct them to services they haven’t asked about and I’m not familiar with?
What I found rude was that my co-workers pushed me so hard. I’ve spent an entire semester with this student and I’ve already arranged a lot for her, despite my displeasure at the excuse.
SOFT READER: And what did that teach her?
Ms. Manners understands that students may no longer recognize the power their professors have over them, partly because it is not always exercised. Other contributing factors, she says, include teachers putting themselves on an equal footing with students, such as dressing like them and asking to be called by their first names; universities think of students as customers to be satisfied; and the general legal battle in society.
Your concern should not be whether your students come to class, but whether they master the material and complete the assignments. Unless they exhibit bizarre behavior that should be reported to mental health experts, the rest of their life is none of your business.
Apparently your fellow instructors think otherwise, and unfortunately you may not have the university’s support in judging students based on their performance or failure. In that case, the real losers would be the students, who not only miss out on the instruction you provide, but also learn that nagging works — and in the service of avoiding an education.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can I wear boots in March when it is 30 degrees outside?
SOFT READER: Unless you’re walking around in wet boots indoors, who’s stopping you? Certainly not Miss Manners, who is probably looking for her own pair.
Send your questions to Miss Manners on her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, [email protected]; or by mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.