Friday, September 15, 2017

Teachers and Email

I did not grow up in your world.

In your world, an email or text message absolutely must be answered within five minutes or less. This is the reason people cannot stop texting in class and a major reason kids die in traffic accidents. That text message simply cannot wait until the end of the class period. That text message absolutely cannot wait until you are at a red light.

In your world, five minutes between a text and an answer is a very, very long time.

My world is different.

Twice in my career I have had run-ins with mediocre students who sent multiple desperate emails over the weekend asking very ordinary procedural questions ("DID YOU GET THE ATTACHMENT I SENT?" "DID YOU GET THE ATTACHMENT I SENT?" "DID YOU GET THE ATTACHMENT I SENT?"), and when I did not respond to Sunday morning emails, it was worth an early morning desperate phone call to my supervisor's boss's home phone ("HE NEVER RESPONDS TO ANY OF MY EMAILS").

So here are my rules, and you will find that my rules are typical of many teachers:
  • I do not respond to emails while I am asleep. This means that on an ordinary working day, you will not get anything from me between 10 PM and 6 AM.
  • After I get up in the morning, I shower, shave, and eat breakfast. I don't respond to emails while I am using the bathroom. This means that you won't get an email from me between 6 AM and 7 AM on a working day.
  • I don't respond to emails while I am driving a car. This means that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I won't respond to an email between 7 AM and 8 AM.
  • I don't respond to emails while I am teaching a class. This means that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I won't respond to an email between 8 AM and 11 AM.
  • I actually get weekends off, so if you send an email Saturday night or Sunday morning, I probably will not see it until Monday. I do not respond to emails during church.
  • I try to keep ordinary office hours, so around 5 PM I figure my working day is done. You should not ordinarily expect me to respond to emails in the evening.
My email inbox fills with 10 to 20 routine items a day ("Donuts in the faculty lounge" "Buy this textbook" "Automatic summary of a bunch of things you don't care about" "Someone you never met is retiring from a department you never heard of") along with half a dozen scams and sales pitches ("Men! Buy this exotic herb!") and two or three student communications that don't need any response ("I wasn't in class today because I felt sick").

If you need an excused absence to attend your uncle's funeral and I don't respond to your desperate Saturday and Sunday emails, don't panic. Don't get the Provost out of bed with a phone call. Just ask me when you get back.

The way productive adults handle electronic messages

It's quite possible to spend your entire working day looking at text messages and emails, and if you routinely check for new messages more often than once every hour, you need this advice from Huffington Post.