“I answer last night’s student emails while taking a [sitting on the toilet],” he said, rolling his eyes. 

I had been telling my friend, a professor, about an article I had read. In a holier-than-thou tone it had scolded students for the emails they send to professors. The messages are too informal, they say, and undignified. They don’t show enough respect for the professors. 

"Same here," I said. 

Some of these reproachful, chastising articles by professors can be pretty obnoxious. They also include good advice. If you want your professors to like you I suggest you follow their advice. Here’s an excellent example that is not obnoxious at all.  

Lowlifes like me don't seem to write articles like this. So, with college starting up this week across the country, I thought I would weigh in. 

The advice a student gets, in these essays, is to get on your professor’s good side by following some simple rules. Here are the rules, with examples of what not to do. 

  • Start with a proper salutation.
    • “Howdy y'all”
  • No emojis.
    • “No problem, thanks :)”
  • No abbreviations
    • “Btw, I don't think grades are all that important, but I'm guessing you do.”
  • Use proper punctuation
    • “I'm not trying to scare you!!!"
  • No swearing
    • “To quote a rising senior I had dinner with the other night, first semester can be a ‘shitshow.’” 
  • Use a formal sign off, such as “best,” etc.
    • “And that, my friends, is why I'm recommending you start reading now.”

These quotes are all from messages that I wrote to my students this summer (and yes, I’m supposedly a professor). And it’s not because we have already established a relationship. These were students I haven’t even met yet, mostly first-years. 

This is why students write informal emails. They learn the rules of formality and tone from the only information they have: The messages their professors send to them. People like me teach them that it’s OK to be informal and violate all of these rules. Other professors get pissed off at them. It’s basically a proxy war between opposing factions of professors and the students are caught in the middle. 

It is hypocritical for professors to condemn their students’ sloppy email habits. Here’s why: These professors are guilty of exactly the same thing as the students.  

  • The students are too informal because they don’t see things from the professor’s standpoint. 
  • The professors are offended because they don’t see things from the students’ standpoint.

Students might just be doing what they’ve been taught. The professors don’t see that. 

But we shouldn’t let the students off that easy. First, I have zero sympathy for emails where you are unclear or expect me to do your work for you. But also, college first-years, you should know by now that teachers expect to be respected. 

And that’s my other criticism of some of my colleagues: Their inflated sense of self worth. Is the reason you demand respect from your students because you think you’re better than them? Get over yourself. Yes, we deserve respect, but so do our students. We’re just a bunch of people. 

That’s my opinion. Counterpoint: I have blue hair. I wear shorts when I teach. I’m from (shudder) California. Maybe my opinion is not to be trusted. 

Here’s the bottom line. Students, realize that your professors have a wide range of expectations and some are going to get pissed if you don’t kiss their butts. Professors, get over yourselves and don’t blame students when they treat you the same way they treat everybody else. 

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