Student E-Mails with Teachers

I came across a post Email and the Student-Teacher Relationship by Professor Tyler Williams that discusses a New York Times article on students e-mailing teachers (you have to pay to read the whole thing). The professors in the article are highly critical of the informal language and conversation used by students. This is a tough question for me. Do we encourage students to communicate with us (teachers) in a way that is natural for them, or a way that is natural for us? When they move on to be bosses in their own world, will e-mail look the same as we expect it to?

My aunt from England e-mails me very formal e-mails with proper salutations, signatures and punctuation. While my 22 year old brother is all lower case, “U for “you,” and “R” for “are.” Is one more valid? Is one more professional? Definitely a difference, but not sure how substantial it is. Should professors be ok with receiving any e-mail that is intelligible, or does format matter? I think many would argue that verbal communication has standards and so must electronic communication.

I think part of the problem is that students have been able to converse freely with each other for years, and have developed a common language that their professors are unaware of. The only way to create a language that we are all comfortable with, is to all be speaking to each other. I think the best answer is students and teachers must being e-mailing, IM’ing, blogging, etc together at a much younger age. Grade school sounds about right to me. Then, teachers can help guide and create a “formal” language system that all are comfortable with. As long as teachers remain outsiders to social-networking, blogging, IM’ing, e-mailing and other conversation areas, the language will be that which the students create. Once that happens, don’t try complaining to students to change…you were left behind.

My favorite awful quotation from the article is from a professor who makes students reply to his e-mail answers with a “thank you”: “One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back,” Professor Worley said.Less powerful person? Intentionally creating greater power dynamics seems like a perfect way to knock real collaboration out the window.

The Spectrum at the University of Buffalo has student-perspective on the Times article that was critical, but pretty well founded I thought.

Technorati Tags: article, college, e-mail, education, media, teaching

arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.