It was the end of the semester, and, as usual, I received emails from upset students. Most often the angry emails come from students who are failing because they have not completed their work. Some may have been doing okay through most of the semester, but then, for some reason, they quit coming to class the last few weeks. They also quit taking the exams and doing the homework. The reasons they give are varied, but the effect on their grade is always the same. Then, at the end, they write, wanting to redo the missed material.
This year I received one of the harshest letters I have ever received.
“Dear Professor, I want you to know that I feel your class is the worst class I have ever taken. The material that you expect us to learn is absolutely ridiculous. Not only will I never use it in my life, but it will just take up brain space for stuff that I will use.
“I had heard from other students that this was an easy class and that you were an easy teacher, and that’s why I took it. It’s not the first class I have taken in this, either. I have also taken similar ones in high school. There I was always able to finish the work before the end of each class period. I never had any homework. With my background I should have been able to work through this class easily. But instead, this class has had tons of stupid new things. I have had up to an hour of homework after every class – way too much. You act like your class is the only thing a person has to do with their life.
“Even with the crazy amount of work that you require, I was still mostly keeping up until a few weeks ago. All of you teachers think your class work is the only thing we have to do. Due to the ridiculous amount of work that other teachers also required, I had fallen behind in those classes and decided I needed to take the time to do them. Because of that, I was not able to come to your class, nor do any of the work. Now that I have caught up in those classes, I logged in to yours, and the assignments won’t let me in, saying that they are past due.
“This is stupid. You are without a doubt one of the worst teachers I have ever had. As long as I get the work done it really shouldn’t matter when I do it. You need to open those assignments back up for me.”
At this point I quit reading. Though I try to be reasonable, I must admit that I was feeling less than accommodating in this situation. I needed to calm myself. I read some other emails and did some other work. However, I try to always answer every student’s email as soon as I can, so once I felt calmer, I took a deep breath, and went back to reading the letter.
“If you don’t let me do those assignments, I plan to go to your department chairman and tell him how unreasonable you are.”
At that point I paused again. My department has a chairwoman, not a chairman. I continued reading.
“Then, instead of teaching basic history classes that poor, unsuspecting new students have to take, they will make you teach some advanced class that nobody even cares about.”
I smiled. I have never taught history. I finished the rest of the letter, which was much of the same, and then replied. “I think you probably have the wrong teacher, since I teach math, not history, and you are not on the roll for any of my classes.”
The reply came back. “Ha, ha. Yes, silly me. I realized it and tried to recall the email, but couldn’t. Funny, huh?”
I smiled and thought, “Yes, but not for you.”