Back to School Week: Common Faux Pas When Communicating With Professors

Back to School Week Day 2 Communicating with Professors

So, funny story. I’ve literally been agonizing over this post for a year and a half. I had originally intended it to be part of back to school week LAST year, but ended up chickening out of posting it.

Why? Because it seems like a fairly good topic, and probably (hopefully) contains sound advice…

Well, mainly because so many other articles I’ve read that are written by professors and deal with this kind of stuff take on such a negative, snarky, and frankly condescending tone. And I don’t want this to be like that. I don’t want to be like that.

So I’ve tried my best not to be. Students don’t deserve that – particularly since a lot of this stuff is stuff you guys do unintentionally. Cultural habits that are totally acceptable with your peers, but that don’t really jive with the cultural realities of academia. And the professors that this stuff bother also don’t deserve the ire that so often ends up directed towards them in reaction – because just like any other field or profession there are certain things that are just not acceptable within that culture and simply because it’s education shouldn’t mean you should respect those mores any less.

So let’s keep the comments respectful and be kind to one another.

That said, let’s proceed!


“Sorry I missed class, did I miss anything important?”

The answer is always a resounding “YES!” Even if your professor doesn’t say it, I guarantee you they’re thinking it. The information covered in class is never just “throw away” stuff, and your professors have spent countless hours preparing it, writing it, planning it, etc… While we generally know that you don’t mean to come off this way, the reality is that asking for what you missed in this manner essentially invalidates all that work and effort, and insinuates that what we do in class routinely, well, isn’t important. That important is an aberration from the norm. And while I understand that not every class is 100% relevant to your personal interests, and not every professor uses 100% of their class time effectively, it’s still something that gets a lot of professors’ hackles up and comes off as mildly rude. Asking instead, “what did I miss?” is a far more polite option – but the best way to go about it? Get notes and the gist of what you missed from a classmate, and then contact your professor with any specific questions about the material.

Emailing them after hours and then getting upset when you don’t get a reply immediately.

Bottom line is that professors have lives too, and they often don’t revolve around their email accounts. They have families, friends, homes to maintain, grocery shopping to do, other jobs (if they’re adjunct) to attend to, not to mention a crapload of other work responsibilities besides teaching (committee meetings, administrative hoops to jump through, research and writing responsibilities, advising responsibilities – the list goes on and on). Professor is simply not a job that is naturally conducive to “having a life,” outside of work, and so a lot of professors limit their email checking to when they’re in the office, or to one or two set times in the evening in an effort to keep some semblance of a healthy work-life balance. Even those of us who get our email on our phones will, depending on what we’re doing at the moment, merely check to make sure it’s not some sort of emergency, and then add it to the list of things to attend to when we get into the office the next morning.

Now obviously, it’s one thing if you email a professor and then don’t hear from them for days. Then I would suggest you go talk to them in person about it. But in general, just try to have realistic expectations. Remember that your professors are people who exist outside of the classroom/office setting. And if it’s something that does absolutely need an immediate response for whatever reason? Honestly, email is not the way to go: call them.

Emailing as a first resort.

This is sort of along the same lines as above – basically remember that your professors have a buttload of responsibilities, both personal and professional, besides attending to you. Most professors will do their best to make you a priority, but bottom line is that you should try to figure out the answer to your question using your own means before emailing. Check the syllabus, check the assignment requirement sheets, check the class website. Do these things first and THEN if you still don’t have an answer, email away. This is simply a more effective use of both your time, and your professors’ – particularly if the answer to your question is simply, “it’s in the syllabus.”

Ending an email with “Thank you for understanding” when you don’t yet know if they understand.

You know how the old saying goes: “Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME.” And I guarantee that if it is about something the professor would have been on the fence about to begin with, that presumption is probably going to push them into the “not understanding” category. Because essentially what that little “thank you for understanding” does is transform asking for permission into telling them that this is happening regardless of how they respond. That presumption can get a lot of professors’ hackles up at light-speed, even if the request is fairly innocuous, so I’d recommend you avoid using it as a sign off.

Waiting until the night before an assignment is due to email them with major questions.

This is generally a dead give-away for “I waited until the last minute to even begin working on this,” and will leave us either chuckling and shaking our heads or face palming in disappointment (depending on our individual moods/attitudes – I tend to be the chuckling type). It also, of course, does you no favors, because the more last minute it is, the less likely it is that your professor will even see it before the assignment is due. Now it’s one thing if you’ve had several back-and-forths with the prof already, and it’s just a minor question about something like formatting – basically if it’s something that realistically you’d still be working on at this last minute point. But waiting until the last minute to contact them with major content questions is just a huge giveaway.

Now again, I realize that sometimes shit happens, and even the most responsible, conscientious student can sometimes let things go to the last minute – it’s certainly not like I never pulled an overnighter in college finishing up a paper that I let slip my mind. I get it, I really do. But unless it’s because of something that warrants asking for an extension (and no, “I forgot about it” is generally not a valid reason for an extension), I’d recommend just taking your punches gracefully, and completing the assignment the best you can. As a student I always far preferred taking whatever points I got off for not being able to clear up my questions when I procrastinated as my just deserts for letting it go so long to letting the professor know I had totally waited until the last minute and possibly damaging my standing in their eyes.

Now, if you have no problem with them knowing that you waited until the last minute? If you feel like showing the professor your hand in exchange for having the question answered is worth it in terms of points? Then absolutely ask away. Just know you’re giving yourself away when you email us with massive content questions like that, and the reality is that some professors will view you more poorly for it.

So I suppose this whole section boils down to: know that we know and proceed as you will.

Using overly informal email conventions or text-speak when you don’t really know the professor.

Until you get to know your professor a little better, and can accurately judge how informal you can be in emails based on their personality, treat communicating with your professor like professional communication – because it is! Be polite, be courteous, be formal. Use a professional greeting, address them using their preferred title (Dr. So and So or Professor So and So – not Ms. or Mr.), and use full words and sentences (no “ur” for “your” or “2” for “to,” or “too,”) etc… etc…

Now once you get to know your professor a little better, it may end up being a different story. Once I get to know a student and they get to know me, I don’t think twice if an email comes in without a proper professional greeting, without a professional sign off, or with informal phrasing (although I still don’t care for text-speak). But not all professors are like that, and it’s best to play it safe until you figure out if yours is one of them!


To wrap this whole thing up I guess all of these specific things can be easily generalized into being as respectful, considerate, and professional as possible.

But that would have made for a much shorter post!

Anything you think I missed? Add it in the comments (just remember to be respectful)!

It’s That Time of Year Again!


I’m really about a week late on this one, but even now, colleges and K-12 schools alike are beginning to trickle back into session.

As an educator it’s without a doubt my favorite time of year. So much excitement! So much potential! So many OFFICE SUPPLIES!!! I love it.

Back to school season is second only to Christmas in my books.

And to celebrate not only this, but also my triumphant return to blogging on a relatively regular schedule, we’ll be kicking off the school year with some school themed posts. Most of them will be aimed towards higher education, since that is after all the level I’ve been teaching for going on 6 years now. But there’ll be plenty that can be applicable to high school as well!

For now, let’s start off simple enough – with a link roundup! We haven’t done one of these in a while, so buckle up – this’ll be fun!

Unsolicited Advice About Living On Campus from The Jesuit Post – This article contains some REALLY great advice for students moving into a dorm environment for the first time. And don’t be scared away by the fact that it’s by a Jesuit – it’s great advice for all students, whether you’re religious or not.

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2019 – Every year professors at Beloit College in Wisconsin put together a list of cultural factoids about the incoming freshman class that help us professors get some perspective on, well, exactly how old and unrelatable we’ve become over the years. Highlights from this year include the fact that this year’s freshman have never known a world without South Park, Harry Potter, or Google. Weird.

18 Pieces of Advice for 18 Year Old Freshmen – A post of mine from this time last year containing a lot of advice for incoming freshman – it includes things I now realize after having seen college from the other side of the desk, things I learned the hard way as a college student myself, and advice that I was given by others that I’m really glad I took to heart because it made my college experience *that much* better.

44 Things I Learned My Freshman Year of College from Mostly Morgan – And if you don’t trust me because you think I’ve been out of the STUDENT game for too long (although I’m tellin’ ya, hindsight’s 20/20), here’s some advice from an actual college student.

And then last…

21 Things People Should Know Before Going to College from Buzzfeed – I’m not usually a fan of Buzzfeed click bait, but this list has some genuinely good advice on it. Particularly #5, #14, and #21.

Happy Start of the School Year!

Meet Hilde

meet hilde

Blog? Meet Brunhilde.

She’s my parent’s new puppy. And she’s awesome.

She’s a little bit bold, a little bit clumsy, and all daredevil.

hilde hilde

Hilde had a rather rough introduction into our lives. Within three hours of bringing her home, she was already adapting well – running around with that excited bliss that only puppies really have. But then she tried to superman dive towards a toy, landed wrong, and immediately started screeeeaaammmmmiiinnnggggg.

Turns out clumsy-girly-dog had landed on her elbow and broke the little nub on it.

sister dogs

So Brunhilde, in the span of three hours, had her first car ride, met her new family and sister dog, explored her new home, aaaaannnndddd broke her leg, had her first emergency vet appointment, and got her first cast.

She also got her name as she howled like a Wagnerian opera star.

casted hilde

So yea. Not a great first day.

But luckily, we seem to have gotten the most resilient and spirited dog on the planet, because within hours of her little elbow being set and casted, she was already back to puppy business as normal. She figured out not just how to walk but GALLOP with the cast (which she wasn’t supposed to be able to do so soon), but also how to circumvent the cone to chew on the gauze.

And so we entered two weeks of puppy care hell, where we were tasked with keeping her off the leg except for when she had to go outside to make, and also with keeping the cast 100% totally and completely dry (which was a nightmare, because of course it started raining while we were at the vet, and then didn’t stop for two weeks).

Well, Hilde had other plans.

We managed to navigate the rain well enough. Figuring out how to commence with normal housebreaking training (we forego the inside pee-pads in favor of teaching them immediately that outside is the place for peeing) while keeping the cast dry was not easy, but we did it. A combination of the little plastic boot the vet’s office gave us, Glad Press-n-Seal, and an infant raincoat did the job.

raincoat hilde

It was Hilde that we couldn’t figure out how to properly navigate.

We apparently got the most strong-willed dog on the planet. Everything she wasn’t supposed to do, she did, regardless of the insane safeguards we put in place, and regardless of the fact that she was literally NEVER without one of our eyes on her. I basically moved into my parents house and became nocturnal for two weeks as between the three of us we figured out how to have her monitored 24/7.

And yet still, she managed to figure out how to contort herself around the cone to chew on the cast. How to maneuver her hind legs to scratch at it. How to trick us into going outside 80 thousand times a day since that was the only place she was allowed to walk around. Someone (read: me – except for the two days my brother came home from NY to give me a much needed break and let me get some work stuff done) had to lay on the floor next to her crate all night so we could keep her from pulling her Houdini contortions and getting at the cast overnight.

Even with the constant hyper-vigilance, puppyface magoo still somehow managed to go through 5 casts in two weeks.

puppyface magoo

And she looks so innocent, doesn’t she? Not at all like the master of subterfuge that she really is.

But in the end, it seems it was all worth it – because after two weeks the vet took the cast off, proclaiming that we did a good job and that it had healed well.

So now Hilde is a free puppy. And we couldn’t be happier.

Stupid puppy face

She’s pretty happy too.

(Sort of) Triumphant Return

So with my last post, I made the reason for my absence clear – the fact that for a few months there I really felt like my life was out of control, in ways both small and large. A lot of stuff was going on all at once, and in the midst of it all, my anxiety issues simply got the better of me.

But now, I feel like I’m getting things better handled, and I’m ready for my return to the blogosphere. Some of those big happenings you’ll hear about in the next couple weeks, some not so much, but for now let’s get the ball rolling with a “currently” post!

Currently I’m…

Stupid puppy face

…obsessing over: this stupid puppy face. More to come about her later.


…listening to: a loooottttt of classical music. I’m prepping a music history/appreciation course, and so I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff I haven’t really had on my radar since my symphony orchestra days. I’m reminded of how much I love nationalistic Russian music. You gotta love good old Tsarist Russian pride (I say as the momentum from my peasant Ukrainian ancestors spinning in their graves speeds up the earth’s rotation a bit…).


…watching: NCIS. Binge style. I love this show so much, and have for years. So now that it’s on Netflix, I’ve binging on it. I haven’t seen some of the more recent seasons because of changes in my schedule and not having cable anymore, so I’m looking forward to getting there and finally being all caught up… although the few whispers and hints I’ve heard have told me (please don’t deny or confirm!) that the Tony/Ziva thing doesn’t play out quite like I hoped it would (happily ever after with a bunch of goofy assassin babies), so I’m moving forward with some trepidation.


…playing: the Dragon Age games. These games are pretty impressive in their scope. I’m not even sure that Skyrim afforded me this amount of new and different gameplay. The way it’s written, depending on the choices you make, each game can essentially be like, 6 different games with a multitude of different outcomes for each. It’s been pretty consuming. The character writing for me is also really engaging.

…reading: not much of anything beyond music history textbooks as I prep for this course. While I made some progress on my book-a-month plan earlier in the summer (admittedly with books NOT on my list, but still pleasure reading), that’s pretty much ended.


…learning: how to play guitar. My parents bought me this super awesome resonator guitar for my birthday, and I’ve been messing with it pretty consistently since. It’s been a really interesting experience, because it’s been a very very long time since I started learning an instrument essentially from square one, without a solid basis in the general technique behind it. I’m learning a lot about myself in the process, honestly.

…feeling: still a bit overwhelmed, but starting to level out. Slowly, but surely.

Slowly… but surely.

What have you all been up to?