I am very sorry about the lateness of my assignments. And my absences during the semester. I am graduating after this semester and I found myself swamped with a ton of work I was not expecting. All of this piled up with vet visits, caring for my new puppy, and other things getting in the way I lost a lot of my energy this semester. I’ve attached all the assignments in this email. And if there is anything else I can give you please let me know.
Thank you for a great semester and for understanding,
All the best,
This is a real e-mail to a real professor who teaches art history at a number of universities across New York City and is an author of the book titled “Dear Professor: A Chronicle of absences” and is a guest of the Teaching Matters podcast Episode 102: Stories of Students’ Apologies.
This book is a compilation of 200 hundred students’ emails explaining and apologizing for absences and the podcast is aimed at exploring the motivation behind publishing the book and lessons to be learned about the electronic way of communication with students and how it changed the nature of the teacher-student interaction.
There is no denying that digital age has had huge both positive and negative influence on teaching and learning; however, e-mails are rarely considered to be the factor as they blend in so nicely into our everyday communication. Professors and teachers are one of those categories of people who deal with e-mails every day. More often they receive e-mails from their students than they send them. Regarding the e-mails containing excuses for the absence, the author states that some of them are pragmatic, but most are aimed at getting sympathy or understanding. There are a lot of oversharing or details that professor would prefer not to know about, and there is as he puts it “a sense of entitlement” as if he was a private tutor that is available 24/7.
First, I had the impression that the professor is quite cynical towards the students and their problems as I was listening from a student’s perspective. As we as students do not really think about a professor as a human being and are occupied with what we have. However, as you listen to the podcast you get the sense that he actually is sympathetic and tries to read between the lines that maybe there is something there that is not written directly. He explains that those are “a portrait of the modern student body in the USA”. Those are real voices from real students who deal with real problems as commitment, entitlement, anxiety, exhaustion, insecurity, depression and a desperate need of individual attention.
It was then when I started thinking from a professor’s perspective, as it must be overwhelmingly difficult to deal with unexpected and serious situations when there is a need to decide upon the seriousness or truthfulness of the situation and react appropriately. In addition, how to find balance and not to be caught up in the routine of trying to be sympathetic in every situation and finding the way to secure a student good grade. As the author of the book puts it there is “a moral and ethical dilemma”.
One of the main statements that author wanted to make by publishing his book is that the nature of teacher-student rapport has changed due to the information-driven and rapid decision-making society. It has changed but not for the better. The emotional distance and easy access via e-mail somehow imply that the roles of teachers and students changed to “teachers as service providers or private tutors, and students appear as more customers”. I find this statement something that is difficult to disagree with. Unfortunately, the author does not offer a solution to this problem.
In sum, I would definitely recommend listening to the episode as it provided me with the insights about teacher-student online rapport and interaction. Even though it is not considered to be “a problem” in a Kazakhstani context I think that there is a great message* that we should listen closely to what students have to say as behind each voice there is a person.