Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to email your TA

I may sound old, but I feel as though kids no longer get practice writing letters in school, since no one does it.  I may be dating myself by admitting to receiving such training, but I assure you that I am just a bit younger than the last NCAA banner hanging in Indiana's Assembly Hall.  Has it really been THAT long?  Anyhow, I remember learning this when also learning to write in cursive (another skill they no longer teach, according to my friends with school-age kids) in second grade.  I wrote a letter to my aunt who, at the time, lived in Colorado.  I was planning on visiting her that summer, so I wrote her a letter about what I wanted to do when I arrived.  I think the number one thing was ride a horse and the second was ride my bike.  Sadly, I think I still would say the same thing.  Some things never change.

I receive a number of emails from students every day.  I have a class of about 75.  The students are mostly upper-classmen and, with the exception of probably 10 or so, all seniors.  They should know what is expected at this time in their college career, but still cannot possibly formulate an email.  Now, let me preface this by stating that my students are pretty much your average college students and I am your average TA.  I am not expecting the world.  I am, however, expecting that people can email me in a respectful manner.  I don't ask them to call me "Ms. Overworked TA" or anything, even though getting an email with "Dr. Overworked TA" is humorous and fun.  I let them call me by my first name.  It's easier that way and I am not much older than most of them, even younger than some of them.  Still, I get a lot of emails like this:

"hi :)  i was wondering when u were going to b in ur office hrs 2day?"

What is wrong with this?

Well, never use chat speak.  EVER.  No one likes it.  Treat this as a business communication.  Would you talk to your boss this way?  I hope not!

Also, please don't ask when someone's office hours are.  It's on the syllabus.  It's on the Department Website.  It's on the course page.  It is everywhere.  If all else fails, I list this in my email signature.  I have sent you many emails before as a class.  Look there.  Be resourceful.  It saves you time in the long run.  If you send this at 1:30 and I have office hours until 2 but am busy with another student, you could have gotten it out of the way, but I won't send you an email back until 2:15.  By then, you will be out of luck.

A proper email has a salutation like, "Dear Ms. X" or "Dear X".  Even the person's name is sufficient if you have previously emailed them.  If you have not, don't use their first name.  As a rule of thumb, never use a professor's first name right off the bat.  I don't do this at all.  If I have never established this rule, I will always say "Dear Dr. X" or "Dear Professor X".  That's important.  Some people will never let you call them by their first name.  No one I work with cares, but they know me.  Still, there are some Profs that refuse to let the students they are presiding on committees over call them on a first name basis.  It is rare, but especially as an undergrad, you should never assume anything!

You should state clearly what you want this person to do in your email.  If you were sick and need to explain an absence, do that.  If you want to argue with me about a grade, know that violates FERPA, so I can't respond to that via email.  I also do not remember who you are and what you did on page 2 of your essay.  I graded 75 of those things!  Even if I only graded 20, don't assume that I remember what you did on page 2 four weeks ago.  If you need to discuss a grade, please say you want to see me in office hours and I should expect you.  If you can't make my office hours, explain why, and then I will be more than happy to set up a time with you.  If you have a quick question over email, fine, but if it is more than that, please set up an appointment and come to office hours.  I tell my students that I am more than happy to look over drafts for them, but they need to come to my office in order for me to talk with them!

Likewise, never expect to email a TA or Professor on the weekends.  TA's don't get paid to check emails.  Some don't even respond if they are not in office hours.  I will usually respond during the week during the hours of 9 and 5, but weekends are different.  Don't email me at 5:30 PM on a Friday about a paper due Monday.  I will not get back to you.  Many profs won't even respond on days they are not in their office.  If they are off on Fridays, good luck.

Also, asking a TA to see you outside of office hours is a little tricky.  Some will.  Some won't.  I will generally try to be accomodating - especially when there are ceratin circumstances or the student is really trying.  I will not rush if it is the day before an assignment due or if you are simply too lazy to show up.  Case in point from today.  A student stops me after class and says my office hours don't work for her.  Now, this is in regards to an assignment that is due Thursday.  She has had this assignment for more than 3 weeks.  We have given the entire class a 2 day extension.  I also had an additional FOUR hours of office hours last Friday - when few classes meet - to help students.  One very reliable student came by.  That was it.  She wants to meet Wednesday at noon.  I have a doctor's appointment shortly before this, so I say no.  She says can you stay after.  I say no because I have an important meeting.  She then says, "Can you reschedule your doctor's appointment."  Now, I have just had surgery.  The students know that.  However, she thinks her time is that important.  I get that your time is important, I do.  But I will not be rescheduling my life because you think it is necessary.  Sorry.  You could have met with me last Friday, but you chose to go home.  That was your decision.  Never be unreasonable.  I will try and meet you half way, but asking me to reschedule a medical appointment is not okay.

Altogether, your profs or TA's want to help you.  I, especially, love helping my students. I love reading good papers.  I love giving A grades to my students.  However, you have to put in the effort and be reasonable.


saila islam said...

I was looking online to how to write a proper email to the TA. We were given information about the books yesterday and have an assignment due tomorrow which we were told via email this afternoon. I ordered the book online since it was cheaper and it wont be here till next week. My TA was kind enough to look for an online chapter but couldn't find any. I appreciate his help, so I wanted to reply to his email but didn't want to send anything that may be look disrespectful since english isn't my first language and I don't know the customs very well. Thank you for sharing your experience and the tips.

PS: I would've deduct point of that female student for being so rude and inconsiderate.

Chelley said...

Old post & blog appears inactive, but I'm commenting anyway. I was just looking for info on how to address my lab TA, when I stumbled on this blog. Just wanted to express my near disbelief in your anecdote about the student's request that you reschedule a Dr's appointment to accommodate her! Unfortunately, I've witnessed similar behavior from countless classmates, so I'm inclined to accept your account of the incident as true. It's unbelievable how disrespectful, self-centered, and inconsiderate people can be. It must be eternally frustrating to work as a TA or instructor. Having to deal with incessant questions, the answers of which you've already provided in the syllabus, students constantly requesting that their laziness or procrastination be accommodated, or they be given preferential treatment, and of course, the endless slew of grade-beggars! I don't think anyone could do it without a sense of humor & a medium by which to vent! Props to you all!


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