By Lance Eaton
“yo prof what’s homework for today —me” (typical email received 10 minutes before class at least five times per semester from different students)
Email is the great communication tool and the giant headache for the Freeway Flyer. More so than other adjuncts, we end up with having to juggle email at multiple schools and have more students, on average, to respond to. Keeping it all together requires a little bit of organization ahead of time to maximize your time spent throughout the semester. I’ve developed several strategies for coping and they include the obvious: clear communication and redundancy/repetition.
When it comes to email, I insist on students using their school emails to contact me through my school email. It means I check four or more different emails a day, but that saves time because it lets me know which school/class I’m dealing with. If you’re crafty with making basic homepages for your browser, you can make a homepage with links to all your school emails. Additionally, requiring students to use their college email accounts maintains students’ confidentiality. After all, if firstname.lastname@example.org emails me, how do I really know or can confirm that’s him? You might want to forward emails to your personal email, but make sure to respond from your school email address.
I also include a riff on email etiquette in the syllabus. There are many thoughts on email etiquette between students and faculty, but the central idea is to communicate who you are, what you need, and frame it appropriately and send it in a timely manner. My preference is to have the student always email me with name/class/and meeting times. This became essential when I had three students with the same name at the same two different schools.
Providing a clear and thorough syllabus is also useful and relevant for this problem. Again, constructing the syllabus can sometimes feel like practicing law since you need to cover a range of contingencies to avoid confusion and gray areas for students to take advantage of, but it helps to reduce emails from students. When you get the “what’s this paper due?” email, you respond with a quick: “check the syllabus” reply. That becomes my mantra from day one both in the classroom and within emails. At the end of each semester, I tweak the syllabus to figure out what was and wasn’t communicated well.
Following up on that, I make sure that the syllabus, assignment guidelines, and all non-text readings are available online; so again, when the student emails asking where something is or how do they do an assignment, I simply reply, “Check here….”
Of course, my Freeway Flying colleagues have surely devised equally clever methods I haven’t thought of yet; so let me throw the question out there. How do you avoid email avalanches? Does anyone set limits on the kind of emails students are allowed to send? What about rapid-fire emailing students (shooting email after email, sometimes within the same day)? I’m sure you’ll understand when I say: Please. Don’t. Email. Me. Feel free, however, to post as many comments as you like!
About the Freeway Flyer: Lance Eaton has a Master’s Degree in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts in Boston where he focused primarily on Popular Culture and Gender/Sexuality studies. He also has a Master’s in Public Administration from Suffolk University, where his concentration was on nonprofit organizations. He teaches at several schools in the Greater Boston area including Emerson College, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and North Shore Community College. He’s professionally written and presented on topics such as comics, zombies, audiobooks, and adaptation. He also keeps a running blog with his students at http://hitchhikingadjunct.blogspot.com. When not flying from school-to-school, he also enjoys reading comics, cycling, gardening and cooking.