Anyone with a desk job knows what a great labor-saver email has turned out to be. But if you’re old enough to remember how it was originally hyped back in the ’80s, you probably also recall that students didn’t contact professors outside business hours unless there was a dire emergency.
By the end of yesterday, which was the second day my Religion, Gender, and Sexuality class met, I had sent or received 281 messages for that class alone. Many of them related to setting up the class, hiring discussion leaders, and dealing with classroom technology. Even so, 70 of those messages fell on Wednesday alone, and nearly all of them were to or from students. As soon as I’d answered one email, another would appear.
I do expect this will settle down a bit once freshmen learn the ropes; plenty of them don’t even know how to read a syllabus. But there’s an expectation that professors will be available 24/7, and that won’t fade away. People write me at 3 a.m. about an assignment due six hours later. I regularly get emails from students who miss class and write to ask “if anything important happened” while they were absent. Note to students, present and future: Never do this! It implies that usually nothing important happens in class! It also presumes that your professor will spoonfeed you with notes. Just get notes from a classmate, like we did in the Dark Ages before email was widespread.
By now I’ve internalized these expectations, too. If I’m planning to spend a Sunday at the zoo, I’ll send out an email to my classes to let them know I won’t be reachable. On a Sunday! It’s as if I’m a mail-order call center. Or Wal-Mart. And yes, I see how my emailing them plays into the 24/7 expectation, but it’s a lot less hassle than fielding a bunch of emails that presumed a quick reply.
During the few minutes it took to write this post, I got another student email. I answered it. Before another one arrives, I just might turn off my computer and sneak a nap.