That Awkward Moment: When Your Prof is Rude to You

my prof is

I have taken a few online courses during the last five to six years. I support life-long learning and it’s good for me to be a student after nearly 20 years of teaching. I was recently enrolled in one course and I dropped it. It’s too bad, too.

Why did I drop the course? Well, after four negative experiences with the instructor, I spoke up and said, “I do not appreciate your passive aggressive emails to me.” I also contacted the department to complain about the way that I was treated. I cannot remember the last time I was treated this poorly by one of my professors. Actually, I can, but that particular professor was rude to everyone and some found it charming. I did not. I did not take any additional courses with her and I promised that I would not repeat that behavior.

As a professor, I have had to ask a student to leave my office and go to the chair with the comment/complaint. I have also told a student that a boundary has been crossed with a rude email to me. However, I try my best to treat my students with respect and hope for the same. I have had to walk away from a student and say, “We are done.” And, this has only been when the student stepped into my physical space and I knew that the best thing was to end the conversation.

Overall, I am glad that I dropped the course. I am also quite appreciative that I heard back from the department. I had a good conversation and I was clear that I will not take another course with that instructor. Remember–treat people the way that you want to be treated. And, if you have the urge to be rude, don’t. It takes energy to be mean or rude, and it is far easier to be pleasant and professional. Thanks for reading!

Great Book: How to Deal with Difficult People

I have found that some books work as great conversation starters. Several months ago I read Gill Hasson’s How to Deal with Difficult People: Smart Tactics for Overcoming the Problem People in Your Life. This book caused more nervous reactions from people in my office than other books. I later moved the book out of eyesight so that people would not nervously asked if I bought the book in preparation for a meeting!

difficult front cover

The truth is that I did buy the book to review the array of skills that are needed to work effectively with difficult situations and difficult people. The book is about communication and it’s a great addition to my library. I have also suggested the book to others. I appreciate the back cover, “This book explains how to cope with a range of situations with difficult people and to focus on what you can change.”

The table of contents is clearly divided into three main areas: Dealing with Difficult People, Putting It into Practice, and When All Else Fails. Each section is about communication; however, the sections also provide opportunity for introspection. What can you do better? And, tips for dealing with different types of hostility. We all have dealt with the co-worker who is unwilling to take on work. “Oh, I’d do it, but I just don’t have the capacity to do one more thing.” And, I know that this is typically a way to not share a work task.

The book also gives some great tips. Listening. I am getting better at listening, but this is a real skill. I have ideas and I am bursting with them, but I have to remember to pause. This takes work! Hasson notes that it’s important to be direct and honest, and offers some assertive phrases:

I need you to…

Can you explain?

Can you tell me more?

I think it would be better to discuss this at another time.

There are certain phrases that many of us understand that can escalate a situation. Using “you” instead of I. Starting off a sentence with: I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic, but. With all due respect. These phrases usually contradict what the person is trying to say and can escalate a conversation. The phrases are anything but part of effective communication. The backdrop of the book is that we need to communicate honestly. Never send an email when you’re angry. Pick up the phone or make time to speak face to face.

Hasson also explains that some people are impossible. That’s right–it’s not that they are difficult, but they are impossible and there is no way to compromise or communicate with them. You need to put on your thick skin and plan how you will communicate and feel about the engagement. And, Hasson notes that with the impossible person, you might want to not engage. The impossible person envelopes themselves in drama and relishes pulling you in. Run. Run as fast as you can and stay away from this person. But, if you must engage, try to make it on your terms.

I try to protect my time and will make sure that I have an immediate other appointment after a meeting with a really difficult or impossible person. I have also protected my personal time from people what some refer to as emotional vampires and seem to only need me. This is not real friendship. Gill Hasson’s book is perfect work and your personal life. The book is filled with lots of tips and I will likely offer a post related solely to one chapter. There is a great chapter on bullies, and that chapter deserves its own post. Here is a screen shot of the back cover.

difficult back cover

Epiphanies

Most instructors have likely experienced this. You get your mail in the department and you have a card from a former student that essentially says the following: I took your class a number of years ago and wanted to say thank you. I thought you were crazy, but now that I’ve been working I find that I think of you and the class fondly. I am sorry for being a jerk. Your class was important. Thank you. I appreciate the thanks, and I also appreciate the apologies for sarcasm or making the class discussion more difficult. These notes are quite meaningful.

Approximately ten times per year, I get emails, cards or Facebook messages like the above from my former students. Funny enough the cards are from an array of students and it is sloppy to say it is from the haters. The cards come from former students who are being honest. Some might think  that they were difficult, but I find that their memory and my memory vary. I can think of two very difficult groups over the years, and I have heard from one person out of that group, and the apology appeared honest at first. I say that, as that former student appeared lots in my social media being rather antagonistic. I wish I could say that the above is pure hyperbole. It is not.

Lately, this has happened more than most years. I think it’s the fact that the numbers of students that I have taught has increased or maybe it is the fact that I just finished my tenth year at the fourth university. They know how to contact me via snail mail, email or social media.

My point here is I have found that the students who send these notes surprise me. I am happily surprised that they contacted me. I am happily surprised with the thanks, and reminded about the privilege that I have working with them in the classroom. But, each card notes that I was approachable, enthusiastic or that my playing devil’s advocate made a difference. My students are not jerks. They are diligent, hard-working, exhausted, balancing lots, and do what they can. They are imperfect. And, so am I.

Great caption, excuse the f bomb

 

Six Fun Facts

I am a pretty red extrovert, and I have taken special care in the last three years to be more mindful about my extroverted ways. I have learned to modulate my speech, and move my hands less, when engaging an introvert. It’s taken me years to work on this, but I think I have gotten better. I have a few fun facts to share. These are truisms for me, and might not hold water for you. 

1. Thinking about communication is work. 

2. You do not have to respond. 

3. Pause, and then reposed. (If you are going to do so). 

4. Use delay delivery with your email. It also gives you some time to go back and review

5. Enthusiasm can go a long way. 

6. A meaningful thank you or sorry is worth its price in rubies. 

That is all! Here are some screen caps from “Finding Dory.” 

  

Before You Email Your Professor: Redux 2013

This was my most popular post in 2012 with more than 600 views. Of all my posts, I didn’t expect that this was the one, but I don’t imagine that the metrics at Word Press are wrong! I have taken the liberty of revising some of this.

I haven’t taken a Netiquette 101 course recently, so I think it’s time to give some tips about sending emails to your instructors. Of course, I assume that my colleagues send concise, well-written, and respectful emails to students. Frankly, that is a given. (Fingers crossed)

1. Always assume that you should be more formal. Each department will vary; however, going with formal is easier than the reverse and then hearing: I expect to be referred to as…

2. Address the person in the email with a hello or even a “dear.” Avoid, “hey. And, use your full name, as your instructor might have many students who share your first name.

Sample~

Dear Instructor: I am emailing to find out information about your Fall class. Do you suggest any prerequisites for the class? I’d also like to talk with you about a paper topic that I have. Do you have any time to meet this Summer?

Thank you,

Student X

Avoid:

Hey, I’m going to enroll in you class. Should I be worried about your feminist bias?

Smitty

3. Never send an email that is incoherent. This is email and not a text to your best-friend. Type out all words, use punctuation, and proper spelling. What I mean is that even if you’re using your smart phone, be smart and use real words and avoid abbreviations. You could even wait to compose the email on your tablet or laptop!

4. Never send an email when you are mad. This goes for all emails. Send yourself the email and then wait a few hours or overnight, and then send the email that you won’t later regret. When you send an angry email, it is very hard to do un-do. I know that I won’t respond and I’ll call a  meeting with you to chat about your problematic email.

5. Be honest. Understand that your instructor might say that this conversation needs to take place face to face. Some conversations really need that human interaction. This really goes for talking about an assignment, reviewing a draft, talking about grad school, and other important conversations.

6. Do not be offended if the instructor corrects your use of their first name or some policy. Most of us will be kind and say–we have a 24 hour policy with emails after work is handed back and it’s in the syllabus or I expect students to call me Prof. Schmitdkins. (Apologies to my colleague who I used for part of this last name!)

7. Read the syllabus before sending the email. Perhaps the syll answers your question or notes that you should take the time to write a coherent email noting who you are and why you are emailing. And, some of my friends won’t even respond to an email if the question is answered in the syllabus. Avoid saying something like, “I don’t have time to read the syllabus, but was wondering…” Read the syllabus and if your question is not answered, then send the email.

Overall, treat email with the same integrity that you would treat an office hour visit. And, yes, I do get lots of emails that start off with “hey” and have been asked about my feminist bias…

The above advice is good for all of us–in and outside of academia.

keyboard

Mentoring and Coaching: Post-Graduation

I’ve blogged lots about mentoring and coaching. I’ve differentiated the ways that some students require more hands on approach–ergo the mentoring, and some require less and I view this as more of the coaching strategy. I decided to do something different and buy some stationery and send some of my mentees (will use just that word) a note. I wrote the notes recently, but will send them prior to the Fall term. Now, I’ve sent emails and messages via other social media platforms, but I’m kicking it old school with the note cards.

Some of them will start or continue graduate school in the Fall, and others will join the working world outside of academe. I bought these note cards at the Papery on Fort St in Victoria, BC and chose something that was not too big, so that the sentiment wasn’t a thesis. My intention was to write something supportive, and dispense some advice. Academics tend to live our lives term by term or maybe even school year by school year. Graduate students get used to this, too. After graduation many of my former students note that they miss college and the schedule. Thus, I felt it was appropriate to send the note card just when a school term starts and the graduate might reminisce about their undergraduate days. (I know that many of them do, as I get the emails or Facebook messages telling me that they miss their university days and their old schedules).

Each note card was personalized to the particular mentee and my wishes for them. I gave them well wishes and felt quite emotional as I wrote the cards. I’ve given cards for graduation during the last several years, but these cards of well-wishes were different. I don’t view them as closure to our relationship, as I see the mentoring or coaching as not having an expiration date. And, to be quite frank a few of these mentees are now actually great friends to me, and my family. Now, for any former students who didn’t get a note and are wondering where is there note card–this was a first time project and I sent out several. I will do this again. I really hope the students who get the note cards appreciate them. I’ve only started this and will see how it works.