I sometimes get e-mail from students. It happens. Students usually write to ask questions or to tell me why they missed (or are going to miss) class. I like it when students take the trouble to contact me.
Then there are examples like this, which initially appears innocuous:
This plaintive query arrived during the fifth week of the semester and came from a student enrolled in a class that had met nine times. I had given that particular class a total of six quizzes, short one- or two-problem exercises designed to help me keep tabs on my students' progress and to highlight the concepts or formulas I deemed most important.
Hello mr Z,
I need help with alot of the materials, is it possible to get some help from you?
Sent from my iPhone
I took a peek into my gradebook to see how much help Edie might need. Out of six quizzes, with a total of 60 points possible, Edie had racked up a grand total of seven points. She managed a score of 6/10 on Quiz 1 and 1/10 on Quiz 3. She missed Quizzes 2, 4, and 5. I imagine she finally got worried when she took Quiz 6 and earned 0/10. Time to ask for help!
Several possible responses to her plea came to mind. For example:
But I got a grip on myself and decided to take a milder tack (and included none of the bracketed remarks!):
Hello, Edie. It's way too late. I'm dropping you for non-attendance.
I can recommend several steps, Edie, to improve your performance in the class, but you have to implement them quickly if you are to do well in next week's exam [after which pigs will fly]. First of all, you can come to my office hours, which are included in the course syllabus (look at the top of the first page) [and which I e-mailed to everyone in addition to handing out a hard copy on Day 1]. Second, you can go to the Campus Tutoring Center for drop-in math tutoring. Check at the CTC's information desk to find out when tutors knowledgeable in our subject are available. Third, you should review the problems on all of the quizzes we've had so far [including the ones that you missed or flunked—which is all of them]. I have been posting solution keys on the course website where you can download them or print them out.
Finally, ask questions in class [if you're ever there]. We will be doing as much review as we can fit into Tuesday's class next week. [Then, when you realize you have no idea what we're talking about, you can drop the class.]
My student was impressed with the helpfulness of my message, which prompted the following response:
Thank you mr Z! I will read the book this weekend and come to you during office hours.
Yeah. That seems reasonable. Four chapters of neglected school work all polished off in a single weekend.
The self-delusion will not be long lasting.