The English Teacher’s Email Survival Kit

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2710245262_2ccb0a3a14_mThis blog was originally posted on August 2nd, 2011.

700 messages! My blood pressure shot up, and all I did was look at that image on the right. Usually, I can keep my Inbox well below that threshold, but during the semester when students are emailing me, it can certainly feel like I’m trapped in the world’s fullest Inbox.

The size of my Inbox can be even more daunting when the students writing me aren’t using the best strategies when they write their messages. Nod if any of the following sounds familiar:

  • Your Inbox is full of messages with vague subject lines like “Writing Assignment” or “My Paper.”
  • You have no idea who is, so it’s impossible to reply with the homework for the next session.
  • You have messages that send you to Urban Dictionary just to figure out what the writer is talking about.

You probably encounter those scenarios every semester. The problem is how to deal with them. I’ve never had the luxury of teaching a class that was actually focused on e-mail. The goal of the course is always something else, from first-year comp to visual rhetoric or from professional communication to American literature. There’s little time to spare for long discussions of effective e-mail practices. Still, to survive the influx of messages, you have to spend some time talking how to write about effective email messages.My solution is to keep a collection of resources handy, my own English Teacher’s E-mail Survival Kit. Below are links to resources and news articles that address the challenges of e-mail in the classroom. Just send the relevant link to a student when an issue arises. Ask them to read the piece and apply it to their work, just as you would point them to a grammar rule. Discuss the issues at more length if the situation requires.

These links should take care of most of the content problems that arise in the classroom. I’m not yet the super-emailing teacher described in the recent Atlantic article, “Composition 1.01: How Email Can Change the Way Professors Teach”; but I’m sure the only way to aspire to that level of interaction with students is to have clear guidelines and tips ready to share.

What strategies work well for you? If you share a resources or suggest a tip, leave me a comment below.

[Photo: spam_meets_inbox by mobology, on Flickr]

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.