I was given something to think about today, and I want to toss it out to you and see what YOU think about it.
At the start of every term – in every class – I give my students “The E-Mail Lecture.” I’ve been the recipient of some pretty jaw-dropping, astoundingly bad emails over the short tenure of my teaching career, and I try to stress to my students, early and often, that it’s important to comport oneself in a professional manner when dealing with people like teachers, clients, and bosses.
To that end, I give my students a handout that contains some of the winners of my email collection – letters from Henry and Tad and Dave – remember them? Yes, I saved them – they’re pedagogical gold, as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, I cut-and-pasted them directly to a page that I then printed out and offer up to my new students as examples of some of the sloppy and inappropriate communication that I’ve been subjected to.
Up until today, no one has ever so much as batted an eyelash (well, except to proclaim how terrible the email messages are and how THEY would NEVER send me ANYTHING even REMOTELY like that; the lady doth protest too much, but whatever). This afternoon, though, someone questioned the ethics of my using these emails as a teaching tool, and we had a bit of a showdown.
His stance is that these were “private communications” between me and the students, and that I was violating the students’ rights to privacy by using these emails in this very public way without their permission. It doesn’t matter to him that there are absolutely NO identifying clues in the emails – there is nothing to say that Henry wrote this one or Tad wrote that one – none of that matters to him. His thinking is that I’m being unethical by using the emails, and nothing I could say would change his mind.
While he’s right that I don’t have the students’ permission to use the emails, I don’t think he’s right that I’m being unethical. I’ve gone out of my way to make sure that the emails are scrubbed of ANYTHING that could identify the author. I further obscure them by attributing the emails to the wrong gender – sometimes, I’ll say that the email Tad wrote was written by a woman, for example. I believe that it’s true that, with the exception of Henry, all the students who contributed to the handout are long gone from TCC. Moreover, the students who wrote these went through the same lesson that I give my current students about email (though, of course, they did it without the rotten examples). One of the points that I stress – to the point of actually repeating the heading of the section of the handout – is that there is no such thing as private email. Let me say that again – there is no such thing as private email (heh – that’s actually what I say in the lecture). The students know this, and the fact that they’re still willing, after this lesson, to send me such abominable drivel is almost reason enough to use it in public.
Because I started this blog as a forum for discussion and learning, and because I’m always interested to hear what other people think, I’m turning this over to all of you. What do YOU think? I’m happy to entertain both sides; though I do have to say that it would take an eloquent argument to get me to stop handing out the “Fun with Mrs. Chili’s Emails” paper, if someone makes that eloquent argument, I might have to find another way of getting my point across. Still, pedagogical gold is what I’m sayin’ here, People…