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When There’s Too Much Communication

I found myself sucked into a text conversation with a student a few days ago, a conversation that I let go on for far too long. The brief messages started casually, then grew hostile (on the student’s part, not mine), as I wasn’t willing to do what the student wanted. I should have put a stop to it after a simple exchange, but I admit to getting a bit caught up.

I’m in the middle of a semester of too much communication. I’m getting e-mails and texts from students countless times a day. There’s the productive kind, with which I have no problem. That’s why I give out my contact information; I’d rather have a student ask me a question ahead of time than miss an assignment because he or she was unclear about my expectations. These electronic communications are not my favorite, as I very often rehash information already covered in class, but I try to be gracious and helpful. That’s the teacher’s job.

What I’m struggling with this semester is the wave of text messages that fall into three categories.

1. Unnecessary. “Hey miss I’ll be ten minutes late for class.” Good manners, but when you text me at a time when you should be in class, especially for something minor, it is just a distraction.

2. Confrontational. “You said I kud take the test late so why is my grade F?” Then, when I haven’t responded within two minutes, I receive more and more desperate messages, often from a sender who hasn’t bothered to identify himself.

3. Complex. “The comments on my essay said I don’t have a thesis but I do have a thesis and it says. … ” By the time this student has written her whole paragraph over a series of a dozen texts, I’m having a hard time following the conversation.

There’s something to be said for having to think before you speak (or write). I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon here; I know that part of this communication issue is a generational one. The quick e-mail that you later regret sending has been joined by instant messages and tweets and photos that are out there for the entire world to see.

How have you successfully worked with students to balance their desire for frequent, casual communication with your desire to not answer one-line quickies all day? Is this yet another thing I need to add to first-day discussions?

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