Emailing me: Resources for students

I have recently reflected on the number of students who have conveyed to me that they struggle to reach out by email. And every time I hear about an accessibility barrier from a student, I know that there are likely several more students that previous experienced or are experiencing the same barrier and haven’t felt comfortable telling me. In the past I’ve often replied to these comments by saying: (a) yes, I feel the same ways sometimes! And (b) please do feel invited to contact me in whatever way best suits you.

But I recognize that these two things alone aren’t very helpful. Especially if the difficulty emailing stems from a disability, cultural differences, mental health concerns, or bad previous experiences. I realize now it might help to have better resources that go beyond the recommendations you will find in my syllabus (Do read the syllabus! It’s usually packed with resources).

So, this page is meant to be a growing resource for any students in courses I’m teaching as an instructor, as a teaching assistant, as a guest, etc. While you might be able to use these for other courses, or other contexts, know that different people have different preferences and needs.

For example, I prefer people address me in particular ways because of my degree progress and gender, but these can feel informal in other contexts, or for other people who struggle to be recognized professionally because of ongoing personal and institutional biases (e.g., we know that students are more likely to call a woman instructor by their first name without asking, and less likely to address them as Professor or Doctor than if they were emailing a teacher perceived as a man, etc.).

So please, feel invited the use these templates, to ask me for other templates, but do take care to check the preferences of other people before using these in other contexts.

What’s on this page? 

  • Contact basics:
    • (1) Where do I reach you?
    • (2) What do I put in the subject line?
    • (3) What do I call you?
  • Sample templates
    • (A) Asking for an extension
    • (B) Asking for a meeting
    • (C) Canceling or rescheduling a meeting
    • (D) Sharing an accessibility letter
    • (E) Asking for a reference letter
    • (F) Asking me to add another template here

 


Contact Basics

1. Where do I reach you? (Email me directly please!)

It can be tempting to use the “Inbox” on Quercus, but I ask that you please email me directly outside of Quercus. My email address will be on the syllabus, and you can just copy and paste it (if it isn’t in the syllabus, it will be in an announcement). Sometimes we will create a special email address just for the course, most times I will just use my “mail dot utoronto” account. Checking the syllabus is the easiest way to make sure you have the right email address for your course.

If emails aren’t accessible for you for ongoing connections, we can talk about other alternatives. Please reach out in person through class, through our live sessions in online courses, or by an initial email (see below), and we’ll work on finding a better fit.

Summary:

  • Please don’t use the Quercus inbox
  • Use the email address on the syllabus (or in the Quercus announcements)
  • Contact me to discuss alternatives to emailing

2. What do I put in the subject line? (Course code and a quick description!)

Subject lines are really underrated. When I have a lot of emails, a subject line can make it much easier to find your email, to find it again later, and to prioritize between many emails (like responding to extension requests faster!)

First, please put your course code in the subject line (e.g., “PHL382”). This might not seem like an important detail, and I know many people will respond even if you forget to  include it (I try to!). The reason why it’s important is that I have set up a dedicated inbox for our course. This means that whenever an email arrives with the course code in the subject line, it will be moved automatically to a separate folder for our course. Often when I check my emails, I check those folders first. So emails that include the course code in the subject line will generally be answered faster. Also, I receive a lot of emails every day. So if your email gets stuck in my regular inbox, it may take me much longer to see it and reply. It really stinks if I don’t see you email quickly when you’re asking a time-sensitive question, so please help me by including your course code. Finally, sometimes you’re in more than one of my courses, or I’m teaching different courses and get confused about which assignment you’re asking about for example, so adding a course code helps me to know what you’re asking about sooner!

After the course code, it helps if you add a quick summary of your email. That way, when I’m looking through different emails from you later, I can find the right one faster (kind of like how you want to name your files on your computer in ways that you can quickly tell what’s in them). Just the quick words “Paper extension request” or “Question about citations” or ” Accessibility concern” will make it much easier to know which email is which.

That’s it! Together, your subject line might look like “[PHL382] Paper extension request” or “HLTB50 can I reschedule my presentation” or “HST209 — Question about textbook version”. If your subject line doesn’t look like these, I’ll still do my best to answer your email, this just makes it more likely I can respond quickly and find your emails later.

Summary

  • Please always include your course code
  • And a short description of your email (three or four words is fine!)

3. What do I call you? (You can just call me “C”!)

Technically speaking, I’m not a “Dr.” (yet — fingers crossed). I’m also not a “Mr.” or a “Professor”. (“Mx.” is fine by me, though I don’t use it myself often). Many of the words or titles you may have been taught to use in the English language do not apply to me, or at least not yet, and this can make some people uncomfortable: What do I call them? How can I show respect?

I won’t go into the details of my name or what my official position is in the University, or issues with gender and titles and all that (see my comments at the beginning of this page about women in academia though, and know that this also extends across other social identities like race). The short answer is this:

Just call me C! You can start an email with “Hello C” or the slightly more formal “Dear C”. If you’re waking up you might say “Good morning C”, and so on and so on.

What if I am uncomfortable calling teachers by their first names? That’s okay! I know that we’re taught in the English-speaking West that using last names is often more appropriate when there is a power dynamic in play, and in highschool classrooms etc. I also know that different cultures have different ways of demonstrating respect to professionals or people with institutional power etc. In that case, you can just avoid using my name!

What would that look like? Well you can just start your email with a general greeting “Good afternoon,” or even “Hello,” and launch right into it. You could also use my role instead of my name: “Dear Instructor,” or “Dear T.A.”. In the templates below I’ll use a mix of these so you can see how they feel to you.

Summary:

  • Please avoid using: Dr., Mr., Prof. (“Mx” is fine)
  • You can just call me C in your emails! “Hello C …”
  • You can also avoid using any names! “Good afternoon …”
  • Or refer to me by my position: “Dear Instructor”
  • Remember: this is just about me (how selfish); be sure to ask other people what they prefer.

Email Templates

A. Asking for an extension

What to include: In general, it helps me to know some of the general reasons you’re asking for an extension, and how long you think you need. Extensions are usually granted on a principle of equity. What does that mean? Deadlines ensure that everyone has the same amount of time to complete an assignment, but in reality, not everyone has the same access to time. People who are disabled, sick, grieving, or undergoing other experiences may not have the same opportunity to use that time assigned to them. Extensions make sure those people have a more equitable situation for doing the same assignment as other students. So, letting us know generally about your situation lets us make sure we’re treating students in similar situations fairly. (It also helps identify if there are other kinds of support you might need). Giving an estimate of how much time you need helps us for the same reasons; otherwise, I might not fully understand the severity of the situation and grant you a 24 hour extension when a longer one is appropriate.

Depending on the class or circumstance, you might also need a completed Verification of Illness or Injury form, a doctor’s note, or a letter showing you’re registered with Accessibility Services on your campus. In courses I design, I almost never require these except in exceptional circumstances, because I know not everyone has an equal chance to get these kinds of documentation. But check the syllabus: some other instructors will require them, and I will need to follow their requirements.

Your rights: Please remember that in almost every case, we are not allowed to ask for details about your health conditions or disabilities. If a teacher is ever pressuring you to disclose more details than you are comfortable sharing, you should consider talking to your Registrar or your campus Students Union for advice. These “rights” I mention are not just abstract, but are written into laws and policies, like the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Okay, that’s a lot of info. What might an email look like?

To: [Whatever email is in the syllabus]

Subject: [Course Code] Extension request for [name of assignment]

Dear C,

I am requesting an extension for [name of assignment]. My general reason for this is [your reasons, see above]. I am requesting an extension of [how long you think you need].

[Optional: check your syllabus] I have enclosed a [type of document: VOI, doctor’s note, Accessibility letter].

Thank you,

[Your preferred name]

That’s a lot of blanks. Here’s an example where I filled them in using made up information.

To: cdf123456789@mail.utoronto.ca

Subject: PHL382 Extension request for Blog Post

Dear C,

I am requesting an extension for the blog post. My general reason for this is my 2yo daughter is sick and I need to take care of her as her sole parent. I am requesting an extension of two days.

Thank you,

Oluwadola

Notice our made up student Oluwadola didn’t include any documents (and how could they in this situation?). Remember to check your syllabus for requirements.

B. Asking for a meeting

What to include: There are three main things I need to know. First, what do you want to discuss (this helps me prepare ahead if I need to). Second, when you are free. And third, where you are able to meet. In short: What, When, and Where. It would be great if some of this can go in the subject line too.

I am writing this during the COVID-19 global epidemic, so for now all my meetings are digital. In that case, it would help to know if you’re okay using BB Collaborate through our course Quercus page, or if you require a different tool for accessibility (less bandwidth usage, or live captioning, etc). If we’re meeting on campus, we will generally need to meet in the department I’m teaching in or have an office in, but of course if that space is not accessible (no barrier free access, construction issues, trauma triggers, scented cleaning supplies, no braille indicators, etc) I am happy to meet elsewhere.

What might that email look like?

 

Oops! This page is still under construction (it takes time to write these things, and something must have come up!). The rest of these templates and more will be available soon!

  • (C) Canceling or rescheduling a meeting
  • (D) Sharing an accessibility letter
  • (E) Asking for a reference letter
  • (F) Asking me to add another template here

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