How to deal with an unsettling email?
February 28, 2012 5:41 PM   Subscribe

How would I deal with this upsetting email from a professor? It accuses me of something I didn't deliberately do.

I'm a student at a university who has had many academic difficulties due to an undiagnosed learning disability. Finally, I'm relieved to say that I know what it is, and I will be receiving help for it.

All my professors were notified at the beginning of this semester that I have certain accommodations in terms of test-taking and rescheduling assignments.

However, I am still struggling in some regards, as I have not actually been able to receive help yet.

There is one class that I have especially struggled with, and I had to hand in two assignments late.

This is a laboratory class where a TA actually runs each section, and the TA wanted to meet with me and the professor who is in charge of all sections. I understand that the TA was concerned about my progress.

I told the TA that we could meet during class, since there was a part of the laboratory where one must wait for a reaction to proceed.

The TA notified the professor accordingly.

However, there was a change in plan in the lab, so it was not possible to meet at the originally determined time. Instead, the meeting would have to take place after the lab. I discussed this with the TA at the beginning of class, and he/she reassured me that the lab would be over at such-and-such time, and everyone would meet then. I specifically told her this was good because I had a review session for another class afterwards.

The professor was not at his/her office at that time. I told the TA I had to leave for the review session, and he/she agreed that the three of us would meet another day.

After the class and the review session, I was greeted with an email from the professor. Due to privacy and legal concerns, I should not post the exact text, but it had a somewhat forceful tone in my opinion and accused me of deliberate disdain towards class policies. The professor was also fully aware that I had met with the TA. In a nutshell, the professor called me out on failing to attend a meeting I had never agreed to.
posted by Seeking Direction to Education (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This seems easy. Something like, "I'm sorry for the misunderstanding, I made it clear to the TA that I could not wait any longer due to another commitment, and the TA assured me that we could meet at another time. Please suggest another time; I look forward to meeting with you."
posted by jayder at 5:47 PM on February 28, 2012 [30 favorites]


I would deal with this by being courteous and adult and ignoring any suggestion that you think the professor called you out. Something like this:

Dear Prof

I am sorry for the inconvenience caused by the changed meeting time. I know how annoying it is when meetings are cancelled on short notice. TA and I did attempt to check in with you at x time but unfortunately, you were not available. Hopefully we can reschedule a new meeting soon.

Regards

SD

And then let it go. Sometimes professors have bad days, sometimes they're just arseholes (I know, I work with them - and sleep with one) and in the greater scheme of your longterm academic career this will be a minor blimp that will fade completely in a very short time. Arseholian professors tend to dislike so many students that they have trouble keeping track of them all. If you continue to act in an adult and not-offended fashion, they'll forget they even got upset (most likely).
posted by b33j at 5:48 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


the TA wanted to meet with me and the professor . . . I told the TA that we could meet during class

The way you phrase it, this does sound borderline disrespectful. You told the Professor and your TA when you would meet?

I'd suggest responding to the email by apologizing for the mix-up (because it was a mix-up, right? Good intent on all parts?), stressing that you do respect class policies and you appreciate the opportunity to meet with them to ensure that you are all on the same page. Then ask if the Professor could suggest a couple of times that would be convenient for them to meet.

I'd also suggest not worrying too much about this. It is really difficult to intuit tone from emails/chat conversations/etc.
posted by arnicae at 5:49 PM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


The way you phrase it, this does sound borderline disrespectful.

I don't read it that way, OP...I read "could" as suggestive, not as "will". I think your professor maybe misread the situation and would say something like:

Dear (Professor X),

I apologize for the confusion regarding the meeting time. My understanding is that we were originally to meet at (Time Y), but because of the changed lab schedule, were limited to meeting after class. (TA) and I stopped by your office and it seemed that you were not in; at (Z Time), I had to attend (Review session for Class XX), and suggested to (TA) that I would follow up with you and TA to find another mutually agreeable time to meet. I would like to meet with you at your convenience (suggest prof's regular office hours if appropriate) to address the concerns raised by (TA). Again, my apologies for any inconvenience that the confusion regarding the time may have caused you.

Regards,

(Me)

posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:08 PM on February 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


But you DID agree to a meeting, and you didn't attend it.

I told the TA that we could meet during class, since there was a part of the laboratory where one must wait for a reaction to proceed. The TA notified the professor accordingly. [...]I discussed this with the TA at the beginning of class, and he/she reassured me that the lab would be over at such-and-such time, and everyone would meet then. I specifically told her this was good because I had a review session for another class afterwards.

I do think this is what arnicae says it is: the professor may have been very offended that you dictated when and where the three of you should meet to discuss your progress in his class, and I don't blame them. It is also entirely possible that the TA did not do everything they were supposed to do, and instead handled the mix-up in scheduling gracelessly. I think that your best choice of action here is to accept that you did, in fact, make a bit of a mistake, first by dictating the appointment time without deferring to the schedule of your professor, and second by not handling the scheduling of an appointment yourself so as to ensure that there was a paper trail proving you have done what you needed to in order to assure the professor that you are, in fact, not a slouch, but someone who is struggling to overcome a newly diagnosed learning disability.

The scripts offered to you by Inspector.Gadget and Jayder are right on.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:11 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


An apology for the misunderstanding would be a good start. The suggested phrasing options above look good to me.

However, I'd like to point out that something seems off about the situation. You say that all of your professors were notified of your need for accommodations at the beginning of the semester, but you also say you're not getting help yet and that you had to turn assignments in "late" (as opposed to turning them in on an extended deadline granted by the prof). It sounds like maybe you're assuming that the disability office is doing a better job than they actually are.

Unless there's some specific reason not to (such as a policy that such conversations must be mediated by the disability office), I think that you should be more proactive in discussing your situation with professors. It sounds like this professor who emailed you doesn't understand your needs--and maybe neither does the TA.

When you meet with the professor (assuming this doesn't violate any disability office policies) I think you should have some notes prepared on what you need in terms of accommodation, what you've been told by the disability office, and what you envision for the rest of the semester. So, something like: "I have ABC learning disability and am working with the disability office. In general, it takes me X additional days to complete a given lab assignment because I need time for Y and Z accommodations. The disability office staff said they'd notify my professors, so I assumed that you had all of the information you'd need. However, it seems that you've gotten the impression that I'm just not doing the work, so clearly there's been a miscommunication. I've written up a plan for the rest of the semester, including times when I'm going to request a deadline extension as well as times I'd like to check in with you or my TA to monitor my progress."
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:14 PM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Did you actually wait for the professor, or did you just leave once you saw the professor wasn't there? Did the professor actually know you were supposed to meet after class? Either way, the suggestions above work - you basically need to fall on your sword a bit, here, because it's entirely possible that there's some miscommunication between the TA and the professor but at the end of the day it's your responsibility to get everyone on the same page regarding your progress and needs. [and frankly, even if the professor is being an asshole you probably just have to let it go.]

Also, yes, anon, you need to be more proactive about the accommodations you need. Some universities only inform the professor that there is a need, but don't specify what it is - expecting the student to handle that.

The thing that seems off to me is the "disdain for class policies" part. I get that you're leaving some details out, anon, but that wording (which in my mind hasn't got much to do with missing the meeting) makes me think there's more going on here.
posted by sm1tten at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


argh. To continue that last thought, it sounds to me like your professor thinks that you're a flake, between your late assignments, class performance, and the missed meeting. Try to meet as soon as possible to clear this up.
posted by sm1tten at 6:34 PM on February 28, 2012


The TA suggested you meet after section, right? And the TA knows you showed up at the time he suggested, right?

If your TA isn't a total shit, he'll be willing to vouch for you that it was an honest mistake. And his word will likely carry more weight than yours. I'd get in touch with him, let him know that the mixup has ended up on your head, and ask him to set the record straight.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:08 PM on February 28, 2012


You might also mention in your eventual meeting that as you were just diagnosed, this is your first year requesting accommodations and you haven't quite figured out how and when to do it in a way that works for everyone, and how much information was passed along to professors by the disability support people, so you are sorry that you haven't been approaching your accommodation requests with all due attention. You are learning how to do this, and are grateful for any assistance your professor can give on best practices from the professor's point of view.
posted by girlpublisher at 8:37 PM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Professor here. Disabilities offices usually grant very specific accommodations that are spelled out in a letter sent to the professor at the start of the semester. Does your letter specifically say that you will be allowed to turn in work late? Because in my experience that would be a highly unusual accommodation. Accommodations I have seen extra time for tests, use of a spelling dictionary, having a note taker, even presenting work orally, but I have never seen an accommodation for turning work in late.

If you do not have specific permission to turn in stuff late, I am sure it sent up a red flag. Combine that with not showing up to a meeting and I would be pissed. As indicated above you should graciously apologize and get back on track.
posted by LarryC at 10:30 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm also a professor and when I begin to have conversations with a student because I am "concerned about their progress," I am also always assessing their reaction to my communication. It further concerns me when I raise my issues with a student and I feel like they've blown me off. It suggests that they aren't taking the class seriously, and that they don't have enough sense to recognize that it's not a good thing for your professor to be concerned about you in this way. If, after making overtures to the student, they continue to appear to not take things seriously, my tone certainly changes.

There's a lot going on here, between your disability accomodation and the timing issues. I would certainly send a concise and very polite email to the professor begging foregiveness and showing that you are engaged in the process.
posted by OmieWise at 5:10 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


How would I deal with this upsetting email from a professor? It accuses me of something I didn't deliberately do.

In ALL kinds of life situations, the best defense you can possibly have to being accused of something you didn't do, is to have all of your other behavior be absolutely impeccable and above reproach, and have as many people as possible witness that about you over a long period of time. If you do that, then if you are ever accused of something crazy, nobody will believe it and the person accusing you will look like the crazy one. Remember that.

So in this case, where you're being accused of disdain towards class policies, your best defense is to show the utmost respect towards class policies and to the professor, in part by being 100% courteous, calm, apologizing for the mixup, doing everything you can to show that you care about the class, and you care about the professor's time and not wasting it. Let the TA know about the email and let them know you feel really bad because you really do care about the class and you're upset that you didn't convey that with the mixup, and you need their help to do whatever you can to demonstrate your caring to the professor. Ask them what you should do next.
posted by cairdeas at 3:24 PM on February 29, 2012


There's a lot going on here, between your disability accomodation and the timing issues. I would certainly send a concise and very polite email to the professor begging foregiveness and showing that you are engaged in the process.

I'm puzzled by some of the responses here, particularly those that suggest that you have fallen far afoul of course expectations, been disrespectful to the professor, or should "beg forgiveness" of the professor. I see no evidence of that in your question; in fact, by actually attending the class and being attentive enough to the professor's request for a meeting that you are writing this question, you are distinguishing yourself as more thoughtful than a great many undergrads that I have taught and TA'd for. I think you are fine. Struggling in a class and turning in two assignments late does not spell doom in course performance. It sounds like you're taking this seriously; that's what's important. Choose one of the above phrasings, send the email, meet with the prof, and you'll be fine.
posted by jayder at 5:58 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone! As it turns out, the professor and TA were willing to sit down and talk, and were not at all angry by the time we met.

I apologized about the error in communication by email first.
posted by Seeking Direction at 1:13 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


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