33

I know the title sounds terrible, but it's not as bad as it sounds so please hear me out.

I am an undergraduate and have set up an independent study for this fall about topic X. The professor doesn't work too much with topic X, and she has told me that she may need to review the material a little bit herself before we start.

I read the preface of the book we will be using, and I noticed there is a section dedicated to instructors. This section contains a link with advice on teaching this book.

Is the professor likely to read the preface and find this link on her own? Would it be rude of me to send this link in an email?

  • 3
    When you say "the book that we will be using", do you mean the book your study group will be using, or the book that the professor will be teaching from? If you're proposing to tell her about something that's in the textbook she'll be using, that's very patronising. – David Richerby May 4 '17 at 10:33
  • 9
    "Independent study" and "the professor" sounds like a contradiction. – Peter Taylor May 4 '17 at 14:17
  • 12
    The book's advice to instructors is most likely in the context of running a whole class. It is unlikely to be useful in the context of an independent study situation. – Daniel R. Collins May 4 '17 at 14:44
  • 14
    @PeterTaylor: It's perfectly normal terminology in many US universities. It means that the student (or several students) want to study a subject not included in normally offered courses, and arrange with a professor to teach a custom course. It's included on transcripts as an "independent study" since it does not have a course number. Where it falls on a spectrum from self-guided reading to the professor lecturing varies from group to group. – Nick Matteo May 4 '17 at 20:49
  • 10
    @Shokhet That's a truly terrible idea. Essentially, you're saying that it's sufficiently likely to cause offence that you don't want to be associated with the email, but you're going to send the email anyway. – David Richerby May 5 '17 at 12:32

14 Answers 14

78

Yes, it is (very, IMHO) rude, and yes, it is exactly as bad as the title makes it sound. I am sympathetic to your concern that your professor may not end up doing the best job she could due to not being aware of good advice. Nonetheless, it is not your place to tell her how to do her job, and sending her a link with teaching advice falls into that category.

At the same time, it is your place, and well within your rights, to communicate to your professor your needs as a student, so it would be perfectly appropriate to send her an email and let her know about any action she could do that would be helpful to you as a student (I mean an action that is directly related to the course and how she teaches it, not an action like "study the material of topic X so that you know it better"). But as I said, PLEASE do not send her a link with teaching advice.

Also, if during the course you find that the professor is doing an especially bad job and does not address any requests you made of her to teach in a more effective manner, it would also be appropriate to complain to her department chair or other superior. But I would reserve such a measure for truly extreme circumstances.

  • 53
    I'm sorry, but I disagree -- I think some important factors to consider are the social/cultural environment we're talking about, your professor's personality, and your own relationship with the professor. And of course, the way you word your email. I can easily imagine a professor who would be very interested in receiving such a link as well as a situation where this would be very inappropriate. For instance, I've been lucky to work under two different professors at different universities who are very approachable -- they would probably not have minded in the slightest receiving such an email. – Thomas May 4 '17 at 7:34
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    I can easily imagine a professor who would be interested in receiving such a lunk. @Thomas as I said in response to user73001's answer, the fact that you can easily imagine someone who would like to receive such advice from a student is irrelevant to the question of whether sending it is rude. – Dan Romik May 4 '17 at 18:13
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    @DanRomik Whether it is rude or not depends on the wording and what is assumed. A flat out e-mail recommending the link would be assumed to mean the professor is believed to not be fully capable and needs the link. However, if it is made explicit this is not the case, I do not see an issue. If I thought it was truly useful, I would say something like, "this link may offer insights into how to teach the material, and I thought it would be worth mentioning in case you hadn't noticed it and would be interested." – JNS May 4 '17 at 19:16
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    @DanRomik And again, I disagree. The original question cannot be answered in general without taking the specific circumstances into account. – Thomas May 5 '17 at 6:39
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    I also disagree with this answer. It would be clearly rude to send an email implying "You suck at teaching, here's a reference to make you better." In this case, the student could easily avoid rudeness by saying "hey I found this resource, since you mentioned you had to refresh on this material, does this look like something helpful at all?" (that said, I prefer @Penguin_Knight's suggestion that the student digest the information themselves instead) Importantly, this does not seem to be GENERAL teaching advice like "here's how you run a classroom!" it sounds like advice SPECIFIC TO THAT BOOK. – Bryan Krause May 5 '17 at 16:23
100

To show that you're an independent learner, I'd suggest don't just send the link, but read the materials in the linked page and summarize them to your professor, tell her if you think it may be useful for the directed studies. For instance, instead of:

And here a link (URL) provided by the text on how to teach this book.

Try:

I also found a link for teacher and read up a bit (URL). I think the suggested chapter sectioning for a 7-week syllabus seems suitable to our directed study time frame, please let me know your thought.

Or something along the line. I think you're quite lucky that the professor was being so up front about her lack of background knowledge, it should be a good directed study experience. But in turn, you'll need to bear some of the self-teaching responsibility, and don't expect that she can read some pages about how to teach the subject and then magically be able to teach you.

  • 51
    +1 for the implication that, as a student approaching an independent study, you are as much responsible for the curriculum as is the supervising professor. – Bryan Krause May 3 '17 at 18:18
  • 2
    +1 for the overall idea, but I don't think you've succeeded in providing a delivery/framing that's not still rude. – R.. May 5 '17 at 1:21
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    I'm dubious that a teacher would appreciate being spoken to like a peer by one of their students -- I don't appreciate students speaking to me in any way other than as a peer. – JeffE May 5 '17 at 1:25
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    @HarrisWeinstein Remember, the student - professor relationship for the OP already is different. Most of my colleagues and I do one or two independent studies a year. They take time and we get paid the enormous extra sum of $0 to do it. If I don't already have a syllabus that I can readily modify for the student and lots of the material prepped, and they find a source that basically has exactly that, I want to see it. It saves me time. – user0721090601 May 5 '17 at 15:09
  • 3
    @HarrisWeinstein "I'm dubious that a teacher would appreciate being spoken to like a peer by one of their students." I don't think she is that kind of teacher. A teacher who hangs onto how students place themselves lower than herself in daily communication is very unlikely to say that she "may need to review the material a little bit herself before we start" to the student's face. – Penguin_Knight May 5 '17 at 15:30
12

It would be less problematic if you mentioned it in passing (in person).

Something like "How's it going planning the class?" and then "Did you see the tips for teaching this class? I think all textbooks should have this!"

  • 1
    This is probably the best approach if it can be done in person; pointing out the link as a cool feature, not suggesting the professor needs or should consider looking at it is the safest approach. – JNS May 4 '17 at 19:19
  • 13
    Nice. This approach also works for other situations. "Did you see these tips for losing weight? Everyone should read them, even handsome skinny people like you." – Dan Romik May 4 '17 at 23:24
6

I think it depends what kind of relationship you have with your professor, but considering you're asking then it is probably not appropriate. It also depends what kind of personality the professor has, some may not take it well, while others would be happy you helped them out - but since we don't know the professor, nor do we know you or your relationship with said professor, none of us can say for 100% if it is truly rude of you - because those factors will determine the rudeness your actions.

I have been fairly close with some of my professors and I feel like if I found something like this I could tell them about it, although it should be done so carefully and casually.

You don't want to come off as if you're telling them how to do their job - only just trying to share something you think they may appreciate.

As I said previously, the fact you're even asking that questions implies you may not have a very close relationship with your professor. So I would keep it to yourself.

  • 3
    For every type of rude behavior there likely exists a person who would not mind if that behavior was directed at them, so I think the fact that the professor may not be offended is irrelevant to answering the question. The behavior is rude because a reasonable person almost certainly will be offended, so saying "it depends" is misleading at best. – Dan Romik May 4 '17 at 9:44
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    When I was at college there were quite a few teachers that were quite casual with the students and they were often asking for our input. I wouldn't have sent them an email about 'here are some better teaching methods' but I did on occaision show some of them them to resources related to the course I thought were quite good and they took them on board. (It helped that I was doing somewhat better than the other students though in certain subjects, the difference in ability meant my word had a little bit more gravitas.) – Pharap May 4 '17 at 13:26
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    @Pharap That sounds helpful. But I bet even those teachers would have been annoyed if you'd mailed them to say, "Hey, I just read the preface of the book you'll be teaching us from. You should read it, too!" – David Richerby May 5 '17 at 12:40
  • @DanRomik To be fair, a truly reasonable person almost certainly wouldn't be offended. But I see your point. – Jason C May 5 '17 at 22:30
  • @DavidRicherby Indeed, I was by no means contradicting that. My point was to illustrate that if one wishes to assist the teacher then there are ways to do it without overstepping the mark. Suggesting a (suplementary) book after having actually read said book is potentially a good way to help without causing offense. (Note that in my case we weren't actually working from a book at all and I was only informing my teacher about said book because I had read the book and found it to be both relevant and useful to the course and thought that others might benefit from reading it.) – Pharap May 6 '17 at 12:05
3

If the professor's told you that she may need to review the material, that generally means that not only is she aware that there's a need, but that she's intending (time permitting) to deal with it.

Depending on her personality and the dynamic you have with her, she may or may not take offence if in the meantime you email her some resources that are genuinely intended to help her out, but I would be very cautious about it - at least to some extent, you're implying that she won't find those resources on her own, i.e. that you think you know better than she does.

If you genuinely do know better, and you're dealing with a professor who's very open-minded and can recognise that, she may accept it and thank you. On the other hand, many (very many!) people don't enjoy admitting that people whose current status they perceive to be lower than theirs know more than they do about something, and if you're dealing with one of those people then there's a real risk that she might take offence.

A safer way to tell her, if you must, might be to say that you've been looking at book X, and ask her (without mentioning the teaching guidance!) what she thinks of it as a reference for the course. That will make her equally aware that the book exists (if she doesn't already know about it), without implying anything.

  • This is good advice. You may also want to note that the resource in question is the very textbook the professor will be teaching from, so it's almost a certainty that she's aware of this one. – David Richerby May 5 '17 at 12:39
1

If you are assuming that your professor just might not have seen or read the section, then you would come across poorly to suggest it.

However, almost every legitimate course will offer every student a chance to review the class. If the professor does not do a good job and you care one whit about the professor or your fellow students then you should give honest feedback at that point. Just keep in mind that your perspective as a student is vastly different than your professor's perspective - and you might be wrong. Always allow for that possibility (that you are wrong) and you will be okay.

1

In the situation you described it would be rude, and possibly damaging to your relationship with you professor. If the professor is willing to inform you that she needs to review the material herself then she almost certainly has the matter in hand. The message you'd be sending could be interpreted as you think she's an incompetent who can't do her job correctly. Female faculty take an immense amount of grief from students and are often judged for more harshly than their male colleagues.

0

Firstly, as an undergraduate, I think if possible, you should tell your professor about the advice, since it would benefit other students as well. (At worst, it would do nothing.)

Secondly, I think BigDataLouis's advice is very good. Meet your professor in person in their office hours, don't use email. Email can easily be misunderstood, it is easier to sound rude. When chatting in person, your facial expressions and tones should help avoid sounding rude.

Thirdly, I think you should talk about it inside some other conversations. Say you ask your professor some questions about your study and then before you leave, you may say, "I find out that the book contains some advices, it says [summarizing]... It sounds good to me, what do you think?".

Finally, this answer of course assumes your professor is reasonably nice, approachable, reasonable and loves answering students' questions. But most professors I met are of this type, so I think it should be fine.

  • The advice is in the textbook the professor will be teaching from. She's pretty sure to have read it already. – David Richerby May 5 '17 at 12:46
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby If it is the case, then the OP does not have to do anything... I don't know how a professor would prepare a class, do they read the book preface or jump straight ahead into the content? – Alex Vong May 5 '17 at 12:57
  • 1
    @AlexVong Note that this is specifically for an independent study course, which is very different from a standard course. I would expect a professor to put a lot less systematic effort into preparing to teach an independent study, and be much less likely to rely strictly on a particular textbook. – Bryan Krause May 5 '17 at 21:26
  • @DavidRicherby, you said nonsense. They will be using a book does not mean that the professor have read it already, or that she intends to. – Alexey Jun 11 '17 at 21:26
0

It all depends upon your relationship with the teacher. If you know them well, and you know they wouldn't mind, or you know enough to know it won't offend them, then no, it is not rude.

But, since you asked the question on the Internet, you are indicating you do not have this kind of relationship. So, you are taking a chance. Some will be offended, some won't care, some won't even read it. You just don't know the person well enough.

Because of that and because of the way people are so easily offended, you are being rude, very rude, to send it. You are asking for trouble, regardless.

If you are that worried about it, as other(s) suggested, bring it up. Perhaps,

"I looked at that textbook and read the teaching suggestions. I would not want to be you. That looks hard. I wouldn't want your job for nothin'(g)."

Or just ask,

"Teacher, Are we gonna get to study x this semester? I hope so. I really wanted to learn that."

That is true and you won't look bad asking, more than likely.

You will still risk offending someone because you are going to have to work very hard not to sound condescending or concerned. People are not (too) dumb. They know when you are not sincere. It will be difficult for you to hide this. Or, maybe you're good at this sort of thing. Who knows?

But guess what, no matter how hard you try not too, you will offend some people at some time or another. People get their feelings hurt easily and are insecure. Some people you simply cannot win with no matter what. They read into things ranging from email, Facebook posts, and phone conversations. I know this firsthand because I'm a fallen human.

0

I feel emailing a link from a book the professor has is rude and risky; it is best to approach this topic in person, use proper academic titles, be genuinely humble about your respect for your professor's greater experience, and openly express your own wish to learn. With this foundation I believe you will achieve a more rewarding response than an email and avoid a possibly negative attitude from your professor. Also, remember how personalities and daily mood swings play a part in whether something is perceived as rude. Face to face is safer. Please read on for more perspective.

In my experience as a doctor and professor, I have always responded better to students who show respect for my position and title; I worked long and hard for them. Keep in mind that even the most humble people can be offended by being treated as an equal by those who have not proven the same level of effort and accomplishment. This is largely at the root of your question about rudeness.

Remember you are an undergraduate and your professor is, well, a Professor. Until you have done what she has done to gain her title and position, you cannot truly understand her point of view. That you are asking this question shows you have some comprehension of this. IMO, it is not just rude to send an email with a link on how to do her job, but it is putting yourself in a risky position regarding her opinion of you. Respect is key here. Respect must go both ways. I respect my students who are serious and I expect them to respect my position. Do not address your professors on a first name basis until you have first established your respect for their title and their position in the academic hierarchy, and have gotten some hint from them that first name reciprocity is acceptable. Even once this is established, always remember who is the student and who is the professor! In the academic setting, there should be a peer to peer relationship between students and professors, but there are limits to this relationship; students and professors are peers in that both are academics, but professors have (hopefully) greater understanding and their role in the process is considerably different from that of the student; this fundamental difference should always be kept in mind, no matter how smart we are. The best situation is that teachers and students are always learning from each other, but reality is that the institution and human nature combine to create a bit of a gulf between us. It is our job as striving humans to overcome that gulf.

  • 2
    Yes, professor. No, professor. I couldn't possibly think for myself, professor, because you are a professor and I am just a humble postdoc, barely worthy to clean your shoes. It's very generous of you, professor, to spend your time giving advice to a mere student. They're so low in the hierarchy that they're barely more important than insects. – David Richerby May 6 '17 at 12:58
  • I am sorry you feel so put out by my response. This is, however, how the world works, whether you like it or not. It is not to your advantage to be arrogant to those above you in the hierarchy, whether it be academia or other. This was intended to help you succeed, not to insult you. – ProfLGM May 9 '17 at 2:03
  • By the way, in the beginning of your question you referred to yourself as an undergrad. In your response to me you are now a postdoc. Which is it? Also, re-read what I wrote and tell me where I personally attacked you in any way, and tell me if you would speak in that manner to me or your professor in person. Your sarcastic tone was unprovoked and shows immaturity and self-importance that often gets people passed over for advancement or even fired in some circumstances. No one is unexpendable. This is real life experience I am giving you. Consider it well. – ProfLGM May 9 '17 at 4:02
  • 1
    Er, I'm not the person who asked the question. And this is not how my part of the world works. I behave respectfully to those above and below me in the hierarchy. That respect is not based on mechanistic use of titles and hierarchical structures but, rather, on respecting them as people and understanding their position. Whereas your answer is, basically, "You are an undergrad, she is a professor. You cannot possibly teach her anything ever, because she is superior to you." This kind of attitude is antithetical to the parts of academia that I live in. – David Richerby May 9 '17 at 8:54
  • I would say professor and student are merely different positions especially at the undergraduate level. People who spend a lot of time with undergraduates are not always the most intelligent or creative. But they are experts. – Jacob Murray Wakem May 9 '17 at 16:19
0

There are already more authoritative answers here. I am not an expert, so take my answer with a pinch of salt.

Environment: I am an Indian graduate student studying in the US.

While you should definitely not tell/ hint a professor on how to teach, most professors are open to adjusting the curriculum based on the background of the class. So just make the professor aware of your academic background, your inspiration to take the course, and ASK if it is possible to modify the aspect-X of the course (not Prof.) to better help you achieve objective-Y. I am not sure what exactly is that you want to convey, but here are a few polite (IMHO) examples:

  • I am unable to figure out X in the given time. I have tried A, B, and C. Could you please give me a direction where I can look (narrow your area of study), or loosen requirement Y or do "advice_from_your_link"?
  • Most of the students already know topic X; could you please emphasize topic Y more?
  • (In CS courses). I don't have much experience of working in this domain. Could you please give a few examples of applications, so that the theory is more relatable?
  • If possible, please give assignment requirements early in the semester.

As other answers said, don't send the link. Phrase what that link says in 1-2 sentences so that it sounds like what YOU wish to achieve from course, NOT what the professor should do.

0

Nothing wrong with making an observation, context helps, for example.....

I observed these notes in the reading material you provided, I would like to understand why your teaching method differs so I may understand your approach a little better

Also, remember, at the end of the day, it's your job to teach yourself, the professor is just there to help you

-1

Yes it would be very rude.

You are there to learn, not to tell your superiors how to do their job.

  • Nobody is telling anybody how to do their job and, in my experience, the concept of "superior" is very seldom used in academia. We're all here to learn and it's always possible that there's something to learn from people lower in the hierarchy. – David Richerby May 9 '17 at 9:26
-3

I do not think it would be rude to send the link to her, as long as you provide a little context. e.g. "Hello Mrs. [xxxxxxxx], I noticed a link in the preface of the book that I believe would serve as a valuable resource and I wanted to share it with you in hopes of strengthening the course material/curriculum". Perhaps you should justify to her why you believe the link provides relevant material to said course.

The goal is not to come off as condescending or supercilious but rather to appear genuinely concerned and interested in the content and direction of the course. I believe that will be a positive sign for professors and the only ones who would find offense with it (provided proper context and justification) are the ones who perhaps are too full of themselves and their own ideas to actually serve and do right by the title of "Professor".

  • 7
    It would be incredibly rude. First, by addressing her as "Mrs" rather than "Professor", you're suggesting that she's not worthy of her academic title. If you're familiar enough with her to address her by her first name, that's fine, but if you're using title and surname, it's the academic title. Second, by pointing out something in the preface of the book that she'll be teaching from, you're suggesting that she's not competent enough to have even read the book herself. – David Richerby May 5 '17 at 12:37
  • 2
    @DavidRicherby: “…you’re suggesting she’s not worthy of her academic title.” Really? If I got an email from a student addressing me as “Mr. …”, the worst I’d think is that they’re not fully up to speed on academic norms of address — which can be difficult to work out for anyone. I’d take it as a faux pas, not a deliberate insult. – PLL May 5 '17 at 13:41
  • 1
    @PLL I agree that "Mrs" on its own wouldn't be a big deal. But combining that with patronizing advice really does look bad, even if that wasn't the intention. Also, I assume that Fillard is in the USA (their name is a Spoonerism of a 19th century president) and my experience of academic culture in the US is that students refer to every member of academic staff as "professor" even when they don't hold that title. In that sort of environment, using some other title looks much more significant. – David Richerby May 5 '17 at 15:20
  • 1
    Sometimes using "Mrs." for faculty might be an honest mistake (though once you're ought of the first semester of school it almost certainly isn't), sometimes sending a condescending email to a woman professor telling her how to do her job just means you're clueless or a jerk and not necessarily a sexist jerk... But the two together in the same email?! Yeah she'd definitely think you were a sexist jerk, and she'd be right. – Noah Snyder May 5 '17 at 17:43
  • 4
    @PLL As a man you are significantly less likely to experience gendered presumptions of your lack of qualification than a woman. Both "Mr" and "Mrs/Ms" are faux pas for addressing a professor, but only one carries the added weight of a long history of sexism, regardless of original intent. Also see implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html – Bryan Krause May 5 '17 at 21:23

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