I have sent the solutions of some assignments to the students of my class.

One of my students sent me a message that reads as follows (not greeting or anything, no closing, just the following):

The proposed solution of Exercise X is obviously wrong because of reason blah blah. An appropriate solution to your exercise would be such and such.

Now, the student in essence is actually correct: there is a slight error (but it does not alter the essence of the solution). It is just a small wording issue that might raise some confusion (but the calculations are clear).

What troubles me is the attitude, which I found kind of offensive (but I might be wrong).

Is it appropriate a student to behave like that? What would be the right approach to deal with this student?

I answered as politely as I could that the student is right, thanked the student for spotting it, and updated the solution manual. But I feel that the student would create similar issues and make similar comments if some typos are found in subsequent notes.

Note: The actual problem might be that the student might start bad-mouthing me to other students/professors and this might negatively influence other students in believing that I am doing a bad job and consequently this could be reflected on my teaching evaluations (given also that I try to get tenured). Maybe I am paranoid (hope so!), but in relatively small classes where everyone knows each other, the power of bad-mouthing can be great. I want a way to (a) avoid confrontation and (b) make it clear that these issues are completely minor (they are) and not worthy of such aggressive (which they might not be, but I do not want to take chances) messages.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 14:48
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    In some countries, this would be considered polite. In the U.K. it would be considered rude among the middle classes, but possibly normal at the extreme ends of the spectrum of society's social classes. So imho you need to tag with "United States" or whatever the country is.
    – PatrickT
    Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 5:04
  • It could be that the student has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Students with ASD (e.g. Aspergers) have a hard time in academia, so we should be considerate of their communications issues. Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 11:23
  • "a slight error (but it does not alter the essence of the solution)" - I think this is really bad for the students, if I answer something correctly and find out that the solution is different, I'll waste a lot of time thinking I was wrong. Everytime this happened to me, the professors dodged and said the same you are saying and I didn't earn anything for the time I lost with their mistakes.
    – Red Banana
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 6:55
  • The question would benefit from more email content. The quoted sentence is terse but not rude. Personally I prefer terse communication, instead someone writing: It came to my attention that there may be a slight inconsistency pertaining to the question X. If I'm not mistaken it would appear that the solution is possibly incorrect due to X being X' not. I reckon that the appropriate solution could be formulated as ..." what a pain in the neck reading something like that. As an educator you should encourage your students to communicate in a clear and unequivocal manner.
    – Konrad
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 16:24

14 Answers 14


There are several things which are not mentioned in the email but which can be assumed when processing such a message:

  • The student is actually trying to help everyone involved. Otherwise they wouldn't have bothered sending the correction.
  • How did the student get to this stage? It seems likely that they first solved the exercise correctly, only to find that their solution didn't match the proposed one. They might then have proceeded to use much more time (not necessarily wasted because of their increased understanding, but they might not see it that way) on trying to match the proposed solution, only to finally realise that they were right all along. This can be a frustrating experience, involving disappointment, erosion of (mistaken) belief in the infallibility of teachers, lost time, and opportunity cost. They then get in a bad mood. Time might be of the essence to make sure others don't repeat the process, so they fire off the quickest message they can to get closure and fix it for others.
  • On a completely different tack, they might be more used to text messages or the kind of ultra-condensed emails that are popular in certain work places. For example, I've seen people recommend acknowledging emails with a simple "Ack" or "Got it" in the subject line, with no body at all. They might simply be trying to avoid wasting your time with niceties.
  • As a software developer, this is the sort of style that I have learned to expect (and hope for) in bug reports. If that was a bug report the only bad style would have been the word "obviously".

With that in mind, you basically have two options:

  1. Respond in kind, since that might be what they expect. "Thank you", "will be fixed", etc. They will likely format future emails in the same way.
  2. Respond using the format you want them to use in the future. This should be a good enough hint on its own of what you expect, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Another obvious option, which I would not recommend, is to directly chastise them for not conforming to expectations. They will probably never report issues like this again.

Also: Don't worry. This wasn't even a complaint, just a correction. This sort of thing is only a problem if it keeps happening to many of your assignments, and coming from many students.

Finally, to anyone assuming that the student is either rude or bragging:

  1. Research indicates that humans are really bad at judging the tone of written messages (1, 2, 3).
  2. Sending a private message to the lecturer is pretty much the least bragging/bad-mouthing way possible to ensure the issue is fixed. The lecturer is free to correct the mistake in any way they see fit, and to credit the student or not. Conversely, universities have plenty of public forums where the student could have posted a similar message, which could have been justified by it then being fixed for everyone ASAP, but which could be interpreted as bragging and/or criticising the lecturer. The student showed good judgment by handling it this way.
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 17:25

How to deal with this?

Dear [student],

Thank you for pointing this out.

[1 or 2 more sentences of explanation]

Sincerely, [your name].

What troubles me is the attitude, which I found it kind of offensive (but I might be wrong).

Maybe the email is offensive, or maybe the student just wrote an email from their phone. Maybe they are actively trying to be a jerk, or maybe they just don't know how to behave properly. Maybe they are just trying to be a troll. In all those cases, I have found the best way is just to not engage and write a neutral response that does not comment on the perceived rudeness.

  • If it's just a regular student writing an email from the phone, this does not create a conflict out of thin air.
  • If it's a jerk or troll, this does little to satisfy their hunger for drama.
  • If it's a student without manners, well, you are not their parent - don't make it your job to educate them on proper email etiquette.

What I certainly would not recommend is "inviting" them into your office for some sort of explanation, just for writing a factually correct but unfriendly email. You are, again, at worst creating a conflict where there is none, and at best spending significant energy trying to educate a fellow adult on basics of etiquette.

But I feel that the student would create same issues in case some typo is found in the subsequent notes and make similar comments.

So what? If they have a real concern, address them. If they make things up to feel important, either ignore the email or tell them that you do not see the issue.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – eykanal
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 17:13

An arrogant sounding email does not mean that the person is arrogant. It is well-known that language and even the assumed personality in online communication differ from the real ones, sometimes very significantly (see e.g. internet troll and internet hero). There may be a bunch of other reasons why a person uses an offensive language without realising it, e.g. their first language may not be English. There is also a cultural dimension to it.

The bottom line suggestion is: don't form your opinion by reading email only. Ask student in for an office hour and explain the solution to them. You can offer advice about the communication style used in academia and also get to know the student better by seeing her/him in person.

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    This doesn't sound like a disrespectful email to me, just brusque (and using email more like a 'text message' format). Sure, people should learn to peruse their writing and the feeling of civil communication is better served by leaving out the adverbial modifiers: ' "obviously" wrong' which makes it seem more meanly stated than perhaps the student intended.
    – Carol
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 14:00
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    "Ask student in for an office hour and explain the solution to them". I'm sorry, but I disagree. First, because student seems to understand perfectly the solution. Thus, a meeting will be seen as a penalty for the mail, making impossible reach the target of "advice about communication style". Could be in future better chances appear for this objective. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 16:13
  • @pasabaporaqui I guess, it depends on a culture of your institution. In where I work an extra hour of tutoring is not considered a punishment. And, obviously, someone arguing about a minor detail does not perfectly understand the thing. Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 7:01

The message was written in a minimalist style, and that is okay.

(Perhaps the obviously could have been omitted, but even that is not a huge deal.)

Now, that said, in the modern world of email, it is all too easy to get into unproductive, anxious wondering cycles of doubt about all kinds of email messages that one receives, and also about one's own email messages (is this too blunt, is this too flowery, etc., etc., editing and un-editing and starting fresh, until 2 am). So, when in doubt, by all means, do ask colleagues, friends, Academia StackExchange (probably the Chat would be the best place for this), so you don't waste your time spinning your wheels about an email.

(I support the suggestion already given, that if it is not an online class, get to know your students better in the face-to-face arena, if possible.)

I realized, after reading Patricia's helpful comment, that I forgot to say:

Promptly email a corrected solution to your class list, giving a brief credit to the student who brought the mistake to your attention. That might be a good opportunity to let your students know (as I hope you have done previously) that their corrections are much appreciated and you are always glad to receive comments and feedback.

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    In this day and age, your anxiety is understandable, in general terms. In the context of this particular email message, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to worry about. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 12:07
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    @PsySp In my experience, most students tend to view the teaching evaluation as "just another assignment, except this one doesn't affect my grade," so most tend to put minor effort into them that does not affect you either way. What hurts is when one of the students who hates you (whether reasonably or unreasonably) happens to be among the minority who actually write up a "thoughtful" (used loosely) negative description about you. Odds are they won't, but it's a gamble that you have little control over. It is a crap shoot.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 13:57
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    Minimalism still needs to mind its attitude ... especially including words like 'obviously' (when apparently it wasn't obvious). Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 14:55
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    In an academic environment, one learns to make allowances for different flavors of English and different levels of mastery of nuances. An email is a one-dimensional projection of something complex and multi-dimensional. If we don't learn to suspend judgment about emails that sound a little weird, we will waste inordinate amounts of time spinning our wheels, wondering and going back and forth about the tone of a message. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 2:53
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    @PsySp - Leading by example is often the most effective way to influence others' behavior. But let me ask you this. Was the first solution you circulated wrong? I mean, aside from the emotional tone of the words used, was the solution incorrect? // We all make mistakes. What differentiates the women from the girls and the men from the boys is how we move on after discovering a mistake. It's okay to make a mistake, and it's okay to acknowledge a mistake. It's even better if we can avoid overfocusing ... Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 14:54

Having the confidence to challenge your professor when they've made a mistake shouldn't be under-estimated. Many people will be scared that they'll just look stupid. Likewise, standing up infront of 500 students and saying you made a mistake also takes confidence.

I would take a leaf from their book and stand up to the class and highlight the mistake. They won't feel angry that you did it; and if anything will be relieved that you highlighted the issue, as they were getting stressed that they might not be understanding the topic.

After that - who cares if a student is arrogant or not? Why does that matter to you? Your job is to teach them the subject not manners; so your reply should revolve around that. If they really are arrogant and they step on someone's foot, later they'll learn another way that it's bad.

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    I agree, except I would not wait until class. Other students may be struggling with the same issue. An immediate e-mail to the whole class pointing out the correction would be better. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 14:24
  • Re your last paragraph: perhaps a more positive way of encouraging detachment might be to suggest to OP to lead by example. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:34
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    "Having the confidence to challenge your professor when they've made a mistake shouldn't be under-estimated."---well, yes. But it also shouldn't be overestimated!
    – Dilworth
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 16:12
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    Unfortunately, many professors (or anyone in a position of power ) care a lot when underlings are arrogant. I pointed out blatantly inconsistent evaluation methods in my grad school department's procedure for pass/fail the qualifiers, and got nothing more than abuse heaped on me by the department chair. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 20:03

After reading the student's email several times, I think the student is neither being arrogant nor aggressive (as you say), but concise: in a "WhatsApp" like style. They go directly to the fact and its correction.

It is true that some words could be selected in a more polite way ("obviously erroneous"), but in this context and after the first answer has been sent, it is not the moment to remark on this (I always suggest humor for these kinds of issues: Thanks for pointing out this issue, it is more difficult to catch these editorial or minor errors than mosquitoes in the summer even if they are "obvious" as you say ...).

I must however remark a contradiction in your text "The actual problem might be that the student might start ...". I'm sorry, but if it is a "might start" it is not an "actual problem" but a "possible hypothetical problem". A teacher must always act taking into account facts not feelings nor opinions.


I do not see the student's email as arrogant. I can see how someone could assume arrogance in it or think that there could have been an arrogant mindset, but the email itself is not blatantly arrogant.

If you make a mistake, and a student catches it for you, that benefits you, that student, the rest of the class, and possibly future instances of the class if you re-use the material. You should say thank you.

However, because of the low amount of diplomacy and tact in the student's email, I would not try to seem overly thankful. After stating "Though the process was correct, there was indeed a mistake in my wording." you can simply say "Thanks." or "Good catch, thanks." or "Thanks for pointing that out." or similar.

As for the use of "obviously," which seems to be the balancing point for most people here, please realize that the word usage could go either way: polite or rude. It could easily be that the student thought "I don't want to offend my teacher, so I will toss in the word 'obviously' to indicate that it is a minor mistake on their part that they would agree with me on, and not that I am questioning their ability." Or, obviously, it can be read as "I doubt this teacher even cares about us or this work since he made such a trivial mistake that is obviously wrong." It can be read as either very polite or very rude; you just cannot know.

About your concern of this student spreading bad news about you; there is nothing you can do about that. I recall both from my days as a student and my teaching days that this was bound to happen no matter what you do. If you are truly a good teacher, then usually there will be less of it, but you cannot avoid it entirely. I saw some awesome teachers, much better than I was, who still received some complaints and persuaded students to avoid their classes. It is sad that we have to deal with this unfortunate truth, but there is little you can do about it other than minimizing it by doing a good job.

  • Downvoter care to comment on what I could improve?
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 19:03
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    yeah, i guess the point is that I get disappointed that after putting too many hours scribing notes and giving them numerous examples/homeworks (with detailed solutions) that they won't find in any textbook, someone "complained" about it and, even worse, for a trivial reason. I also agree with you that if the student (which btw never comes to class) wants to bad-mouth me s/he will in any case.
    – PsySp
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 6:49
  • @PsySp Too many years ago, one lecturer pumped out as many notes (handouts and blackboard) as ALL my other courses combined that semester. My lab partner whined and moaned, eventually bleating, "Will this be on the exam?" every 10-15 min. (Embarrassing!!) It was years later I realised Mr. Botsford was broadcasting on all wavelengths!! Some students tuned-in on the formulas, some on the graphs, some on the schematics, and some on the long-hand notes. I regret not putting a sock in my lab partner's mouth during those classes... Too late to say, "Thank you, Mr. Botsford"... I am doing that here.
    – user186240
    Commented May 24 at 13:22
  • @Aaron UV for showing both sides of "obviously". Adverb can serve to magnify or to diminish severity of idea being expressed. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    – user186240
    Commented May 24 at 13:29

I try to tackle issues of this sort by reminding me of the following points:

  • There is no tone of voice in written communication. If some tone is being heard, this is in the reader's mind, and such tone is actually owned by the reader. Sometimes I feel that my reading is loaded by some situational reactivity of mine.
    To keep this in check, I read the text aloud by faking exaggerated versions of the way I perceived, once by exaggerated excess (say, an extremely annoying tone delivery) and once by exaggerated defect (say, an extremely soothing one). This is a calibration exercise, to clear the biases of the moment.
    So I try to avoid projecting my state of mind onto perceived attitudes of the counterpart (unless I know him/her so well that I am reasonably confident that it's no projection, rather established knowledge of the other's self and mine)
  • In written communication, it is the word choice that shows the perspective of the writer, with due consideration for what he/she could, would, might, should do with writing --- a rich playing field indeed, sometimes so vast that it is unreasonable to dwell on assumptions and hypotheses on the situations at point of writing. Above a certain critical mass, however, these speculations get liable to Ockham-razoring.
    Rather, it is up to writer to decide whether a core message should be buffered by, and anchored to, context information. But that's style, and outside the reader's control --- at least, until the tables are turned and the reader writes about his/her reading experience, of course, perhaps ad infinitum...

As a result of this, I come to realise that most probably there is neither insult nor injury in what I read. Also, when the tables are turned, I try to use these guidelines to allay the feelings that my writing has awakened, provided the counterpart has bothered about sharing them. In that situation, I review my word choice and put forward corrections or confirmations based on what I get to understand from the feedback.

A useful first-aid resource to frame these communication questions are the Grice's maxims:

The assumption of this is that there is willingness to communicate. Not answering is also an option. But interpreting absence of signals is much more uncertain, and can even be taxing depending on the expected value of an answer. Intriguingly, this value is often revealed by the tone of voice we read the incoming messages with.


You state in a comment that this is "Theoretical Computer Science". The student makes a point of handing in a complete correction and suggestion.

This is not "English Studies" or a "Communication Major" where basic interpersonal skills are part of the skill set for admittance as well as graduation.

So putting in a lot of guesswork I consider it likely that you are dealing with someone without useful grasp of social skills, for example one with traits of Asperger's syndrome. It is quite likely that the mistake will lessen his opinion of you disproportionally. However, that does not put you in a worse light/position than everybody else. I would not worry about that.

I don't think that you can do much better, for both yourself as well as the student, but to respond graciously which apparently you did. It's quite likely that this student will keep being troublesome while also being at the top of the class: being friends with numbers and computers and being friends with humans are different skill sets and there are people bad at managing one to the detriment of the other.

Don't go out of your way to either accommodate or discipline that student: neither is likely to be effective anyway and may backfire. Even while I might be misdiagnosing the problem, doing less rather than more is usually the safer course leaving you more options later on.

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    Well, I think that would be a lesson too, that even smart alecs in "non social skills demanding" branches have actually to learn how to behave. I don't agree about the answers that say that nothing has to be done. Computer sciences are full of guys with a competitive/meritocracy mindset that make them feel superior as soon as they can show some default in a design or such, or here for instance, redaction of teaching material. Actually, they are just aware, doesn't make them completely superior. Ignoring them might be a solution. But they will have hard times later working for a company.
    – Ando Jurai
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 13:10
  • So I would not target the student right away, but at least in a general way post some reminder that Politeness is required in communication with the pedagogic team, that insights are welcome but that emphasis should be put on self-moderation when stating facts; as internet doesn't convey tone. This is indeed because tone is not conveyed that students should care about their writing, instead of being let loose and possibly wild because they are able to hide behind the fact that tone is not conveyed, so teachers should assume they are not arrogant. Things well ordered and done in this way.
    – Ando Jurai
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 13:15
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    Unless the student is going to be writing their OS, compiler, etc. ground up from ML, interpersonal skills absolutely are part of the subject (and if they don't need other people, why are they taking classes?). CS isn't the science of computers; that's electronics. CS is the science of people interacting with computers and each other. Seeing a discrepancy between your answer and the solution and thinking that the solution "obviously" is wrong is indeed arrogant, and not considering the possibility that you are wrong will get you into trouble even if you're not dealing with people. Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 2:15

I wouldn't take this as obnoxious or arrogant. If there is an error, you've just found a way to spot which students are able to see it, and capable of saying so. In many disciplines those are skills worth having. Positive features.

Nobody's work is immune from mistakes and pointing them out (even tersely) isn't a hostile act.

As an educator and mentor, why throw cold water on them, and discourage them from engaging with the material, to the extent they sound like they are doing?

You have a range of replies that will work fine, but unless you know more about the students attitude to show a real problem, this is the one I'd choose.

  • Thank them as you would any helpful colleague (even though a student you can use the tone you would to a colleague), and assume a motive of trying to give useful feedback. "Thanks, well spotted! Extra marks and its been fixed"

There is a second reason to handle it differently than you are thinking:

Think how it may be felt by a student: suppose the student gets a message that is negative in tone, will they think that they have a teacher who, when a mistake happens, doesn't want to acknowledge it and is annoyed at the person who noticed it. The student may worry about how they are seen, with more good reason (their future life is in your hands!). Perhaps the student will think "maybe the teacher doesn't like me now, and will unfairly mark my work negatively". Now you've created a bad impression and worry for both of you. You've also taught them "if you see a problem or someone doing something wrong, keep quiet".

  • thank you! But I do not understand what you mean "throw cold water on them". As I said above, I am glad the students spot obscure errors, typos etc. Also, I said that I sincerely thanked the student for the effort, and updated the solution manual accordingly giving credit to the student. My question was about in case the student had any bad motive, and how to handle it because it might needed some delicate handling (but most probably i am overreacting)
    – PsySp
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 11:34
  • "Throw cold water" - its an English phrase meaning to discourage someone. Like, a child or student comes to you because they are enthusiastic about something or they think they did something good and well done, but instead of supporting and saying "well done" the person acts annoyed or criticises them, so they go away feeling it wasn't so good, upset, or let down. Like you responded by turning away if they offered a handshake, to a person who greeted you, instead of welcoming them. Don't make the student feel like that!
    – Stilez
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 17:38
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    In that case don't worry. Or explain to them why you are glad they spotted it, because it shows they are a good student. Smile and share the work - after all, its a subject you both choose to study!!
    – Stilez
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 17:42
  • Thanks again! Yes, I know what "throw cold water" means, just I did not understand how you came to the conclusion that I wanted to act in that way. I never implied or hinted that I wanted to act in that way> on the contrary, I want to sincerely thank the student and at the same time hint that (unless s/he was in a hurry or something) s/he could have been more polite etc but doing so in such a way that a potentially frustrated student doesn't get more frustrated. But I get your point!
    – PsySp
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 5:33

We have a policy - never assume an attitude in email. Some people are very direct people and while they don't mean to sound arrogant - that certainly could be the case in an email.


In these kinds of situations, it's important to distinguish between pragmatism and ethics.

If someone acts disrespectfully toward their superiors, this will undermine their academic and career potential. Ergo, it unpragmatic; it doesn't work. But it's not at all clear that being disrespectful towards one's superiors is morally wrong. And some philosophies (I use this term as loosely synonymous with "worldview") hold that hierarchy is unethical despite its current ubiquity. Further to this, it's easy to relate to someone whom holds that being disrespectful towards one's superiors is morally obligatory, whether or not we agree with this position. I think it's good to keep that in mind.

Is it appropriate a student to behave like that?

The word "appropriate" is ambiguous. It sometimes means "ethical." Other times, it means "consistent with the norms of a particular culture, in a particular time or place." In my opinion, these aren't the same thing.

What would be the right approach to deal with this student?

Treat them like they're an intelligent, rational being, potentially with a strong distaste for hierarchy, but good inside nonetheless.

For example:

Thanks for point this out.

However, I found your email a little too pointed for comfort, and the tone, though ambiguous, could be construed as disrespectful.

I think an important ethical principle is consistency. If, for example, you wish to reserve the right to write with whatever tone you like, fine, but if so, you must forfeit, in all circumstances, the right to object to other people's tone as fair consequence.

Assuming you don't wish to forfeit this right, I'd like to ask you intentionally go out of your way to soften your tone from here onwards. As a general rule, I think that going out of our way to speak and write with an intentionally respectful tone goes a long way towards making this world a nicer place for everyone.

Also, I respectfully disagree with the position that the given solution was "obviously wrong." You're correct that the phrasing was a bit weak, but [whatever you want to write here.]

In any event, I appreciate that you reported this and I'm strongly in favor of the willingness to report such things in future. A lot of people wouldn't have the courage to bring something like this up, which is a shame, because it means problems take longer to fix.

Good luck with the rest of the assignment.

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    Although I think I agree in general with what you write, it might be a too on the nose (if indeed the motive was to be rude, the student might very well be even more upset).
    – PsySp
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 7:01
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    I think this could come across as more arrogant than the initial email! A well-meaning student could read this and think, "I tried to help, and I got chastised for it." Too much explanation for too little an offense, imho – if there even was an offense. I'd wait for a few more instances before I took things this far, or save a response like this for an email that is more obviously arrogant.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 19:51

It seems people are not liking you for questioning the student's intent....but I definitely understand how you can interpret it the way you are. As a former student who used to correct teachers when errors would arise, I would have to usually write according to the teacher's personality because teachers have this expectation of being cordial towards them and tend to get offended if you don't write as they expect you to write.

Many find that calling them out on an error with a problem is challenging their credentials, even if it is indeed a valid critique. This is where it is a bit unfair to the students. Not everyone has an agreeable personality. Especially when it comes to the science and math domains. We, (people in that aspect) tend to lack personality and why we gravitate towards fields in which our interactions are with non living objects or superficial through e-mails.

I have a friend who writes similar to your student and they do intend to correct for the sake of self gratification that they know more than others under the guise of "wanting things correct". It's actually gotten so bad that no one really wants to hang out with him anymore, but that's a whole different story.

Point being, you should wait for a pattern to arise. If he constantly e-mails you in a way that feels attacking, send him an e-mail or request to talk to him a moment after class if he has 5 minutes to spare. Let him know that you appreciate him helping to correct issues he finds.

I had a teacher that always told students that they are more than happy to have students find errors and let him know. So make sure the student understands, that act in itself is not an issue but that his e-mails give off the vibe of being arrogant or condescending and that you would appreciate it if he used a different tone.

No one should accept being talked to in a arrogant/condescending tone just because it's "their personality". Many people forget that just because they are an instructor doesn't mean they are not human all of a sudden.

So for all the people telling you that you are over-reacting. I do NOT agree with them. People say you can't take emotion from written words, but then please explain why novels can bring people to tears, anger, laugh. Written words do have tones and emotions. Using words like "obviously" in a statement to the teacher has only one purpose... to state that the mistake he found was very obvious to anyone who is "of his level". I think that if the error was that egregious, the teacher probably would have already corrected it before presenting the problem and/or shortly after presenting the problem.

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    Excellent answer and to the point! Thank you. I am certainly happy if students correct the mistakes (in any case we are talking about sample notes that are not textbook replacement) and give credit when one deserves one. I was just not sure how to react in the given situation in order to avoid any kind of confrontation in the future.
    – PsySp
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 17:29
  • And another thing: it is not only the word "obvious" that troubled me but the whole format of the message. I have never, and I mean ever, received such a "crude" message from anyone student or not, inside academia.
    – PsySp
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 17:33
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    @PsySp It depends on how far you want to see it go. I would personally let it go if it is the first time. Maybe he is having a bad day, maybe he was rushed for time. If this is a pattern though, I would definitely approach him and explain to them what would be considered as an acceptable e-mail format. You may also want to spend time during the first class of each semester while going over class rules and expectations about e-mail etiquette. I definitely agree that the email was crude. Only thing you really can do is approach him about it if it is a pattern.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 17:37
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    Indeed. As I said above, I answered politely, thanking her/him for letting me know and even giving credit to that student. Hope s/he got the hint on how to answer on academic mails, even in case of frustration. I guess I will have to wait and see how things will evolve, if they do. Thanks again.
    – PsySp
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 17:40
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    @PsySp When I was the head tutor of my college and also being a T.A., I had to on several occasions educate students and other younger tutors about proper workplace etiquette. Some of them simply don't know due to their upbringing or in those causes, their first jobs. It's definitely a sensitive area that needs to be handled with care.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 17:43

It could be that the student has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) such as Aspergers, in which case it is likely that ther is no arrogance or rudeness intended, just direct factual language. It is worth academics having a reasonable understanding of the communication issues arising from ASD as it is not uncommon in maths, science and engineering. It is important that we don't discriminate against them because we over-interpret their overly-direct communication and read a subtext into it that is not there. The reply sounds fine.

Try not to worry too much about errors in teaching materials. We are all only human and no matter how hard you try, there will always be imperfections. In my experience, students are quite forgiving of mistakes, provided you "own" them (rather than minimising their importance) and are eager to fix them when they are detected.

  • thanks - indeed there was! I am happy to own my mistake ;o) Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 11:25

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