October 25, 2010 in Features

Miss Manners: To snippy students, say teacher sets rules

Judith Martin United Features
 
On the Web

• Visit Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a college professor at a small university, and I have had several students take a snippy, rude or high-handed tone with me.

When offering a range of times at which I would be available to meet with a student, I was interrupted and told shortly, “Well, it will have to be after 3 on Monday, because that’s the only time I’m free.”

Another student wrote, “I just feel that we need to straighten this situation out and make sure that we’re both on the same page!” when, in fact, she simply did not like the lateness policy.

A third told me, “I want to know what’s happening with this grade, because I’m not used to getting grades like this and I’m going to medical school!”

To the written correspondence, I respond in a polite and coldly formal fashion. However, I have difficulty in person or on the phone. I would resort to a simple, neutral “I beg your pardon?” but I’m afraid that they will fail to grasp the intent of this reply. How can I indicate that a student’s tone is inappropriate without being rude in return?

GENTLE READER: It is not rude for you to issue instructions to your students: You are, after all, a professor.

Granted that this is remedial work that they should have mastered long ago. But Miss Manners suspects that they really do not understand the concept of respect for those who – by definition – know more than they do. Respect should be mutual, of course, but there is a hierarchy here that must be recognized.

Perhaps she would not suggest going as far as the professor who saved himself trouble by announcing that anyone who wanted to argue about a grade would get five points off automatically, so that the argument had better be good enough to take that into account. But you do need to protect yourself.

The correct answer to all of these snippy remarks is a quiet, “I’m sorry, but I am giving this course, and I set the rules.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: As the one entrusted by my mother to distribute her assets now that she has died at the age of 96, I am at a loss as to how to dispose of the nightgown that I found in her drawer that I believe she wore on her wedding night.

It’s beautiful, but she was a private person, and I feel uncomfortable letting others know of its existence. Giving it to someone doesn’t seem right, but neither does trashing it.

What would be the correct and sensitive way to handle this, and protect and honor a woman I loved?

GENTLE READER: Keep it – how much space can it occupy? – with a tag on it giving its provenance. One day you will hear of a relative who considers it a sentimental and historic treasure – or one such relative of yours will show up when your own estate is distributed. Miss Manners assures you that there is one in every family.

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