What do you say to a student who says your reading blog updates are spam?

What do you say to a student who says your reading blog updates are spam? And what do you say when more than one student sends you an email like this one

Could you please stop spamming me. You are cluttering my inbox and inhibiting me from working.

Now, there are several things bugging me about this email and those like it.

I know that students receive many emails aimed at a general audience and that my weekly email is only a drop in that ocean. Emails about sport they’re not involved in, activities, general information, etc. I get the feeling that these emails are just deleted on a regular basis (or left to gather dust, so to speak). I might be paranoid but I think the emails I’ve been receiving are symptomatic of the way students see staff who work in the school library. Now, I may not be about to describe the situation in your school, but I’ve seen a few school libraries where teacher librarians, librarians and library technicians are considered similarly. To some extent, students don’t consider library staff in the same way they consider teachers. Hence, the email without any greeting or mention of my name – something I’ll bet they would never do to any subject teacher.

Some teacher librarians claim that they teach a class (at least) so that they’re seen as ‘real teachers’. That makes sense. It’s a good idea if you can. Currently I teach a year 7 English class collaboratively on a regular basis, and I enjoy the ongoing relationship with the students, getting to know them in a way I wouldn’t when I come into classes here and there to support information literacy or reading promotion.

But if I taught more classes regularly, I wouldn’t have the time to spread myself around the school, offering my expertise across the curriculum to different year levels at point of need. A teacher librarian’s skills are diverse, and as we keep up with changes in education (which respond to changes in the workplace and the world in general), we have the potential opportunity to become involved in rich ways.  As an example, I’ve been teaching within a ning for the first time, experimenting with enriching learning possibilities for the year 7 class I’ve mentioned. I’ve been constantly developing resources within wikis for English and Art, and I’m about to begin the same type of support for Maths and LOTE faculties. This is a time-consuming, out-of-hours, but ultimately satisfying job. I can do it because I’m not having a full load of face-to-face teaching. I love this work, and I believe teacher librarians have a lot more to offer now than they ever used to. I know many colleagues will agree with me on this.

The other thing that I find problematic when I think about the student’s email to me is the view that reading is not relevant to him. Information about books and related films, animation and the such, belong to the library, and are not relevant to this student’s subject-based focus. I think this reflects the problematic nature of developing a reading culture in the school. I started the fiction blog in order to begin to address this very important aspect of school life. I absolutely believe that developing a strong reading culture within the school community, including everyone in that community, is essential to and will have direct bearing on every other aspect of education. For a start, research demonstrates that reading is directly associated with academic results. And why wouldn’t it be? The more you read, the more you understand, the more ideas and perspectives you glean, the broader your outlook and access to diverse information will be, the more you will engage in discussion to further develop your ideas, practise delivery of what you want to say, etc. You get the point.

And yet, reading is still associated with libraries and librarians. That’s what we do. Other people do other things but we just read books. At least that’s the common perception.

This is what I want to change. I take responsibility for perceptions of reading and librarians such as those expressed by the above-mentioned email. I intend to work through this problem until I’ve made some progress. Not single-handedly, of course. My colleagues and I are united on this one. I admit it’s hard not to take emails like this one personally. But I also think that disciplining the student, as important as it is, will not solve the problem. The problem of reading’s relevancy to learning must be analysed, and the approach of the teacher librarian to this problem, as well as to the role of libraries in schools, must be worked through. Otherwise, if we are seen as not being essential, or even worse, irrelevant, to learning and teaching in schools, we’re in trouble.

20 thoughts on “What do you say to a student who says your reading blog updates are spam?”

  1. Wow, that’s a difficult one. It would have been hard to read a student writing something so offhand and dismissive. It seems that the student is one who has lots of opportunity to grow in social skills, maturity and sensitivity.

    I think from the tone of what he said that it is not about the topic of your emails, but what email itself as a method of communication means to young people. I think they see it differently than adults do. If you SMSed him it may have a different response. Just a thought.

  2. Thankyou for your comments, Jo. I’ve had 3 emails like this one. Not the end of the world, but discouraging nevertheless. What you say about SMS is interesting, although I wouldn’t do it. Seems too personal. I wonder if he met me face to face, would he say anything? Don’t think so. An email is so easy to reply to without consequences.
    Always happy to hear your thoughts, Jo.

  3. The first issue is to explain to the students about email etiquette. Most would not dare reply in such a manner in a face-to-face situation. Again, there are many emails sent out eg.sport, that have no bearing to the but the sender would not get such a response. All staff need to be teaching students about this.
    To change the student perceptions about reading we need all the school staff to look at the attention given to its importance. The English staff need to do more to support and actively encourage reading. However all staff are again responsible. They can all read, they were taught to read and should not now take it for granted that someone else (whoever that may be) will be responsible for literacy and in particular reading.
    As a teacher librarian and working in a larger school it is impossible to personally connect with all students. So the issue of image of the person or the profession is a difficult one but again a good place to start is to get the rest of the teachers being positive about the role of the teacher librarians in the school. It is a sitaution that has no easy answer but it will start next week.

    1. Thankyou for your comments, Rhonda. Yes, it’s a whole school issue – the reading- but still seen as a library thing. Well, yes, reading promotion naturally comes into the library (or goes out from the library), but, as you say, is not separate from subject teachers, particularly English teachers (although ideally all teachers).

      Yes, I agree that we have the opportunity to address email etiquette. I haven’t allowed the ‘offenders’ to slip because I think it’s important to talk to the students face to face, as other commenters have said. Students shouldn’t continue to see us as invisible and willing to put up with bad manners.

  4. I agree with Jo, this is a difficult one. First, if you have only had three students let you know, out of what number you are actually communicating with, then maybe that is just a very minute number indeed. Everybody finds it easier to email or sms rather than do it face to face. I would think that it is no reflection on your hard work and that most students would actually appreciate what you are doing. I am resigned to the fact that I will never ‘win’ over all students in all classes but if the majority are enjoying and learning from the experiences that is they way I will go.
    It might be interesting to speak to the three students as a group to see what the real issues are.
    Unfortunately, my blog post feeds were actually spamming one of my regular readers, so is there more to the problem than first meets the eye? Are there other ways of letting those students know about updates? Ask them.
    My lesson instructions often go up on my blog post, but I cannot guarantee that all students read them. Any emails that I send out, I am just hopeful that they are read. Most students probably would not even let you know and just hit delete anyway. I guess on my teacher emailing lists I hit delete on emails that I am not interested in. So don’t be discouraged, soldier on, talk to those and other students and you might be surprised what solutions might be suggested.
    I agree with you that librarians play a very special role and an even more important role with the advent of the web2.0 technology and it is wonderful to read what you are doing and the pioneering direction that you are taking. Keep up the hard, but wonderful work!

    1. Thankyou for your supportive words, Anne. No, I definitely don’t expect to win over all students, in fact, since I can see the stats for the blog, I know that very few even open the email. I think Rhonda’s point about working with English teachers is one way of improving this situation. Reading and literature appreciation needs to be seen as part of the curriculum as well as for enjoyment and leisure.
      I really appreciate your feedback, Anne.

  5. I’d speak to the student personally and ask them why they felt the need to send the email. Not in a confrontational way, just in a ‘I’m interested in your opinion’ way. That way you can possibly move the discussion around to your disappointment that it was delivered so flippantly. Perception of TLs and Library staff in general is a hard nut to crack. I think I’m lucky working in a girl’s school, but I’ve worked hard at loosening up things and I think this has gone a long way to changing perceptions.
    The balancing act between classroom teaching and your TL role is a hard one too. In my Library there are three TLs and we all teach a class. Even though it pulls on our time i think the advantages outweigh the negatives. The staff and students do see us as teachers and that is so important for your role as a TL. I’ve worked in schools where you’re seen as the hired help, and I’d rather have the pulls on my time. We can’t always achieve what we’d like to, but a recent school wide survey saw us come out streets ahead of some other areas of the school so I think we’re doing the right thing.

    1. I agree with all your points, Jenny. It’s not a new problem that TLs are seen as the hired help, and we can’t take this lying down, but how to best approach this problem is the interesting question. I suppose different TLs do it in different ways, and then there are different types of schools.

      I’m not surprised about the results of your survey, Jenny!!
      Thankyou for your helpful comments.

  6. Hmm … I find the comment a tad perplexing. Personally, I would never consider an email from one of my teachers (the T bit in TL gives us that cred) as being ‘spam’ – nor would I, for that matter, ever consider sending such a rude email to one of my teachers (or anyone). As for inbox clutter – that’s what the delete button is for … and it’s not your email that’s preventing them from working, it’s the fact that they’re checking their emails in the first place (when they, apparently, should be working).
    If one of my children sent this to their teacher I would be horrified – it’s just plain rude. That said, the ‘actual’ intent of the email is not fully clear. As I tell my students, the person receiving their emails/MSN chat etc does not have the advantage of hearing their tone of voice, or seeing their body language – the words used are all they have to work with + any emoticons they care to add in. As written, this email is just plain rude – but put a 😉 at the end and it becomes more of a ‘friendly dig’.
    I’d talk to the student – ask them if they were having ‘a dig’ or were serious – if it’s the latter, then it’s disrespectful and I’d deal with it the same way I would if they had said it face-to-face.
    I think it’s great that you email them with updates – it certainly shows how dedicated you are to your job … I might just organise to do it myself.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Angela. It’s true – it’s difficult to judge tone in emails. That may be part of the problem. A quick conversation would be completely different.

  7. Tania,
    I agree with others who have said students might not respond this way face to face. The anonymity of the internet has created this aggression–is that too harsh a word? At least it’s a more in-your-face kind of response. I think I would try to speak to the class as a group, explaining your role, as others have said. I try not to let kids get away with rude behavior.

    1. Yes, I think you’re right, Susan. Face to face would take the issue into the real world (out of the virtual world). For me, personally, it’s more difficult for TLs to have a role in the lives of senior students. I know that some colleagues have managed to have some input into the senior years’ learning, but I’m not sure this happens regularly. This student is in year 11. The other two similar emails were received from year 10 students. I think that the email may also be sent as part of the bravado that exists amongst students in front of their peers.

  8. Being on the receiving end of a similar email myself a few weeks ago (not from a student, but from someone in my virtual network), I understand your feelings. It is hard not be upset.

    Unfortunately, to many people we are seen as a subservient profession, which may allow others to treat us poorly.

    I also do understand the overflowing inbox and the feeling of drowning under the weight of information.

    However, you would not send the email if you didn’t think it was important to the students. I think that needs to be pointed out to the student. It is a school email and I assume it is being sent to a school email address – that is what the email address is for. You are passing on your expertise and it is sad that the student feels that way.

    As others have mentioned, the email is a symptom of a deeper problem about our image and the image of reading. It’s rather sad, really.

    I don’t know if anything you say to the student will actually change their view, but it might teach them some manners at least. Also to reinforce that any school related email is in their best interests, whether they actually agree or not.

    And as someone else mentioned, there is always the ‘delete’ key.

    Keep up the great work and don’t let one or two unenlightened people drag you down.

    1. Thankyou for your support, Judith. I do think the TL image is implicated, even subconsciously. How easy it is to write a thoughtless email when you don’t have to look the person in the face. True, isn’t it?

  9. I have received similar emails from my students–and I’m not a librarian. So while I see your issue about the status and legitimacy within the school, I think there is greater issue at work here.

    First, students like to be able to control their technology as it becomes more and more so. I think this student (although without finesse) is taking control of his or her own learning and time. Isn’t that what we want to teach them? So you might ask yourself (as I do) or the student how you can get the same message to them without “spamming” them. Perhaps giving them the option to opt out of the email updates would be better. Perhaps they only want a notification once a month. Perhaps (as I get from some organizations) just a message to remind them that they don’t have to open is sufficient. If this student is getting 20-50 messages a day, your email is not working effectively and could turn the student off to your site.

    I would also work closely with the faculty. Can you update the class using the faculty website for example? Might that be more effective than a personalized e-mail? Could you have students sign up through the faculty to receive (or be off the list) the e-mails? Finally, do the faculty realize the role you play? I have worked very closely with librarians at our university. I think many are unaware of the resource librarians can be not just in finding resources, but as subject experts and integrating technology and information literacy into individual classes. I find my students have more respect for the librarians as we do more joint projects.

    1. You’ve given me so many alternatives to think through, Virginia. Thankyou. As for ‘do the faculty realise the role you play?’ – well, that’s an ongoing issue. Something we have to be pro-active about all the time. We create our role as we go, and in doing so, our visibility.

  10. I don’t now that I can add much to the comments that have come before but I’ll throw in my two cents. In the end you do what you think is best.

    The way I see it there are two issues here:

    (1) The student’s right to control their in-box, and
    (2) The blatant lack of respect or sense of etiquette due any teacher.

    If a student didn’t actually sign up for the email then, IMHO, they have a right ask to be removed. I know I often mark email from unsolicited sources as spam. No reason to expect students would feel differently about it.

    Still. I don’t like the tenor of the email you received. Perhaps I’m harsh, but this is how I’d deal with it.

    I’d call the students down (individually) to chat with me face to face. I’d be very polite (I often address students as “sir” or “miss”) and begin by saying: “It seems you’d rather not get any future email from me. Is that the case? If so, I’ll strike your address from the mailing list immediately. Is that alright then? (Yes.) Good.”

    “One other thing. About your email …” and then I’d broach the subjects of respect and email etiquette. I’d push the issue until the student apologized. “There’s a difference between the way you address faculty and they way you address friends; even in email.”

    For what it’s worth, that’s what I’d do. But then again, you know your local context far better than anyone else. I suspect that however you deal with it will be best for you and your students. One thing I wouldn’t do though. I wouldn’t let it go. I feel it needs some sort of response.

    1. All good suggestions, Darren. I haven’t done so yet, but I think a short, unthreatening chat with the student is the best solution. As for controlling their inbox, they have the delete key. My emails are few and far between. Thankyou for all your ideas.

  11. “In inhibiting me from working.”

    Really, I just can’t stop laughing a little bit at the gravity of that statement. Funny.

    I kept this one open in a browser tab for some time. Really, I can’t quite connect to such a situation. I have tried to imagine the situation, but really… it is just odd. It would have hurt my feelings for a brief time, but then again I am a “blue” personality if that says anything.

    I would also have no problem talking to the student about tone, etc. Distance creates artificial barriers between folks. Standing or sitting and having a real conversation will likely go far to bridge the obvious digital chasm this student envisions between the two of you.

    Personally, I can’t see someone getting so uptight about a few messages from school personnel. The delete button is really close… and all should learn how to control what they consider “spam” in their world as it is.

    I don’t know… just weird.

    1. I laughed at that line, too. I don’t think the student was uptight, just being a smarty pants. It happens. You’re so right about the artificial barriers. Although I’m happy to have so many responses, and the chance to discuss issues, I realise that the whole thing is not as important as all this, and my reaction has also just been a chance to vent related issues. Thanks, Sean, as always.

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