The story begins innocently enough when a Year 11 student at Lakeside Secondary School sends his Math teacher an email on the Friday to let her know that he had misinterpreted the requirements for the assignment due that day, and he isn’t sure what to do. As he has already completed an assignment based on what he thought he was supposed to be doing, he is hoping that he could submit that one instead. He pleads that he has spent a great deal of time and effort on the assignment.
As it turns out, the teacher does not receive the student’s email. So on the Sunday night, she sends the student an email stating that he (the student) had not submitted his work and if he does not submit his assignment by the end of the night, she will fail him. The student responds immediately as he is using his computer at the time. He says that he had emailed her on the Friday to explain what had occurred but she had not responded. He has been waiting for her response before acting.
The teacher is also still on her computer, so she replies with an accusation that she has checked her inbox and she had not received an email from him. Therefore, he cannot have sent her one. She requests that the student finds the email and resend. The student emails back to say that he had indeed emailed but does not have the sent email as he did not keep them. He asks if he could submit the assignment he had already done as it had taken him a very long time to do.
The teacher replies immediately with a ‘NO’. She tells him that as he is in Year 11, he needs to know how to read assignment criteria properly. The incorrect assignment will not suffice – he would not get away with this behavior at university. The teacher once again states that she expects him to email her the new assignment by the end of the night.
The student CC’s his father on the next email he sends. In this one he explains to the teacher that he had spent the day in sports training (rugby) and is very tired. He is willing to do the new assignment, but not that evening. He again asks for an extension, to which she says no.
The back-and-forthing continues between the father and the teacher, and with every email the exchange grows more and more heated. Personal attacks begin to fly to the point where the father eventually CC’s the school’s ‘Head of Innovation’ on one of the emails (as this teacher is also the student’s teacher for Accounting and the father is familiar with him).
The parent accuses the Math teacher of being overly aggressive and demanding, inflexible, lacking understanding, and, worst of all, he claims that her behavior is a form of harassment. The Head of Innovation sends a separate email addressed only to the Math teacher. He advises her to stop emailing the parent and student, as the dialogue has become far too inflammatory. He then emails the father to advise him that he will schedule a meeting with the Principal the next day to further discuss the situation.
Looking back on this recent event, the Head of Innovation places much of the blame on the technology. In his eyes, the instantaneous nature of emailing had led to an angry interaction – there was no pause between emails, so no time to reflect on how the words would be interpreted by the other party. The Math teacher was obviously upset, but she did not choose to step away from the situation to cool down, instead, she persisted with emailing to make demands.
The Principal and Head of Innovation were clear that they considered the teacher to be in the wrong. Not only was it an invasion of the student’s personal time to send him a battery of emails on a Sunday night, but she should have also realized that emails are not the best form of communication when engaging in a discussion with a disgruntled parent. The Head of Innovation offered this as example of how attempts at ‘proper’ communication can be easily misinterpreted when mediated by technology.