Yesterday in my grad course, I responded rather tartly to a student question, and have been going back and forth in my mind ever since whether I was too harsh.
At the beginning of every class I ask for questions from the students, and I take all sorts of questions. One, very appropriate question at the beginning of class yesterday was how to hand in the first assignment on Friday. I explained the procedure I wanted followed (paper copies of the program that I could mark up, with the file name for the programs on the paper, so that I could copy and test the programs).
About five to ten minutes later, a student who was late for class asked exactly the same question. Not wanting to repeat myself, and not wanting to encourage students to arrive late, I replied something like “If you had been here on time, you would have heard the answer to that question. Ask someone in the class to explain it to you, and try to arrive on time next time.” Note: I don’t remember which student it was who was late—I have a terrible memory for faces and I’ve not learned any of the names yet in the class—I think that there were 3 students who were late that day.
While this response probably had the desirable effect of encouraging the student to attempt to be prompt, I’m afraid it might also have squelched the student’s (or, worse, the students’) willingness to ask questions in future. I rely very heavily on student questions to guide what I say in the grad course and what details I cover, so reducing student questioning could be a serious problem. I did get several pertinent questions later in the period, so I know I did not make everyone afraid of asking questions, but I’m a bit worried that I’ll only get questions from the most confident students in the class, rather than all of them.
I’m wondering whether I should do a general apology to the class for my response to that question at the beginning of tomorrow’s class, explaining that I really do want to encourage questions, or whether I should let it slide and just take questions as normal without remarking on it. Note: Wed was only the third meeting of the class, so students are not necessarily settled in to a routine yet—what I do could still affect student behavior. Also, I don’t need to be loved by my students, but I do need to be fair, and to be seen as being fair, so that students will respect my judgements of their work, even when my assessment is not as favorable as they are used to getting.
I’d appreciate suggestions from my readers.