Emailing a teacher should always be your last resort. It shows much more respect to approach the teacher in person at school during their office hours if you have a question. However, sometimes an email is necessary. Follow these steps to be sure that your email is read and even replied to.
To warrant an email, your topic must be urgent and important TO THE TEACHER.
Only urgent does not warrant an email. It is not important that you weren’t paying attention in class or waited until the last minute to do your homework or project. It is urgent, and is important to you, but does not involve your teacher. This is a time to ask a classmate. If you can’t ask a classmate, then bite the bullet, take responsibility, and ask the teacher before school the next morning. Yes you will likely take a lower grade, but your teacher will not be infuriated with you. Similarly, asking for extra credit is not important. See the linked post to learn the acceptable way to ask for extra credit.
Only important also does not warrant an email. If it is important but not urgent, tell your teacher in person or write them a letter and leave it on their desk if you are not comfortable talking to them in person about it. Be prepared for the teacher to find you and talk to you if you leave a letter. Talking to the teacher in person allows them to ask questions and get instant replies. There is no replacement for in-person communication.
At this point you’re thinking, “When am I allowed to email my teacher?” You can email your teacher about the following things:
- Assignments and emails they ask you to send (duh)
- Grade book issues. Please only do this if your teacher uses an online grade book and it does not have an internal messaging tool. Do not email about your objections with a grade. Email if your grade for an assignment suddenly disappeared or changed, doesn’t match the assignment you were handed back, or has a character or number that doesn’t make sense.
- Unclear or contradictory assignments. This only applies if you were paying attention in class and the directions online, in the book, or on the worksheet are unclear or contradictory to what was explained in class. Sometimes teachers make mistakes!
- You missed class that day and need to turn in your assignments. Email during school hours and only if there isn’t another policy already in place for making up assignments (such as a website to submit them). Email .doc or .pdf copies of your work. If you don’t have a scanner, use a smartphone scanner app. Don’t email to ask for assignments or notes unless that is the policy your teacher uses. Email a friend for notes and assignments.
- If something or someone in class is bothering you. This is best left to email if you’re afraid of the repercussions of being seen talking to the teacher. If you are being bullied at school or in class, tell a teacher or counselor! Email is great because you don’t have to worry about looking like a “snitch” or “tattle-tale”. It is also good because it leaves a data trail to protect you and the teacher. The teacher has evidence of your witness statement and if the teacher does nothing about it, you have proof that you asked for help.
Step 2: Format your email correctly
Use an appropriate subject line. If your teacher has specified how to do this in your syllabus, then follow those directions. Otherwise, something like “Math homework 12/23 period 6” is appropriate.
Format the body of your email like a letter. Click here to see a sample.
If you attached any files, mention them and say what they are in the email.
Step 3: Be appropriate and polite
No teacher wants an email from “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com”. Use your school email account. If your school does not have student accounts, use an appropriate email username that identifies who you are such as firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t have one, there are many sites that you can create one for free.
It is not appropriate to use slang in an email. Write out your email in a word processor first so you can spell check and grammar check before sending. Yes, even math teachers expect good spelling and grammar.
Be to the point, but not terse. Don’t over load your email with so much flowery language that it is hard to discern the purpose. This does not mean forgo politeness. Always use manners when addressing a teacher (even if you don’t like them). Remember, you are addressing them about work issues when they are at home with their family!
Step 4: Proof read your email!
Don’t forget the last step. If you're not sure, ask a parent to proof read it. If you’re still not sure, don’t press send!!
Students: Do you have any success or horror stories involving emailing a teacher?
Teachers: Do you have any additional suggestions for students who email you?