Some of my teaching colleagues, both real and virtual, only reply to student emails that concern a legitimate topic or question, with 'legitimate' of course being a malleable and personalized concept. Some only reply if the email is polite and literate (i.e., does not start "Yo Proffesor!). Some don't reply because they don't tend to reply to email from anyone. Some will reply or not depending on mood and time pressures.
I am a habitual replier to emails, and I tend to respond rapidly (within 24 hours), especially if the reply takes me a minute or less. This system relies on the assumption that not all 100-200 students in a large class will write to me every day with a non-urgent request. The helpfulness and length of my reply scales somewhat with the nature of the request and how it is written, but I do always reply.
I do not reply because it is a required part of my job (see comments from yesterday's post). Being paid to teach does not obligate you to be at the beck and call of your students no matter how unreasonable and frequent their requests, nor must you provide them with rapid responses to non-urgent questions just because they ask/demand it.
Even so, I reply to email from students. I am not exactly sure why I reply to all email, but I do, even if my reply is not as helpful as the student would wish.
I should say that I do not feel the same way about phone calls from students. I dislike getting voice-mail from students with demands that I call them back right away. I do not return such calls unless there is an indication of an emergency situation. Fortunately for me, phone calls from students are not nearly as common as they used to be.
When I was an assistant professor at University #1, back in the days before email was the primary means of outside-class communication between faculty and students, the printed university directory would print my home phone number even though I requested that it be unlisted. What was the point of having an unlisted number in the regular phone directory if the university was going to print it in the U-Directory? Anyway, there were always a few students who would call me at home in the evening or on a weekend to ask me questions about the homework or test. I hated that. Unless the situation was truly dire, I would ask them to send me an email or to call me in my office at another time. (Most people didn't have email at home in those days, so it was easier for students to call than to email when they weren't on campus.) These home-calls never happen anymore, and for that I am very grateful.
But I digress. Regarding email: If a student sends an email to a professor with a question such as What is the textbook? (information easily available online) or What is the reading for next week? (information easily available online) or even the legendary but common Did I miss anything important in class last week?, does a helpful and prompt reply from the professor (a) enable the student's annoying dependence and helplessness, characteristics that do not tend to lead to success in academics or life; or (b) teach the student to be more independent, providing the assistance and inspiration the student needs to navigate the complexities of academic systems?
Yes, students should know how to find basic course information on their own, they should show some initiative, use their brains etc. etc., but I have found that the best way for me to stay sane and happy in my teaching life is to have high but flexible expectations and to show patience and kindness (even if that's not how I sincerely feel).
It is clearly time for another poll:
6 months ago