I had was I guess I would consider to be my first big mistake as a professor, although I'm not sure if it really was a mistake or if i'm allowed to fault the student for this. I had a student who I knew was having a tough time with the math and I believed that it was mostly a result of her unwillingness to think about things before she just started randomly guessing what she should do. For example, we were looking at equations of circles and we were trying to write them in "standard form." She knew that a square had to go *somewhere*, but she had no idea where and just sort of stuck on the end. This is bad news from a mathematical perspective because it violates many of the precepts, in particular that every step has logic behind it and that nothing is purely random or haphazard.
With this in the background, she made a post on Webcampus asking me to post solutions to an earlier quiz over the weekend before the midterm. I explained to her that I would be unable to post it until at least Monday (after getting back to campus), but also directed her to the book and other quizzes to use as a guide. I also warned her against the misuse of solutions, namely trying to just memorize them for a test and making sure that she thought through her problems.
She responded by accusing me of criticizing her publicly (her post was public and my response was public) and felt insulted enough to drop the class before even taking the exam.
I had a chance to talk with Sandip about this incident (chair of the Physical Sciences), and it was a constructive conversation. I'm not sure if I agree with his approach, namely that I should treat every student as if they were the most fragile person in the world, but I do know that there can be a bit of a rough edge around me because when I make an observation of the type described above, I tend to believe that I stand on a fairly solid analysis.
I don't know whether I should I feel responsible for a student misinterpreting something like that as a criticism. There's nothing in my reading of what I wrote that I believe is talking down at her or insulting her. I also don't know how else I can communicate the teaching without giving the teaching. This is something that I'll just have to feel my way through in the future, I guess.