Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What do your students call you?

Terry Caesar writes about how students address their college teachers over at insidehighered.com.

He discusses the various permutations over the years, institutions, individuals and job titles.

There are clearly issues of power at hand here. There are also important issues of gender in this as well.

I am ambivalent about the whole title thing myself. I avoid telling the students anything and leave them hanging. Thus, I get the whole gamut of responses, from first name, to Mr., to Prof. I think I present a very formal face to my classes and don't think much about my authority. At the same time, would a less formal introduction make the students more likely to speak up?

Do you encourage students to call you by an honorific or by your first name? What do student readers think?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a prof. it is evident to me that students here are genuinely at a loss about what to call us. I think the reason for this is that some people insist on honorifics, and others just leave them hanging like L.W. I think the result, that students tend to avoid calling us anything, is a bad one.

Insisting on an honorific seems to me to increase the already gaping distance between students and profs here at UW-Oshkosh. Student respect has to be earned by our hard work, knowledge, and intelligence. I let it up to my students what to call me, but I do mention that it is better to call me something (suggesting various possibilities) than to call me nothing. I think that helps personalize the relationship we have and limits some confusion about us.

Janine said...

As a student, I don't understand you not addressing the issue of what to call you. I consider it mutual respect to tell us students what you want to be called (Mr. Mrs. Ms. Dr. Prof.) and us to call you the appropriate name. In my opinion, it is a lack of respect to tell another person what you perfer. With the lack of respect comes an immediate breakdown in communication -- whether that was your intention or not.

lammers said...

I don't tell them what to *call* me so much, but I do introduce myself the first day as "Doctor Lammers." And that is what I prefer students call me. It's more about tradition, and how I was "brought up" academically than anything else.

On the occasions when a student calls me something else (usually "Mister Lammers," harking back to high school, I guess), I don't say anything. It's not *that* big a deal.

I think it's nice when students come up with more familiar titles that still show respect, e.g., a couple of my undergrad profs who were universally called "Dr. K." and "Dr. T." On a field trip to Chile, my local student assistants called me "Proffe" [pronounced PRO-fay] in a similar vein: respectful yet familiar and cordial.

I do think that saying NOTHING is a bad move. Just TELL them, whether formal or casual.

Anonymous said...

I was on a first name basis with most of my professors before I transferred here. But everyone knew eachother well enough that the respect was more than apparent without honorifics and titles.

Here, I generally use Dr. Lastname unless instructed otherwise.

As for discussing it or not in class, I figure that if the professor cares about it, they will say something.

Anonymous said...

I had a professor jump all over me for referring to him as "Mr. (lastname)." He went on to lecture me about why he "deserved" to be called Dr. (last name).

Sorry but I think it was one of the most egotistical things I have ever heard.

You are no more or no less of a man than I. If I make the effor to call you Mr. don't jump down my throat.

Anonymous said...

On the first day of class I introduce myself as Dr. Lastname. I call my physicians “Doctor,” the police officer would be “Officer,” and I have no problem calling a student “Mr.” or “Ms.” or “Mrs.” if he/she desired.

To the student who called the professor Mr. It would be inappropriate for that person to jump down your throat. And the degree doesn't make him more of a man, but it does make him more qualified in this field of knowledge.

I don’t understand this statement from the first comment posted: “Insisting on an honorific seems to me to increase the already gaping distance between students and profs here at UW-Oshkosh.” There should be a distance between faculty members and students because we have a responsibility to educate them. We are not here to be their friends. Overall, I am very casual with my students and we get to know each other pretty well. I bet I know my students better than most of my department colleagues. I feel privileged to have a role in my students’ lives. However, the earned title indicates my role in this relationship. It reinforces the fact I am not a peer, a drinking buddy or their dad—I am their professor. And if I meet a dad at graduation, I call him Mr. Lastname.

We seem to be in an age that supports lowering the rankings of people. Daycare workers without teaching credentials are often called teachers. Children call their adult neighbors by their first names. I would argue that this contributes to the situations we have with students not respecting teachers, children not respecting adults, etc.

I have found that when a student sends me an email and addresses me by my first name, it is because he/she will miss class or screwed up something. Trying to be me bud won’t work. It is at these times that I think everyone would benefit from doing a stateside duty in the military! If you've been in the service, you understand.

straight shooter said...

Let's just all call each other by our first names and the whole world will love and respect each other. And let's allow technical colleges to offer bachelor's degrees so we can eliminate almost all existing standards we have in higher education.

Lammers said...

It occurs after reading some of these posts that it can be useful to distinguish between respect due to an individual and respect due to a *position*.

For example, a certain degree of respect is due the Office of The President of the United States, irrespective of your opinion of whomever currently occupies that office. I have almost no respect for either the current or the previous occupant, but I would never dream of being rude to either man. If introduced, I would address either as "Mr. President" and smile pleasantly. To do otherwise would be disrespectful to the nation he represents.

So it is with a professor. The professorship and degree he or she holds merits a modicum of respect, even if the individual is personally disreputable. When we call a professor "Doctor Lastname" we are respecting academe as a social institution as much as we are respecting the person who represents it.

Janine said...

Lammers, I would agree with you. However, when you come into a class and don'e address what you want to be called (either verbally or in the syllabus) you automatically create a disrespect for both yourself and for the students who will be addressing you. How you want to be addressed is just another expectation that should be addressed within the classroom.

I think in general our society has become one in which barriers are removed. I've noticed that my Sunday school students call our Pastor by his first name -- something that I'm not comfortable doing. However, these same students call their teachers Mr./Mrs. Lastname. Why? Because they are told that they need to address their teachers in this way. Our Pastor on the otherhand allows them to call him by his first name.

lammers said...

Janine said:
>>Lammers, I would agree with you. However, when you come into a class and don'e address what you want to be called (either verbally or in the syllabus) you automatically create a disrespect for both yourself and for the students who will be addressing you. How you want to be addressed is just another expectation that should be addressed within the classroom.<<

Indeed. I agree entirely (see my earlier post in this thread. It's what I do. Every prof should; it's simple courtesy.

Folks often have the same problem with in-laws who don't say, "Call me --." It seems presumptuous to call them "Mom" or "Dad" if they don't say it's okay first, but "Mr." or "Mrs." is too formal.

A good rule-of-thumb in most any situation when folks won't say what to call them: always start off more formal. Few people will be insulted by undue courtesy, but some people will be insulted by undue familiarity. And you can always go casual later, but the reverse is awkward.

I've always wanted to say on the first day of class, "My friends call me Tom. YOU can call me Dr. Lammers!" But I don't think they would realize yet that I'm just having a little fun, so I don't.
;-)

R.S. said...

Let's all call each other by our social security numbers.

Lake Winneblogo said...

This has turned out to be a very interesting discussion.

I suppose that I don't know what I want to be called. I am not completely comfortable with the title . However, I am not happy with the false familiarity of first names.

I do appreciate the comments of Janine and others that I should decide so that I can give the students a clue. Maybe next semester, I'll start differently. . .

Anonymous said...

I prefer it when a professor gives some sort of opinion on what to call him/her, but I always call them "Dr. Lastname," unless it's in some more informal context. Emails to all my professors, whether about being sick or late or whatever, are always addressed to Dr. Lastname.

I feel that the title they have earned deserves my respect. My father is a doctor, and when I call his office, I say that I am Dr. So and So's oldest daughter. While I call him "Dad" and would do so even in the hospital where he works, when talking to others about him, I will use his title.

And, there SHOULD be a space between professors and students. Professors are not my friends, nor should they be. They are there to teach me about their area of expertise: an area that they have studied sufficiently to be called, "Dr." or "Professor." I've never had a professor insist on me using their first name.

Anonymous said...

I usually call my professors "professor so and so" or if it's my spanish professor, "profesora ....". I think that it's a sign of respect, and I don't feel that it makes the gap between us any wider. I am very close to all my professors, I just think that it is respectful to call them by the proper title.

Anonymous said...

There has been confusion about what I wrote in the first posting in this string. I said that “insisting on an honorific seems to me to increase the already gaping distance between students and profs. here.” This was characterized as an unwise wish to “make friends” with students. I suggested nothing of the sort and I agree with several posters that professors are not here to make friends but to teach what they know.

The gaping distance between students and professors that I referred to is an intellectual one, not a social one. Far too many of our students don't respect learning, troll for easy classes, and don't think they should have to do any work outside the classroom. Thank god for all the wonderful students here who act otherwise. I'll say it again, INSISTING on an honorific (which some profs. do) seems to widen the misunderstanding between students and professors rather than narrow it, because it reinforces the misconception that we are touchy egotists. INSISTING on being called by a first name seems equally inappropriate to me, but for a different reason: it suggests a kind of familiarity that is not usually present.

Even more than a respect for titles, we need to cultivate a respect for learning here. I'm confident that we professors can do that while also being friendly with students and accepting being called a number of different things by them.

Anonymous said...

"To the student who called the professor Mr. It would be inappropriate for that person to jump down your throat. And the degree doesn't make him more of a man, but it does make him more qualified in this field of knowledge."

Why are people so threatened by titles? It's a university! People have earned titles like "Dr." and "Professor" through a lot of hard work. This student needs to accept his/her role in the classroom and focus on LEARNING -- not on some defensive and neurotic need for superficial egalitarianism.