Musing over an empty glass because I had drank all my water and didn’t presume to ask for or go get more, I was sitting on a packed, screened porch with a dozen people who self-identified as “writers” in the middle of the Midwestern United States. As someone who writes fiction, I somewhat self-identify as such. But it always seems pretentious to say “I’m a writer” or “they were writers” – so let’s just call a possum a possum: they were college professors. (And that one chef.)
“I hate going around hearing ‘Professor H,* Professor H,'” said the man sitting next to me. “I just want to go someplace once and be called Carl.”
“Have your students call you that,” I said.
“No, the whole German* department requires our students call them ‘Professor so-and-so,'” he replied. “Otherwise the students get too forward with the female professors.”
During grad school, I wanted to make small talk with the one professor I truly admired at the program. So, I asked, “Shauna, did you get time to relax over break? Or did you have to write the entire time?”
My professor gave me a strange look, though she eventually answered.
I think that looked stemmed from wondering why I can called her “Shauna,” and not “Professor Jones.”
In the first class of my undergraduate education, my professor asked the class to call her “Ms. O’Neale.” Calling someone “Doctor” or “Professor” sounded too stuffy.
I found that the rest of my professors followed similar – or even more informal patterns. 90% preferred their first names. The others preferred a Ms. or Mr.; one preferred more of a nickname.
Now, I will stand in front of classes as the instructor or co-instructor. And the primary teaching faculty will introduce me as “Professor Ciota.” I don’t correct them. Sometimes, I try the moniker on for size. It has a minor thrill to it for a moment.
But I really don’t want to go around being called “Professor Ciota.” “Ms. Ciota” is fine from time to time – it feels more like me. But I really am “Rebecca,” first and foremost. So why shouldn’t students call me by my name?
Like the professor during my first undergraduate class, I find “Professor” too stuffy, too pretentious. I don’t see education as including a “Sage on the Stage” – like a “Professor” or a “Doctor.” (Though, I do think appropriate amounts of either experience or education should be required for professorships.) I want students and faculty to learn alongside each other. Learning is a discussion, not a lecture.
Yes, I want the students (and my colleagues) to respect me and my value as an instructor and scholar. But I don’t particularly care for a constant reminder that I am some lofty being that my students have to crane their necks to loo up to. I want to be alongside them, watching them learn and steering them when appropriate.
I’d rather just be “Rebecca.”
*Names and departments have been changed.