“Professor C”

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.

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