This one is a challenge. I’ve taught in community colleges for almost 30 years. For the first half of my career, a lot of my students were older than me, and they were pretty stressed about taking their first college class. I decided early on that I would encourage my students to call me by my first name. Some time in the last 10 years I noticed that despite encouraging students to use my first name, many were simply calling me nothing. I chalk that up to—like my more-often-than-not aching lower back—aging. Most of my students are not younger than me. And my student population has shifted to include many students who were born into different cultures all over the world. What they think it means to be respectful to elders and people in authority differs from my views which, of course, are tied to my own cultural experiences.
I have since moved on to giving students a choice:
- my first name—acknowledging that some students are not comfortable with that
- Frantz—for everyone who prefers the formality
- Sue—for those who want to split the difference, respect with a touch of informality
I am happy to use any of these. When I receive an email from a student, in my response, I use whichever form of address the student used. If the student doesn’t use a form of address, I sign with the most formal option: Prof. Frantz.
Through the Facebook group of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, Dara Friedman-Wheeler posted a link to this wonderful decision tree designed to help students sort out what to call their professors. This infographic is tied to an account owned by “A Gálvez,” but that’s all the information I have on who created it. (If anyone knows who this is, please contact me.) At the very bottom of the infographic is a note with what is likely the final line missing. A quick Internet search generated some others, but this one is both educational and respectful with just a touch of snark.
As for using this infographic, I’m adding it to my “how do we contact our professor” page in my course management system. Even though I am clear about how I would like to be addressed, I don’t know that all of my colleagues are as explicit. This will help students avoid awkward interactions. Not all awkward interactions. Just the ones involving proper forms of address for their professors.