It was a sunny Tuesday morning on the second week of classes. I was sitting in my first period class, waiting for the professor to continue the lecture after handing out a weekÕs worth of packets. In front of me, I heard a male voice call out ÒHey Dave, can I have a packet?Ó
I presumed that he was talking to his friend in the row in front of him. Glancing toward the front of the classroom, I was shocked to see the professor Ð in his shiny shoes, crisp shirt and pleated pants Ð striding over to the student, packet in hand.
The professor did not seem perturbed, he simply handed the student the packet and continued sketching cryptic graphs on the chalkboard. No one else seemed to notice the incident, but then again 9 a.m. is practically sunrise for the average college student.
This interaction prompted a series of reflections on the state of etiquette in the classroom because of its challenge to traditional student-teacher formalities. What are the implications of interacting in such a casual manner? Is it for better or for worse?
When you address someone by their first name, there is an element of equality and informality. When you say ÒHi Dave,Ó there is a very different tone than ÒHi Professor Who.Ó
Calling professors by their first name does make them more approachable, but the flip side is that some students fail to remain both informal and respectful.
WeÕve all witnessed that painfully awkward moment where a studentÕs tone crosses the line, and so often the professor is much too civil.
From a personal standpoint, there is a component of the traditional professor title that makes the entire process much easier. When you address your professor with the title, it is an instant recognition of their position, knowledge and credibility.
Moreover, when you begin an email or a conversation with the professor title, you immediately signal that the following interaction will be respectful and courteous. ThereÕs nothing like starting an email with ÒHey profÓ or ÒYo DeniseÓ to make a less than stellar first impression.
Perhaps it is just my classes this semester, but it seems like professors are increasingly more open to being called by their first names. I suppose I am just a traditionalist at heart, because I find it uncomfortable to begin an email to a professor with ÒHi Catherine.Ó
Many students have no reservations about using professorÕs first names, and find the first name basis welcoming and refreshing. A friend of mine explained that she finds being able to use the first name makes her less intimidated to go to office hours because there is less of a power dynamic.
When it is all said and done, it is the professorÕs classroom, and their choice should be honored. Some professors genuinely find the title to be too stuffy for their classes, particularly those classes that have fewer students in them.
In my case, I suppose IÕll have to adjust to calling a few of my professors by their first name. Like most things in life, it will be a bit weird at first but soon it will feel more natural.