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July 07, 2004



Interesting--from many angles. As an older student at a community college, I am older than most of my professors. I also have been brought up to raise my hand in class, so there's a certain amount of respect I not only feel, but feel is necessary towards authority. Not until I went through three of his classes and now sit beside him on an equal basis in a writing group have I been able to call my former professor by his first name. So it's not just culturally generated but generational as well.

A second point I'd like to make is that while I too am a laidback jeans & flannel shirt type in my adamant old age, I have "tested" student reaction to me by wearing a dress, or a more matronly outfit to see if it made a difference. It did; the younger students seemed a bit more aloof or intimidated, while the older ones simply asked if I were going to a job interview or a funeral.


I let my students call me whatever they feel comfortable with, which is usually my first name. But I remember that throughout my undergraduate education and for most of my career as a grad student I insisted on addressing my instructors as "Professor x" rather than by their first names -- even when this provoked bemusement or irritation. As it seemed to me then, being on a first name basis with one's instructors was just a way of obscuring the real power relation. (This is where a college instructor is different from a pastor -- the latter may demand your respect, but has no material power over you.) Who benefits from maintaining a veneer of equality when the fundamental reality is very different? As I say, I felt strongly about this once; I guess I haven't worried about it so much now that I'm on the other end of the power differential, which maybe just goes to prove my (original) point.

Ophelia Payne

Are you working on the "hot prof" thing, or what? ;)


After teaching for a year or so, I realized that women spend a lot more on their clothes than mael profs. One man in my hallways wears jeans, a Vikings sweatshirt, and tennis shoes. I vowed to not wear dry clean clothes or nylons. I wear sweatshirts if they say "Bethel", jeans, pants, sometimes dresses, but very rarely. I agree- students seem comfortable when I'm comfortable. And they call me "Jenell", "Dr. Paris" or "Professor." I just don't let them call me Mrs. Paris - seems like I'm teaching little kids.


Jenell, I'd never thought about the impact of "Mrs." in a college setting, but you're right, it is redolent of the elementary school.

Pip, I'm intrigued by your reasoning (that is usually the case, beloved brother). But even though it may be a fiction, I think it is especially important in gender studies classrooms to create non-hierarchical learning environments. Of course I still have the power of the gradebook. But if I, as a male prof, can call my female students by their first names while they can only address me by my title, than I have a "right of access" to them which is not reciprocal. That seems really damaging to me.

Ophelia -- no. If I were working the "hot prof" angle, I would wear my smashing French Connection vinyl pants, Bruno Magli ankle boots, and a really terrific Armani Xchange black silk shirt (untucked). Now you know.


Two things:

#1- You have corrupted me...as if I weren't into clothes already, but your couple of mentions of Lucky jeans over at my site induced me to buy a pair last week. I'm not exactly complaining, because after trying on probably about fifteen pairs, I absolutely love the ones I bought.

#2- A question: How do you square your tattoos with your religious beliefs? Did you get them before you were very religious? I ask because I got a tattoo a few years ago during a not so spirtual time in my life, and now I really regret having scarred my body. Your thoughts? (I sense that I have inspired a post topic for you.)


"Mrs. Paris" also suggests that my qualifications and identity derive from my marital status.

Ginger, my family believes that tatooing (and cremation, too) is forbidden by scripture because it is a form of witchcraft. I think this comes from an obscure passage in Leviticus or Numbers about the practice of witchcraft. Its relevance is limited to that cultural context, and it is nowhere repeated by Jesus or established for the New Testament church. Tattooing, like cremation, isn't necessarily tied to witchcraft - but it apparently was in that culture.

I think the sacred taboo against tatooing is sort of a Christian 'urban legend' propagated by people who just don't like tatoos.


I only teach a single evening class a term at a small christian university. Most of the students are fresh graduates from an undergrad program. There are a few older students thrown in for good measure. I was one who was never comfortable calling a prof by his or her first name. As a prof myself, I really want them to call me by my first name. I always try to change from a suit into comfortable clothing, i.e. jeans, before class for my own comfort, plus the rooms are always really cold! My students seem to be really comfortable with both my dress and using my first name. I'm wondering, however, if that has to do with the fact that I am the youngest prof teaching in this program, I look younger than I am, I'm really small in stature and I'm female? I also wonder if the fact that they know I'm only an adjunct and teach part time after getting off of my "regular" job as opposed to the true "academic" faculty makes me appear more accessible?


I'm planning a post soon (next week) that will go into this in a bit of depth -- you raise some great points, Black Coffee, about gender/stature/age/status and the classroom, points that I think need to be brought into the discussion.


One of the things I can't stand about teaching in the public schools is being called "Mrs. Gaut". At the alternative school where I worked, for six years I was called "Miz G". I'm definitely not a formal person.

I am debating whether or not to go for my Ph.D. at some point in the next couple of years. I agree that "Doctor" is pretentious, but I know a lot of people who like to work that title! Blech.


I'm a young lecturer myself, and the last couple of semesters I've had a handful of students spontaneously begin calling me "Mister Gabe." The combination of a title and first name is, I think, another Southern tradition, one I grew up with, and to me it strikes just the right balance -- I'm too young to be overly formal, but need to present authority. In the upcoming fall semester I'm going to suggest it as a preference.


The idea that using "Dr." is showy hit a note with me. You didn't say this, but it says a lot about medical doctors who use it too. I really don't need to see "Dr." or "MD" in a letter to the editor about Iraq or on a brick someone donated for a walkway at the zoo.


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