EducationHigher Education

Pop Quiz: What did you call me?

My school tends toward the informal.  Many professors encourage their students to call them by first name.  This likely because many of the students are non-traditional, or because we’re a women’s college.

I hate that.

I insist my students call me Doctor or Professor Apostrophobia.  I have overheard students complain about that, saying how while yes, I had earned the title, but how dare I require students to acknowledge my accomplishments!

OK that’s a bit over the top, but that seems to be the sentiment.  How am I actually “better” than the students?

Well, it could be that I indeed worked for an extended period of time to prove I was an accomplished scientist before I could be called “doctor”, but hey that’s me!  I actually do it because we’re not on the same playing field; my job is to assess student performance in the class.  There’s no way we’re actually equals then.  At the end of the course, I give a magic letter that says “here’s how well you did what I asked.” I have no desire to muddy the waters by suggesting we have any other kind of relationship.  Students who have suggested non-scholastic, friendly relationships are promptly shut down and told “not until after you’re no longer my student.”

That’s actually worked out very well for me barring the “stuck-up” comments I get from time to time. (I have no doubt there’s an element of male-female bullshit there too, but I haven’t explored that as much and now that I’m at a women’s college it’s no longer an issue. I’m also old enough that being perceived as inexperienced is highly unlikely, another reason some advocate the use of titles.)

I’m not the students’ friend. I’m their supervisor at best and their judge at worst.  I want them to treat me that way and one way to enforce that distance is by not letting them be overly familiar. I also just like the more formal tone it sets, in that the classroom isn’t the bar or home or what have you, it’s a place to work.  Of course I hate it when telemarketers call me by first name too.  And while we’re at it, get off my lawn!

Here’s my question to you: what do you ask your students to call you and why?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

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Apostrophobia is a college professor at a women's college in the US. She teaches biology, does pedagogical research on her guinea pigs (aka students), and has an existential fear of misplaced apostrophes.


  1. June 9, 2014 at 7:09 pm —

    I am called Mrs ___ or Ms ____ because … it doesn’t matter why. I respect my student’s wishes in what they wish to be called and they should respect mine. If a student wished to be called Mr. Smith I would call them that. I actually called a student Batman for a few days because he requested it and didn’t think I was serious. He eventually asked me to call him by his first name and then I did. Any individual has the right to be address by whatever name they choose, and it is a sign of a respectful person to honor those wishes.

  2. June 10, 2014 at 1:36 am —

    Students all call me Professor. It’s not something I have explicitly set, but ours is a large school and most classes are large and impersonal. The students don’t expect me to know their names (first or last), and indeed it comes as shock to many when I do try to know their names. This is the norm for undergrads. Indeed, I think it is very needed to keep a professional distance because their friend “Peter” could end up giving them a bad grade. Once they graduate, I don’t mind and actually prefer that the “Prof” be dropped. For grad students, it is a very different relationship. I think of them as budding if not already full-fledged colleagues and I am “Peter” to all. This kind of follows from my own perverse grad school experiences. My masters supervisor was a true piece of work and very rapidly I lost respect for him both as a scientist and a human being. He was forever “Dr.” to me as a way of keeping myself at arm’s length. In contrast, my PhD supervisor was “Larry” from day one and was the seminal influence for me both as a scientist and eventually as a mentor to others. It may be odd, but in my brain first-name basis is one of respect and Dr or Professor is reserved for those who I would like to have as little to do with as possible.

  3. June 10, 2014 at 8:54 am —

    Students do not call me Mrs. ______ because my last name does not reflect my married name so actually when they call me Mrs. ____ that is not me that’s my mum. I ask them not to do that specifically for that reason. I actually just tell them to call me by my first name it is easier and we are adults. If they can’t respect me without calling me by my last name then they aren’t going to respect me anyway. However, it I have noticed it is difficult for students to call their teacher by their first name sometimes. So what has happened is that over the years students have just been calling me Prof. JoDee. It works. They feel comfortable and I feel comfortable and all is good.
    No, my name ain’t Mrs.___ its Prof. JoDee , Miss _____ if your nasty. LOL!! (If you do not get it you are not a child of the 80’s)

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