My first name ain’t Mister; it’s professor, Dr D if you’re nasty.

My first boss required me to go by “Professor Dixon” with my students.  I was in my mid twenties and looked quite young for my age.  He reasoned that this would help my students respect me and help discipline in class, by making roles clear.  This was fine with me.  My paternal grandparents were from the south  and had a family business.  “Sir” and “Mam” were expected when I was at work (started at 12), and dad expected me to address adults with  Mr/Mrs/Miss [last name] if I knew them.  This was not much different from my peers in the small Kansas towns I grew up in, though peers’ were generally relaxed.  Coaches certainly were always called Coach [last name].


I also believe teaching is a profession as worthy of respect as any other, and I respect learning.  I once had a prof during my MA in the early 90’s who asked us to “call me Al,” but I could never do it – I respected him too much and the conditioning would not allow it.  Once, after I finished my doctoral coursework (but before my dissertation was approved), I called my advisor by his first name in an email.  He corrected me (I was in my 40’s and this was in the last 10 years).  After I passed my dissertation Dr Chen told me “Now you can call all your colleagues by  their first name.” He explained that’s one of the milestones in academia – which has a culture just like the military and other professions.

But lately I’ve wondered.  Sometimes a student will insist on using my first name.  It makes me uncomfortable and it’s often a red flag of a difficult student (or is that a self-fullfilling prophecy).  College encourages the “first name thing” except with college president Dr Joe, as indicated from the banners strung around campus.  Am I making myself unapproachable?  Do I come off as arrogant? Dr McKnight at KU used to say “teaching is a caring profession” and Paulo Frierie said that a type of love was necessary for teaching, but that is from a translation from what they speak in Columbia.  The use of a title keeps a little distance between the teacher and the student.  Is that bad?  I will cop to being more introverted than extroverted, and admin value extroversion over introversion.  Does the “distance” a title confers impact education and if so in what name?

My full name, Gregory, bugs me because only my mom used it (and then only when she was mad), and I lived with Australians for over a year once, so “Greggie” can cause flashbacks, but otherwise I’m not too picky.  One institutional goal requires students to engage in academic discourse via text, and in that situation we use surnames, not given names.  Is to be relaxed to condition them in bad practice (does that sentence make sense?)

I try to teach students that the intent of a message means litter compared to the effect or impact of a message – the way it is received.  We can’t change how people interpret a sign or message through our will.  Can semiotics interest my students?

Works Cited


Prof Helen quote from Twitter 9/17/18

Lewis Buzzbee quote from earlier in the week.