what do I call you?

There has been a conversation on LinkedIn for several weeks now about how students should address a professor. Should we encourage them to use our first names or demand a more formal tone with the use of Mrs., Professor, or Dr.?

I find the conversation a little amusing.

Well, at first, I found it downright silly. Call me whatever you want.

But then the comments started piling up. Two camps were pitched. For some people, there was a clear right and wrong.

I am not a doctor, but I do know that once I earn my doctorate (whenever that will be) I’m going to have my husband and kids call me Doctor for a year. I will certainly ask my brother, who mocked me and my English degree mercilessly when I was an undergraduate, call me Doctor. But until then, everyone calls me Laura.

Well, everyone calls me Laura, except my freshmen. Traditional college freshmen come to us right out of high school, where most all of their teachers were Mrs., Ms., or Mr. Calling a professor by her first name can be uncomfortable. The semester I told everyone to call me Laura resulted in no one calling me anything. They didn’t know what to say.

The problem increases because of my last name: Lamarre Anderson. Two last names. It’s infuriating for pharmacy personnel filling in computer forms, and just plain confusing to students.

So this semester, I started out with my usual request for information cards on which students write their full name and what they prefer to be called. Then I followed up with sharing my own answers. My full name is Laura Lamarre Anderson. You can call me Laura or you can call me Professor Lamarre Anderson, or you can call me Professor L.A., just please don’t arbitrarily choose only half of my last name to use.

We’re a week into classes now and I have had a dozen emails addressed to Prof. LA, a few addressed to Professor Lamarre Anderson, one addressed to Miss Laura, and zero to Mrs. Anderson. In class, they are sticking with “Professor” alone, no last name needed. Simple enough.

So, why the hullabaloo on LinkedIn? You know why. It’s the conversation teachers at all levels always end up having about respect and discipline in the classroom.

“We have to demand respect” Well, no; we have to earn it. Besides, Dr. F*&@$! shows no more respect than “hey, you.”

“You are not their buddy.” Oh, but in a way, I am. I don’t go drinking with my students, or egg them on in their discontent, or nod in sympathetic agreement when they complain their teachers are unfair. But I am there for them; that’s my job. I’m there to observe what they already know and what they need to know; I’m there to push them to stretch beyond their comfort zone and challenge them to reach new intellectual heights. If I can let them know, by a name choice, that I’m on their side; done.

I think, at heart, we all basically agree what good teachers look like, even if we can’t seem to agree what they are called. And the folks who take the time to examine their practices and explore different viewpoints are likely great teachers.

So, call me Laura or call me Mrs. L.A., just call me in to the conversation.


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