Playing name games with professors

One of the first indicators of a relaxed and personable professor is how they prefer to be addressed.

Let’s say you walk into class and you have a professor whose last name is Wallace. Not only are they a professor but they also have a PhD, making them a doctor. Now you’re wondering whether you call them Professor Wallace or Doctor Wallace; both titles are formal and give off the vibe that they are higher or more knowledgeable than you.

By default, this always makes students nervous and intimidated, thus deeming that professor unapproachable. However, assuming a teacher is unapproachable is not the way to go. You will never know a professor’s demeanor until you actually meet them. Remember, they are your tools to success. You should never assume what to call them and run the risk of offending the professor.

It is a battle that can go back and forth until you gain a mutual understanding with your professor as to how you should address them. Nevertheless, it is very important to initiate this conversation with them if you have any confusion.

Now, let’s say that Professor Wallace lets you call her by her first name, Amber. Is this too casual, or is it more comfortable for her students? I think that it shows students she is almost equal with them, and makes her seem like she’s open to people asking for help, advice, or even to just talk in general. At that point it will fall upon the professor to make sure that the line between being a friend and a teacher is not crossed with her students. These boundaries are important in order for a professor to be taken seriously.

A neutral option that professors could also have their students call them is by their last name. This way it is not informal, like calling a professor by their first name but not formal by using professor, or doctor. Though I think it is important to have an easily approachable professor their first impression regarding how to address them will make or break that student-teacher relationship.

An approachable professor is a professor who students can continue a mutually beneficial relationship with for the years after. When professors have students who are willing to talk to them not only is it helping the students but it is also helping the professor because they can learn what is working and isn’t working for them within the classroom.