05 November 2008

Boomer Ed: Student-Faculty Relations

Part 6 in a 6-part series on Boomers going back to school during the economic downturn.

In my own middle-age years I was both student and professor, so I offer the following relationship tips from both perspectives.

Sucking up. No matter how good an actor you are, professors are better. Insincere sucking up is spotted immediately by faculty members and then they talk about you (but without letting you know they're on to you). If you don't sincerely like the professor, better just to be polite and skip the suck-up.

Worrying about appearing to suck up. This is actually the more realistic situation and one that prompts sympathy from the faculty. You may feel awkward in paying a compliment to the professor because it sounds as though you are sucking up. Well, most adults can sort out the fulsome praise from the genuine (just as you can), so my advice is to go ahead and utter the compliment.

Complaining. If you have a reason for a comment, then you're not complaining. Ask yourself the simple question, "If I were teaching this course, would I want to hear this comment?" Almost all instructors, almost all the time, welcome students' input about the course.

Demanding. Most professors bristle at demands, whether they be for grades, extensions, special allowances. Middle-age, returning students are sometimes in professional careers in which they routinely make demands on employees. It's easy to carry that expectation into the classroom. And it's easy for professors to resent that expectation. "Special allowances" may not always sound demanding (to the student) but they come across that way to the professor. A recent one in my memory: a student approached me before class to say, "I'll miss most of class tonight. I need to get to the cleaners before they close."

Feigning familiarity with faculty. When this comes up, it's almost always a student calling a professor by first name in front of fellow students, but with a formal title in privacy. The game probably relates to "social comparison" whereby the student seeks to elevate his position in the eyes of peers. I've ever only seen it backfire, with students and faculty alike eventually mocking the pompous student (but with no discussion between students and faculty).

Enjoying genuine friendship with faculty. But the above scenario does not mean that students and faculty cannot form real friendships. Interestingly, when they do, it's almost always marked by the student calling a professor by formal title in front of fellow students, but by first name in privacy.

On the matter of titles. Usually, titles of Dr. and Professor reflect a local campus culture.
Especially if faculty teach in an undergraduate program, they may refer to each other as Dr. X and Dr. Y, even when students are not around. In short, the titles become ingrained in daily habit.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

1 comment:

mjenks said...

Oh how I wish I'd have had your tips/insight when I started back to school! While I completed my Bachelor's with a child, I was still really young and had way more energy and help than I did years later when completing a Master's. Suddenly, I had to balance a husband, child, home, full-time work, and school.

That bit of insight would have kept me from feeling as much like an alien as I did at times.

BTW...TWU "lost" a great teacher in you! Lots of well wishes on your new chapter.