Over here on the East Coast we started back to school on the fifth of January, so this week most of my class preparation have involved “Hi my name is Dr. Wunker, welcome to class X.” I give a little spiel about the themes and foci of the given class, talk about aims and objectives, give them a sense of what my teaching style is like, and go over the syllabus in detail. You know, the usual.
Oh yes, and this year I’ve started giving a tiny lecture on email etiquette.
I tell them that email etiquette is as much for me as it is for them. We cover what is appropriate for an email (in my opinion these are: questions that require very brief answers that can’t be found on the syllabus or course website, notifications of illness and other emergencies, requests to set up meetings, other small course-related inquiries) “If it takes me more than five minutes to write you a reply,” I tell them, “we should be having this conversation in person.” Which, I should add, I am very happy to facilitate.
My impulse to nip potential email etiquette issues in the bud comes from both a genuine desire to teach my students that it is now a formal mode of communication and should thus be treated as such (“Yes,” I tell them, “your reader may judge you a wee bit if you skip any salutation and write ‘hey wuz up what did i miss 2day?’”)
This impulse also comes from one my resolutions for the year. Much like Heather, I’m aiming to (continue to) work at making my time away from work just that. Time away from work. No email checking for me after 8pm in general, for example. And I wager that you, dear readers, can commensurate with me when I say I get So. Much. Email.
Anyhow. I expected these Email: Do’s & Don’ts lectures to get a bit of eye-rolling. I tried to strike that balance between humorous and cuttingly frank. I made jokes and gesticulated for emphasis. Everything was going well until I got to the bit about proper salutations.
“Email,” I intoned, “is formal correspondence. Don’t skip the salutation!” I wiggled my eyebrows admonishingly. “Your emails to me should begin with Dr. Wunker, or, if you’re feeling fond, Hello Dr. Wunker or the like.” I told them they should include proper salutations in all formal and semi-formal emails. And then we moved on to talking about the syllabus.
I wondered how this new facet of my hey-nice-to-meet-you lecture would go over, and all seemed just fine. To be frank, I felt pleased with myself. New and proactive measures had been taken on day one! I didn’t expect to hear a group of students talking about me as I walked out of the classroom. The gist of what I heard was this, “Yeah, she seems cool, but I couldn’t believe what a big deal she made over us calling her Dr. I mean, what’s the big deal?”
Let me be quick to say that I feel fervently that what one chooses to be called in the classroom is one of many deeply personal choices that those of us who teach have to make for ourselves. It is an individual decision, absolutely. I chose to go by Dr. because
1) I am one! And even if I never land a tenure-track job, by golly I’m proud of the hard work it took me to earn this title.
2) Having students call me Dr. reminds me I am one. It is a positive reinforcement that, as a new teacher, I wanted.
3) I’m relatively short. I’m a woman. For about five minutes when I started teaching several years ago I kind of could have passed as one of the majority of the undergraduate population (if it was dim lighting…)
Which is to say the choice to go by this title is mine. I have many friends and colleagues who go by their first names: great! To each her own.
But I'm struck by the fact that I have to admit it isn’t the first time I’ve heard (or had written on teaching evaluations, which are otherwise predominantly pretty positive) comments about what I choose to be called in the classroom. They aren’t numerous, these comments, but they do come semi-regularly. So I find myself wondering: what’s wrong with being called Dr.? Or more to the point, what is it about my request to be called Dr. that puts some students on the defensive? Is it my gender? The fact that as soon as I ask to be called Dr. I nullify any cool/easygoing points that might have been awarded me because I have visible tattoos and a nose ring? In short, in the university system, what’s in a name?
I have some ideas, certainly, as do others, but I’d love to talk it out in the comments section. So let me hear from you when you have a moment, readers: have you had issues around your choice of title?