Aug 262007
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

Take note of how you are invited into the classroom – of how the human at the whiteboard invites you to address him or her.

From that invitation you can tell a lot about the teaching style of the instructor. It can tell you a lot about how the instructor wants to create the climate of the classroom. It even tells you a lot about how the instructor wants to treat you.

The paradigm for being a student is treated much more simply. You’re either a bachelor’s student, a master’s student, or a doctoral student.

As students, we all fall under the same name, the same status.

This does not hold true for the person at the front of the room. The person at the white board could be an instructor, a lecturer, an associate professor, an assistant professor, or a professor.

We are not called teachers.

It was a professor of mine, Betty H. Zisk who teaches at Boston University, who became my advisor for the Ph.D. because of the way that she connects with her students.

Betty teaches political science and is widely published about local politics, peace initiatives, and against war at all costs.

It is not what she teaches that I write about, but her attitude about teaching that is always in the back of my mind while I teach my students.

Although she has been a full professor for the better part of my life, she articulated and demonstrated to me that she is a teacher, and not a professor. She teaches, she does not profess.

Semantics, perhaps, but in my opinion there is a big difference in how she presents herself to her students, and the respect that she commands in the classroom, because of her humility.

When I finished my Ph.D. I taught at Front Range Community College.

I still remember the day I walked into the classroom after I defended my dissertation. I felt legitimate and at the top of my game.

But don’t be fooled. Just because you have the ability to jump through the hoops for two or three academic degrees, does not mean that you can teach.

Unlike the public education system, teaching at a college or a university requires credentialed knowledge, but it does not require any teaching experience or ability to relate to any human being in a way that respects those further away from the white board.

I find that many who stand at the white board who can put those three letters after their name are too full of themselves and are not respectful of those “lowly others” (the students) on whom our profession relies.

I hear reports time and time again of “professors” who walk into the classroom and tell the students they don’t want to be there, and that students better just shut up and listen.

I have heard, from two former students that a microbiology “professor” who would not let the students ask questions during the exams, which would have given the students the ability to understand what was being asked of them so they could answer the questions with all of the information they needed.

Yes, these are professors who are allowed to profess without the input, and questions, and discussion that are all a part of the learning process.

Since the day that I walked into the classroom I have had my students call me by my birth name. My parents, obviously, were not astute enough to name me “Doctor,” so I find it an unnecessary name in the classroom.

That title tends to demarcate the line between student and the human at the white board, a line that I do not feel comfortable with.

One student, out of the hundreds that I have shared the classroom with refuses to call me “Anne Marie.” The first semester I had him as a student, I let it go. I let it go because I reasoned that he was a first semester student, he seemed a little shy, and all students face a difficult transition from high school protocol.

At the start of a second semester together, I took him aside and had a heartfelt conversation about how respect comes not from a title or initials after one’s name.

He comes from the martial arts tradition where the sensei is one to be revered on all levels. This title is also used to address somebody who is a teacher, outside of the martial arts. Perhaps this title is one I could be more comfortable with.

Another student, who is also a good friend of mine calls me “Dr. Merline” in his attempt to tease me.

Take note of how the human at the white board asks to be addressed. If this person does not make it clear, ask. Be wary of the titles that some stand behind.

Respect should come not from the title but the actions behind the title.

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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