A student wrote an email to me a few weeks ago.
“Hi Professor,” it began. My eyes glazed over.
Hi Professor is a bad way to begin an email. So is “Dear Teacher,” “Hi Teacher,” or “Hey Teacher.” These are all greetings that have been used to address me over the years. I don’t get bent out of shape about it. I don’t actually care how students address me. Lots of issues of class and power and identity wrapped up in the ways people learn to create an email. Some folks haven’t learned the hidden, middle-class values and norms of academia. I always write kind responses to people. It just strikes me as a silly way to begin an email. Or a note. Or a letter. So impersonal, as though I’m my role and not a person. Whatever. No big deal. I’ve had all sorts of other greetings dropped on me during my 20 years in education.
“Dear Mr. Turner” or “Dear Dr. Turner” are some classics. Just last week I read an email that began “Dear Dr. Stan Turner.”
Dr. Stan Turner sounds look a loser. Not like Dr. Sam Tanner. He’s a real winner.
Hi Professor. Hey.
Just a small reminder that I am, in fact, a professor. Have been for like 8 years now. How’s it going being a professor? Great question, kind reader. Let’s explore together.
Well, how have I changed over the last 8 years? I fear I’m a little rounder and, perhaps a little shorter. A little grayer. But maybe that’s just the way of aging. Nothing to do with my inclusion in the professorial class.
This fall, as I’ve written ad nauseam, has been a doozy. I can’t put my finger on it, but man am I beat. Beat up. Tired. A new job and a move across the country. Two kids in a new school. That’s a big ask for anybody. It’s taken it out of me, for sure. Hi Professor. Hey.
I do get to be a thinker. I’ve always appreciated that about being a professor. 1/3rd of the way I’m evaluated in my job is on research. The production of knowledge. Ostensibly, I have a job that pays me to think. So that’s cool. Teaching is another 1/3rd of my job. I’m a teacher and I like teaching. So that’s cool, even if it is somewhat demanding to build and sustain pedagogical relationships with young people. Then there’s service. Service is the other 1/3rd of the job. And it often eats up the other 2/3rd. Meetings and program management and editing journals and being of use to the college. Especially now that I’m an associate professor and not an assistant professor. Those ranks matter in terms of what is expected of you.
I’ve spent the fall figuring out the expectations of this new place. The University of Iowa’s College of Education. All sorts of hidden values and norms to figure out. I may not be thriving yet, but I’m becoming aware of my new context. Can’t improvise until you understand what’s happening around you. Any good jazz musician would tell you that. I’m no jazz musician, but I’m an improviser through and through.
Being a professor requires all sorts of improvisation. Sometimes it feels like I’m doing three jobs instead of one. Most people think of professors as teachers and that’s not quite right. Professors are teachers, yes, but they are also writers, researchers, program managers, mentors, committee members, advisors, editors, public speakers, etc. It would take a long list to explain the sorts of things I’ve been up to this fall. The list will get smaller as I figure out how to be efficient in this new place. But that takes time. And energy. And I’m 42 years old now, kind reader. A little rounder, a little shorter, a little grayer. But I’m still fighting the fight.
I hope Dr. Stan Turner is still fighting the fight, but I can’t be sure. He’s got a terrible name.
Students have called me far, far worse things than the generic greetings mentioned above. T-Dawg. T-Dizzle. One obnoxious kid used to call me T-Bag. And I’ve been called the F-word far more times than would be polite to admit in middle-class company.
And of course, students have also called me wonderful things. Made me blush. I got a note from Barbara Wilson, the president of The University of Iowa last week. Apparently a student mentioned me as one of the most inspirational teachers at Iowa. The college put me on their social media account or something. So that’s kind of cool.
It’s a strange profession, dear reader, and I intend to get weird with it as I go. Professors can get away with being weirdos. I fear that is the direction I’m heading. Oh well. There’s all sorts of worse things to be than weird. You know, like an accountant or something. Apologies if you’re an accountant.