I recently began to accept students for private online instruction, and a question that is becoming common at trial lessons is How shall I call you? The students, who come from all regions of the globe, are unsure how to address me. Jennifer? Miss Jennifer? Mrs. Lebedev? Their questions echo the doubts that many of my former students had in the traditional classroom setting. Previous formal learning experiences are ingrained in the adult learner’s mind. If he or she was taught to address school teachers or university instructors a certain way, these habits are often transferred to our own classrooms, be they traditional or virtual. Do we encourage these habits or try to break them?
My practice now is no different from what it was in the past. I respond to what the students call me. Often the forms of address are chosen out of respect. Ms. Jennifer and Teacher are good examples. I am aware that in other cultures teachers hold a position of authority and honor. Forcing a student to abruptly abandon a familiar practice causes more discomfort for him or her, than hearing an overly formal title causes for me. However, learning a language means learning another culture, so I do make a point of correcting inappropriate use of a title. I have not earned the title of Professor because I do not hold a PhD. I clarify this for students who address me that way. I also note the difference between full names and nicknames. I will respond to Jenn and Jenny, but I usually make a joke about the latter and with a grimace I explain that I have not gone by Jenny since the eighth grade. “Please just call me Jennifer,” I say.
What has been your experience? Do you make a point of telling students how they may address you on the first day of class? How do you handle forms of address that go against your personal preference?