Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's in a Name?


gold tone earrings (Gift from MIL)
black tank (H&M)
black and white print skirt (Express from a lonnng time ago)
white canvas peep toe wedges (MIA)

First: Thanks, everyone, for your feedback on the blog and IRL about the curly hair.  I know my belief that my curly hair is "unruly" is merely a suggestion ideologically indoctrinated in my mind, and your comments and suggestions have given me the encouragement I was looking for to continue working on embracing it as it is.

Moving on: Today was the last day of my German class, so I've directed my focus toward preparing to teach.  This semester will be my first as a TA at my institution, and I know quite a few of you have TAed before, so I wanted to ask you to share your thoughts on what you have your students call you.

Most of the TAs in our program have students call them by their first names.  I'd probably allow them to call me that without even thinking about it except that, since I spent four years teaching high school prior to returning to grad school, I'm used to being called Ms. Lastname.  I know there are some TAs and adjunct lecturers who ask to be called by their last names, so it's not like I'd be the only one going by Ms. Lastname, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts on it.

This is the thing, actually, that I'm most unsure about as I begin my teaching assistantship-- how to establish the appropriate amount of distance between myself and the undergrads.  I know what I will and will not wear to teach, and my rules for that are not all too different from what they would have been if I were returning to the high school classroom, where the line between teacher and student has to be as firm as the line between adult and child.  Establishing authority through clothing is, apparently, more comfortable for me than deciding what to be called.  This is complicated further, I think, by the fact that I now call many of my own professors by their first names (per their requests), even though I cannot call my mentor professor at my undergrad institution by his first name despite his repeated suggestions that I should feel comfortable doing so.

(I hope you enjoy the gratuitous Oscar close-up.  I was trying to get a good photo of these awesome earrings my MIL recently gifted me as well as the flower embroidery detail on the straps of this tank, but I kind of failed at both.)

  • As a TA, what did you have your students call you?  I'd love to hear anything you have to share about this particular question as well as the broader question of how you went/go about determining how much distance to establish between yourself and students as a TA.  And those of you who are real live professors now, have you changed your approach?
  • Where do you stand on my choice to wear white shoes with a predominantly black outfit?  I know you all like to abide by the "wear what makes you feel comfortable" non-rule, but come on, does this make me look goofy?


Anonymous said...

Great post (as always)!

This might not be exactly the kind of response you are interested in, but here goes...

As a professor, I really appreciate that the TA can connect with students in ways that I cannot. TAs can move between peer and mentor with an agility that helps student achievement. For example, if a peer says, "you aren't turning that in, are you?" it sometimes motivates more than the threat of a low grade.

That said, no need to wear jeans. Of course you want to "dress for the job you want instead of the one you have," but also recognize that you should are more relate-able, hipper, and in a powerful position to help students learn. good luck!

Bettina said...

This Firstname/Lastname thing is a really good question and one I keep pondering. Here in Germany, it's common to call the lecturer Mr/Ms Lastname. however, I teach in English, so last year I told my students to call me by my first name. While the international students didn't seem to have a problem (aside from one Mexican who insisted on calling me "teacher"), I think it made some of the German students uncomfortable, and they kept calling me Ms Lastname in e-mails etc.

I also think there is a difference between TAing a class and actually teaching a course entirely on one's own (which is what I'm doing). This goes back to the first comment: a TA should be relatable, but if you're teaching the whole course on your own, maybe you want to be more distanced to get the authority you need? I'm also debating what to do with my new students this semester (First name or Ms Lastname), so I'm curious to hear more on this debate...

La Historiadora de Moda said...

When I was a TA and a lecturer I went by my first name. (I can't stand being called Mrs. Moda.) As a faculty member I have been and will continue to be Prof. or Dr. Moda to my students.

I do remember that when I was an undergrad, all of my TAs went by their first names.

I love the print on that skirt!

Michelle said...

I felt the same way about using Ms. when I started teaching at the university level because I'd already had so much hs teaching experience. So when I introduced myself on day 1, I used "Ms." In TAing later for large lecture courses with a professor, however, I opened up the possibility of using my first name and told the students I was fine with what they were comfortable with. I think the first name is still a difficult choice to use as a discussion-section TA, however, because while it can be nice to make our relationship to students a bit more casual, we are still usually the ones assigning grades. I've typically seen ruder tones in complaint e-mails addressed to me using my first name than those who used Ms.

Most of my students still use Ms; some prefer to use "professor" for all their instructors; a few can muster up "Michelle"; the more confident ones will manage the riff on my last name and use "Boz"; and finally, some just don't even bother to learn their TAs' names at all.

For your first semester, use the persona you feel more comfortable with; it's your confidence that will set the tone for the semester.

Sarah said...

I tend to give my students the option of calling me by my first name or Ms. [], actually for similar reasons to why you might not let them do that; by the time I finished my B.A., I called a number of my professors by their first names (mostly in the Women's Studies department). I present students with an option, though, since I remember initially feeling uncomfortable calling my professors by their first names.

I just finished teaching a class to incoming first years, and I noticed that they were especially likely to call me Ms. [].

And I think the white shoes pick up on the white in the skirt nicely.

Maggie said...

Hey! I often lurk and rarely comment (though I love what you guys are up to here), but I thought I'd chime in. I'm struggling with this too, but because my name has changed and all the course stuff still has my old last name. So, it's much easier for me to have them call me Maggie. But two things I'd note, and then I'm sure you'll make your own good decision: Don't have them call you "professor." We're in the English dept--we're teaching them how to use words properly, so this shouldn't be any different. More importantly, though, I'd say give them options and then let them choose. It shows that you are interested in meeting them where they are, and those who are paralyzed by calling you by your first name will have a way to address you without feeling like they are going against your wishes.

See you back in the madhouse soon!

Scholar Style Guide said...

Thanks for all these thoughtful insights, ladies! I really hadn't even considered giving them the option of calling me whatever felt comfortable to them, but per your various advice, that feels like a really reasonable option.

After giving your suggestions some more thought, I also realized that since I am the type of person who has experience demonstrating classroom professionalism and who wears clothing that sets me apart as a professional, I don't think I'll have trouble establishing myself as an authoritative figure even if they just call me Liz.

Please feel free to continue sharing your thoughts, though, everyone-- I am really interested to hear what you have to say about the ta/student relationship. And I'm glad to see that this topic sparked an interest with you guys because I can imagine it will be something I spend a lot of time thinking (and thus, blogging) about during this upcoming semester.

Hope you're all enjoying your weekend!