Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Still grading essays (it's a big class). Still no resolution to my problems with assessing discussion and uploading from a spreadsheet. (I did get a response yesterday, but it wasn't helpful.)

Today I was working in my class and thinking how I am amazed by the number of students who write "Ms." or even "Mrs." when they email me. Occasionally one even risks "Gina." When a student calls me Gina to my face, I assume it is for one of three reasons: 1) I seem nice and not hung up on status; 2) they are nontraditional students in age 3) my last name is hard to pronounce and they are more nervous about screwing it up than they are about being presumptuous (although I believe this last one has become less common, since the former mayor of NYC became a household name - now everyone, students and others, proudly attempt my name but invariably append "i" rather than "o").*

The reason they call me "Ms." (or "Mrs.") confounds me, however. I don't believe they intend to be disrespectful, or to attack the power imbalance (except on rare occasions, when that was definitely true). They are used to it from high school? They mostly have graduate students as instructors? I don't seem as if I could possibly have a doctorate? (But using "Professor" avoids that issue.) They philosophically believe that only MDs should be called "Dr."? (I know there are people in society for whom that is true, but I find it doubtful in an undergraduate at a public university.) They read the Chronicle and have noticed the convention in that paper? (Again, doubtful.)

I don't (usually) correct them, even though I think they should know enough to call me "Dr." or "Professor." The "PhD" is after my name on the syllabus, after all. In class on the first day, I write my name with the "Dr." in front of it on the board and I tell them about my qualifications in the go-around. In the online class, I have a bio that details my education and experience.

"Mrs." makes a lot of assumptions -- and besides, my surname is my patronym! "Ms." was what I used before finishing my doctorate. (I can't remember the last time someone wrote "Miss" but I never used it, came of age in the Ms. decade. Occasionally, an international student will say "Miss," and this I understand to be cultural.)

Even though I don't embarrass them by calling attention to their mistake, sometimes I will use a discussion of a theory as an opportunity -- say, Domain Theory -- to use students calling me by my first name without asking first or making assumptions about my marital status or level of education as examples of violations of social convention; although there are no intrinsic consequences from the action, as there are for breaches in the moral domain (where intrinsic harm is caused), it is a rule that is socially agreed upon. Another example I use is when we discuss returns to education, and are covering what is a learning society (credentials determine income and status): I tell them a story that always gets some laughs about people treating me differently, when they discover I am not an associate at Stewarts (as they assumed), but am instead college faculty.

Does it seem petty to care about such things? Or is it status "monging?" My parents think everyone everywhere should call me "Dr." because it was a significant accomplishment. I was a first generation college student and it took 22 long years to walk across the stage and be hooded and they are very proud.

Back to grading, doc. (A few of the clever ones who want to be cute call me that and it warms my heart...charming without being disrpespectful, no "tor," no pronounciation issues, no too-familiar first name but it isn't distant either.)

*Added: My name is also hard to spell (even my maternal grandmother couldn't remember) so that might be a reason for writing my first name instead of my last. You wouldn't believe the spellings I see. Long ago, I mentioned it in a story about succumbing to mail order offers that I wrote when I was a kid: "the personalized pencils which proclaimed I BELONG TO GINS GINLCANO."

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