Who am I, anyway?

When I first started as a teaching assistant at UB, I started my first class by saying something like, “You can call me Paul, you can call me Mr. Gestwicki, you can call me Mr. G — it doesn’t matter to me.” At the end of recitation, a memorable student came up to me and said, “I’m gonna call you ‘P.G.’!” And he did, for his four years as an undergraduate. (Steve, I would love to know where you ended up!)

My surname is not that complicated, and yet it scares some people. At Ball State, I adopted the moniker “Dr. G.”, which is designed to be simple and easy to remember. It’s part homage to my high school physics teacher (“Mr. G.”) and part homage to Coach Z.

This semester, I am team-teaching with a very talented History professor who is my senior both in years and rank. He is “Ron” in class. This makes it very awkward for me to be “Dr. G.” Going by two names does not solve the problem since several students in this team-taught class are also in my other CS class.

One of my undergraduate professors who I admire goes by his first name, “Ziya“. Although it’s a first name, it has an otherworldly (or at least other-continently) ring to it that “Paul” just doesn’t have. I never felt like I was calling Ziya by his first name: I felt like it was a title. My theory professor in grad school solved the problem by calling all of his students by their last names. He was Dr. Regan, and I was Mr. Gestwicki — very formal, very symmetric.

From a teaching philosophy point of view, I do want to be the guide on the side.  I don’t want students to think of me as having some arcane and unattainable knowledge. Does a title like “Professor” or “Doctor” engender such perception? I don’t want to imply familiarity where mutual respect is the goal. What is the role of a name or title here?

I have no answers yet.


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