Miss Conduct

Advice: What’s wrong with wanting to be called professor?

The informal state of classroom culture irritates a college instructor.

Do you have advice for teachers who would prefer to be called “professor” and buck the ubiquitous first-name phenomenon on college campuses? How does one manage that without sounding huffy?

L.B. / Chicago

It’s best for professors to announce their preferred address on the first day or during the first week of class. First-generation college students and foreign students don’t always know the nuances of Dr. vs. Professor vs. Mr./Ms. and so on. It’s nice to be told upfront.


If it’s halfway through the semester already and students are either 1) calling you by a variety of handles or 2) not addressing you by name or title at all, clear that up (“I should have mentioned this at the beginning of our classes, but I prefer to be called. . . ”). If they’re all happily first-naming you, though, wait until next semester to go more formal. And if calling professors by their first names really is the ubiquitous practice at your school, insisting on a title will make you come across as pompous and unapproachable. Etiquette, like politics, is local.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

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