Sunday, March 30, 2008

Being a Professor is Weird

I'm really not used to this--I mean, this whole new way of relating to people, where I'm the professor and they're the students, and therefore I don't seem to exist as a normal person but am instead some object of fascination. It's strange as hell. In the classroom and during office hours, or even around campus, that strangeness is somewhat contained: they think my self-deprecating jokes are funnier than they are; they're sometimes skittish or shaky in meetings that I can't even fathom as intimidating. But I can remember feeling that way as a student, so these behaviors don't strike me as terribly odd.

However. Twenty-six hours with a pack of undergrads, a good deal of which was spent in a large, noisy, and overcrowded van, has impressed upon me just how weird this new position is.

There were three faculty members on the trip, including me. And my god! We were so in demand! We'd go one way, and like obedient ducklings six or seven students would trot into line behind us. We'd slow down to let them get ahead, and they would lurk around a corner to leap out and surprise us. (Not all of them behaved this way, obviously, but a good--and consistent!--handful did.) Every lame joke we made--or anything that we said that could be perceived as non-professorial, for that matter--met with incredulity and laughter. Things that I mentioned in a quiet, conversational voice to a colleague at dinner were overheard and noisily commented on by people three tables away. It's weird, I tell you! Weird!!!

Oh, and I have a nickname now. Perhaps because of the way I sign my emails, I have become (the equivalent of) H-mihi, where "H" is my first initial and "mihi" is my (actually monosyllabic) last name (accent on the "H"). Admittedly this isn't much of a nickname, but realistically it's about as far as they could go within the bounds of the titled decorum that constitutes the professorial address at Field College.

I am simply not used to getting this much attention from people I don't know particularly well. Yes, the ego likes it a little bit. But it's also kind of freaky. And honestly? I do like my space, now and again. Twenty-six hours was a long time.

I'm glad I went, though. It was a good chance to get to know some of our majors better and it brought me a little bit deeper into something that I'm trying to cultivate right now, which is an actual investment in this place. I need to start getting invested, and I think that I am. I've even come up with some things that I want to change around here--though I suppose that I need to make sure that I don't overstep my untenured bounds! Luckily, my departmental colleagues are eminently reasonable people who also happen to be delighted to pass of a little of the responsibility for this place onto someone else--they've had a lot to carry for an awfully long time.


Sisyphus said...

Huh, that's weird. Maybe it's a result of the small SLAC environment? I don't remember following around my profs or being very interested about them at all. But then again, there were too many "real" famous people and around and cool stuff to do in town as a distraction.

heu mihi said...

Yeah, I think that the environment has a LOT to do with it--one of the kind of cool things here is that pretty close professor-student relationships can form really easily, and the students seem generally comfortable with the faculty in a way that I certainly never was. (There are downsides to this, of course, but they might be worth it.) Also, these students were, for the most part, the hard(er)-core English majors, so maybe that has something to do with it?

Fretful Porpentine said...

Hee. I remember the endless speculating about professors' private lives, and the general sense that they were an intriguing but slightly alien species! I think it comes of going to school in a town where there isn't much else for college-age people to do except gossip. (Also, some of the profs in the English department gave us (cough) a fair amount to gossip about, although I'm sure you don't do that!)

At the Beloved Alma Mater, professorial nicknames were generally derived from e-mail addresses, which in turn were derived from the formula first initial + middle initial + first four letters of last name. Thus, for example, Professor Jerome Vittorio Bunkhouse would be known forever after as "jayveebunk," with the stress falling almost equally on all syllables.

Belle said...

Oh yeah. Weird. I led a student group to Distant Land a couple of years ago, and had this kind of thing for 11 days, off and on. I cannot imagine being in a van/bus that long with a bunch! Kudos to you!

Maude Lebowski said...

i think it definitely has to do with a smaller school. i remember as an undergrad (there were, when i was at this u, only 1500 students) being infinitely curious about my profs. i wanted to know everything about them. like fretful porpentine said, they were like an alien species. even as a 20 year old, i was still in awe of them.

is it cool to have your own fan club? i kinda want one. my ego needs feeding.

we were nerdy and made anagrams of our profs names and gave them new ones, or referred to them as the spell check's replacement of their names. one prof became "lenient dangle."

heu mihi said...

It has its moments of fun, I admit. Now if only I could carry some of this over into the classroom--! Or convince my comp students that I'm as cool (or whatever) as the lit kids seem to think. Sigh.