Most of my peers in academia invite their students to call them by their first names. I would probably have done so also, if it weren’t for a few ideas I find persuasive.
First, a friend of mine who attended the community college where I now teach told me that she hates it when the teacher says, “Call me by my first name,” because the whole point of going to college is to learn from teachers who have put in the time to achieve a level of mastery that merits the use of an honorific title. I want my students to remember that their classes with me are a valuable opportunity to learn from someone who has put in the time to succeed in academia.
Second, I am pretty open about myself with my students. I try not to make the class about me, but I have found that if I am willing to tell the truth about what I think and feel, my students are more likely to do the same (as long as I hear them respectfully and make sure no one in class mocks them. Arguing is fine; mocking is not allowed). I want my students to share what they really feel and think so that I can teach the principles of information and media literacy in ways that they can find immediately useful, so they are more likely to keep relying on those principles in the long term.
Anyway, the effect of all this openness is that my students often come to see me as a friend and guide rather than a commander. (Example: I bounce up and down and clap my hands when I get excited about new ideas. How many freshman students can keep from feeling a little paternal toward a teacher who does that?) Sometimes, though, I need to be a commander in class, and I need my students to understand that their grade depends on the quality of their work and not on their relationship with me. So I keep my honorific title, to remind them that I’m in charge and I have to give them a grade at the end of the semester.
The third thing is related to the first thing. I teach mainly low-income, minority students. I want them to have a constant reminder that this person who is interested in them, their lives, and their ideas — this person who believes in them — is really, really smart and accomplished. My degree serves to validate their hard work. My respect for and belief in them says that they can get a PhD too, if that is their desire. They are worthy.
Finally, I have two hard names: “Timnah” and “Gretencord.” I have to spell these names nearly everwhere I go, and I get tired of being called “Tina Betancourt.” I’d rather have my students call me something short and get it right. Hence, “Dr. G.”
It also rhymes with CLC, which is where I work. I bust da rhymes.