October 24, 2005
Can I call you Liz?
I am often asked this by students: after all I am not usually a doctrinal professor, or even one who is actually going to grade them on anything. I am here to help. But I wonder how to maintain a professional relationship with students when often I am the person they confess all sorts of things to: the ended relationship that sabotaged their exams, the birth control that failed, and the siblings and their various institutionalizations. Even as a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx, I know that in church you confess to someone you call, "father," so why and how could I listen to students' troubles and then insist they call me Professor Stillman?
This is the ambivalence I am faced with each time I am asked the question of what to call me. Yet, if I do let everyone call me Liz, do I lose whatever professional credibility I've managed to build up? Is my advice suspect if it comes from a friend rather than a "law school professional?" I worry that my "expertise" would be taken with a grain of salt when I am a friend rather than an academic probation officer.
There is almost always a personal component to my meetings with students. I very rarely end a meeting without asking if everything else in the student's life is going well. I look at baby pictures and send e-mails of congratulations when students get job offers. I remind students about flu shots (especially the ones who claim their exams were poorly done due to illness). Of course, I rarely begin a meeting without asking to see their outlines or discuss a port-mortem on a prior exam.
There are, of course, some students who never warm up to me. In a way, these meetings are more productive, but far less satisfying.
Sometimes I teach a class in advanced legal writing, and students who have worked with me in ASP tell me they are eager to take my class. This makes me uncomfortable because I may have way too much information about them and they probably think they will be taking a class taught by their oh-so-maternal ASP professional. This is not my doctrinal teaching persona. I am actually a tough grader with great expectations of my students.
So who am I to my ASP students? I am not sure. Some need mothering, some need a friend, but they all need someone to look at their outlines, if only for the inspiration to get them done. Maybe I'm just that funny person (person who thinks she's funny?) with the candy and tissues on the 3rd floor. (ezs)
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