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I am a student working in the IT department of my college campus. Typically, since we service both students, staff, and faculty, sometimes we run into the issue of addressing our own teachers. I would like to address them in a respectful way that also makes sense regarding the situation.

If I am working with one of my own teachers, it sometimes feels awkward to address them by the title of "Doctor" or "Professor". On the other hand, addressing them by their first name can appear too casual along with not attributing a level of respect to them.

Has anyone else experienced this issue? What different ways can I address my own teacher if they are also my customer who I'm helping?

  • How about "Hello"? :) – Timothy Jones Jun 29 '12 at 7:00
  • @TimothyJones: Ahah, yeah it comes out pretty awkward still :) – Ci3 Jun 29 '12 at 7:02
  • Sir, Ms, Dr. are all valid titles for people who are both older and have more knowlege then you do. Since at the end you are still a student I suggest Dr. it expresses the most formal cultural respect. – Donald Jun 29 '12 at 12:28
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    @Ramhound: I'd add they're also valid titles for customers in the first place, no matter what their level... – haylem Jul 2 '12 at 20:41
  • @haylem - I call everyone Mr. and Ms. to be honest. One of those reasons is the fact I live in the south, and that is the typical way somebody shows respect to their peers and elders. You should always address a somebody holding a doctoral degree as "Doctor" since they in theory have more knowlege you in their area of expertise and it shows ( again ) respect. I had a professor who did NOT hold a doctoral degree, I made an effort NEVER to call them by Dr. Smith but Professor Smith since they did NOT hold that doctoral degree. – Donald Jul 10 '12 at 12:40
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It depends on the culture of the university you're at - but if in doubt how to address anyone, you can always ask.

At universities in Australia and New Zealand, an informal "Hello" is probably fine. I know of a few departments where formal titles aren't even on the office doors - just names.

However - if you're feeling awkward because you're unsure whether to be more (or less) formal - why not just ask? Just smile and say something like "I'm actually not sure how to address you because I'm also a student - what would you prefer?".

Most academics I've met prefer informal greetings, and if they've directly given you permission to address them informally, then you don't need to feel awkward about it. Similarly, if they prefer the title, then just treat it as if it were their name, and carry on as usual.

On the other hand, addressing them by their first name can appear too casual along with not attributing a level of respect to them.

I personally believe that conveying the appropriate level of respect is unrelated to using their title. For example, it's possible to use the right title and still be disrespectful. I think it is more important to show respect by being polite, listening and valuing what they say, not wasting their time, and so on.

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    +1 for conveying the appropriate level of respect This is the key IMO. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 29 '12 at 14:17
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While you see them as your customer, and they are to some extent, they are a customer of the IT department.

If you know that they are a professor, then call them by Dr. or Professor unless told otherwise. If they are another employee of the university/department such as a secretary, teaching assistant or graduate assistant: Mr., Mrs., or Miss is more appropraite. Again unless told otherwise.

They didn't select you, they came to the IT department for help.

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Regardless of the relationship you have with the individual, you can never go wrong in addressing someone by their professional title. So, doctor/professor is just fine in any situation

  • This only works if the hold a doctoral degree. The backup of Mr./Ms. works for those people who don't. – Donald Jun 29 '12 at 12:29
  • @Ramhound Professor is always safe. Professor does not imply doctorate in any way. – acolyte Jul 2 '12 at 20:11
  • @acolyte - I had a great deal of classes that were taught by doctoral students. While I did call them Professor Smith while in class, even that was pushing the level of repsect I had for them, since they were not actually a Professor at the school but doctoral students. – Donald Jul 10 '12 at 12:44
  • @Ramhound if they're TA's or the like (Drexel has some classes taught by 2 TA's/masters students) then first name is generally ok, since people like them will GENERALLY introduce themselves to the class by their first name and ask to be called that. – acolyte Jul 10 '12 at 12:53
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I don't see any problem in greeting them how you would normally greet them. If on a normal day you would greet them as Mr then greet them as Mr. If you'd normally use Dr then use Dr. If you normally call them by their first name, then call them by their first name.

Think of it as if you were working at a grocery store. Whenever I saw my teachers come in, I'd refer to them by Mr/Mrs and their last name, like I would in school. That's just the type of relationship I have with that person. Whenever you don't know a more formal way to greet someone is when you use sir or mam. Any time you do have something else you normally call them, use that. There's nothing wrong with it. If I ran across my doctor somewhere, I'd call him Dr, simply because I know him as Dr. Someone else who runs across us may call him by his first name, as they know him by his first name.

While you may know a person's first name, you don't normally call them by their first name unless they directly give you permission. Usually they'll tell you that you can call them by their first name.

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In general the senior person in the relationships dicates the level of formality. That is senior organizational level (Professor outranks IT support in a university) or age (if you are roughly the same level). Address them by the formal title uless they sepcifically ask you to address them by their first names.

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It will depend on the professor. Some will be completely fine being on a first-name basis with students, and this is normally quite apparent within the first week or so of class. Otherwise, simply saying 'Professor,' without a name or anything else is 100% fine. I would avoid using 'Dr.' unless you're SURE they have a doctorate (lots of universities do not require a doctorate in order to teach, after all). Even then, it tends to be a much safer bet to address them as 'Professor,' given how you're rendering them IT support due to their position as a teacher at your university.

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As for greetings, I have found that it does not matter if the person is coming to you or if you are going to them. Greet the person as if you came to their office area.

Some people care about title-ship, and some prefer being called by their first name/ last name / nick name, and normally if you mess up they will tell you.

Remember that Professors are people too, but have just have earned a higher level of respect.

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