I’ve previously written about the widening age gap between me and my students. And in that post I suggested that as the age gap has grown, my students have come to think of me more as a mother figure than anything else. I’m happy to report that I have the first direct evidence of this.
A student from one of my winter-quarter classes asked me whether I had any research projects he could work on with me. We found one that interested us both, and this quarter we’ve been working on it. In the first few meetings he’s continued to call me Professor Settle. I finally sent him an email saying that he really needed to call me Amber because I prefer to be on a first-name basis with my collaborators. When he showed up today for our latest meeting he still hadn’t mastered the name change, so I gave him a hard time. In response he told me that he successfully transitioned to calling a friend’s mother by her first name, so he was reasonably sure he would manage it with me.
I’m not positive that he realized he was placing me squarely into the mother box, but that’s most certainly what he did. And it makes me quite happy. Yes, the relationships my students have with their mothers can be fraught, and I get to see more of that now. But it also gives me more license to show them that I care without worrying how they’ll interpret it.