What is the relationship between a professor and a student in the University environment, especially at a Christian University?
How does a professor balance wanting to show care and love for them as you should, and also being distant enough to be their professor, mentor, advisor, leader and teacher? It's often not an easy balance.
The perception that students may have of the professor could be very a different relationship level than what a professor has in their relationship to the student. Sometimes, to the student, the professors are aloof and distant, almost non-human, as if they were some sort of drone just going through the motions. All too often professors, teachers and other figures of authority are perceived as cold, demanding, go by the rules, with no nonsense allowed. I knew going into a class that I had to win those perceptions over to who I really am, which are none of those descriptions!
I always admired and loved my students, and I hope that my students loved and admired me. I was never so naïve that I expected them all to love me or sometimes even to like me. That just goes with the territory of professor student relationships. I was very transparent as I often told stories about things in my life, and I was pretty much an open book about what was going on with me. They knew who I was. They knew my family. They knew my likes. They even knew my dogs name.
So how do you make them realize that you were a professor and mentor, a leader and advisor and yet you're still a human being? Let me tell you the story of one instance when all of a sudden, I became human.
A few years back, I was teaching a class called Introduction to Advertising. It had a variety of different mass communications majors and disciplines enrolled in the class. In the content-curriculum schedule I had a good and complete section on consumer behavior. But, I often wanted to get either a video or guest speaker to come in and speak on various topics so that my students wouldn't have to listen to me all the time, (and even convince them that I was teaching what other professionals and academics were espousing.
I also knew that my oldest son Matthew, who is a professor at Ole Miss, and had a Ph.D. in marketing, had a particular expertise in consumer behavior, a very integral part of advertising. When I came around to the consumer behavior portion of my class material I had arranged for my son, Matthew to zoom into my class from his home office in Mississippi, near the Ole Miss campus and speak to my introduction to advertising class on consumer behavior.
Dr. Shaner was well prepared, as he always was, and did a masterful job, if I do say so myself. He talked about the quadrants of different type of consumers, and their different needs in their different wants in the different offerings and advertising messages might have. He went through a whole litany of different options, and there were some good and lively, eye-opening discussions that the students had before we ended.
As we closed, and I said, goodbye, we had about 10 minutes left in the class. When the zoom camera went off, I turned my class and said, “What did you think about that? Was there anything you heard that you particularly liked hearing?” It was radio silence for a minute, but then one student raised her hand and said, “Professor Shaner, I think the favorite thing that I heard was when he called you Dad.”
Roll forward a few years and I am meeting Bruce McLarty, the former president of Harding University at the Oxford Church of Christ, in Oxford, Mississippi the home of Ole Miss. On that day we were both just visiting, but we embraced and renewed our acquaintances, because we had a lot of admiration for each other.
Standing there with me was my son, as we all reminisced about different things that we had done together or apart, we connected with each other.
I told the story of one student saying, my favorite part was “when he called you Dad.” Upon hearing this Dr. McLarty got animated, pointing an index finger at both of us, leaned in and said, “and that's the moment that you became human!”