Stories from
the trenches

Why do students expect me to use their names?

International faculty member, CMU-Pittsburgh

In my country, faculty and students don’t talk to one another much, if at all, outside of class. The professor comes, teaches, leaves, and that’s it. I know that I’m expected to hold office hours in the U.S., and that’s fine, but it seems strange to me to call my students by name. I’ve been told it’s important, but it seems so unnecessary. In my country, classes were too big for faculty to learn students’ names, but I doubt that most faculty members teaching an occasional smaller class would still bother. It’s just not considered important.

My colleagues tell me that I should really learn students’ names. They say that when students feel that their professors know and care about them, it contributes to learning and retention. My colleagues also encourage me to chat with students about my children and my hobbies – to add the “personal touch.” This still feels really unnatural to me, and it’s a struggle to learn and remember all these American names, but I’m working on it. I realize my pronunciation is sometimes off, but I encourage students to correct me and I laugh about my mistakes. They seem to enjoy that, and appreciate the effort I’m making.

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