One of the biggest challenges that came with becoming a writing instructor was a rather silly one; figuring out what my students would call me. Technically, professorship is a tenure-track position; my contract will be up in two months, and because I will graduate in May, I’m fairly certain it’s not extendable. Even if I wanted to stick around for another year, I don’t think I’d be allowed.
It’s been a question since at least as far back as I was a substitute teacher for a simple reason: I’m not comfortable with Mr. Entrekin. It just doesn’t fit me as an appellation. My father won’t let anyone call him “Mr. Entrekin”; when someone tries, he informs him that was his father, who has long since passed away–they can call my dad ‘Steve.’ (That’s his name, after all. Calling him Doug would just be off-putting.) It’s not a simple last name, either: ENT-ruh-kin is not obvious on first reading (many go with en-TREK-in, which is just plain wrong).
When I was a sub, I solved the problem by letting the students call me “Mr. E”.
But that didn’t feel right for a college classroom.
Some of my colleagues just let their students call them by their first names. But there’s something– in my head, my students are paying as much for an experience as they are for the information. They are none of them older than 19, which puts me a solid decade ahead on the age scale, but more than that; I feel I’ve earned some degree of distinction, to distinguish myself from them. I don’t feel as though they are my peers; I feel, in fact, as though we are in a relationship very much related to a business transaction, providing a service to them as consumers.
The thing is, though, it rarely comes up. They rarely need to address me. Which is why, last semester, it became a running question, for a few weeks, until a solution presented itself when a student settled on a title.
He called me sensei.
And it just fit.
It was perfect. Because Bob Kennedy taught me as much about writing and thinking as he did about faith, and he did so by forcing me to learn it. My feelings about writing are intricately tied to my beliefs about faith and spirituality and life, as well.
Later during last semester, I received a few emails generated by the college database, which addressed me as ‘Professor Entrekin,’ and so validated that title, in a way; if USC recognized me as a professor, I had earned the right to let students call me one.
But that other title, that student-chosen title, the one that came from one pupil who knew nothing of my background . . . that fit. I am a guide moreso than I am a teacher; I am there less to teach or instruct them than I am to help them learn.
It’s a subtle distinction, perhaps, but I think they sense it.