Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

What my students call me (besides a hard grader)

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.


  1. I finally start teaching this fall. (Finished my very first interview with a principal today, in fact). It’s exciting, and scary…but, mostly, new.

    For me, as a student, titles were always pretty important to me. I never felt comfortable, for instance, when one of my professors insisted we call him Kevin. Too chummy, even though he was a good friend after a year or so. My mentor usually signs notes to me as “Alice,” but I always call her Dr. ___. Professional courtesy is just important to me. I’m also irked often by people who don’t say hello or goodbye. Always have been. That’s just me.

    I will never ever have my kids call me Alma. For one thing, they probably couldn’t pronounce it correctly. For another, I’ve earned more respect than that. I’m not a peer or a colleague. I’d never be Miss M. either. It may not be pretty, but it’s my name. I’m standing in front of those kids because of what that name represents. I’m proud to be Bert’s daughter; a child of the M___ household; the sole namesake of my grandmother. When I stand there, so too are all the people who helped me along the way. I do it as much for them as I do it for me.

    Still, that title feels funny. Neat, sorta. Like wow, maybe, I might just be an adult someday soon.

  2. Three things; One, I too once thought your name was pronounced En-TREK-en so much so that the first time I ever heard you pronounce it I almost e-mailed you to ask if you were sure. Yeah. I was gonna ask if you were sure if you knew how to properly pronounce the last name your family has been using for generations. Aren’t I just a cotton headed ninny muggins? Secound, everyone I knew who was called Mr. E or Ms. E was called that because they were EAZY. (Yes, so easy it needed a “z” in the word) Were you EAZY Will? I think we know the answer. Third, finally, and most important, did the fact that I called you Mr. Entrekin in the About Me section promt this blog? Failure to satisfy my inquisitive nature will result in me calling you Mr. Entrekin every chance I get… which is basically only through the comments section of your blog… exscuse me while I come up with something more diabolical to idally threaten you with…

  3. @Alma: one thing that’s been almost difficult is graduate school, because we never call our professors by anything besides their last names (except our former director, now I think of it). But my undergrad professors? I still can’t really call my former advisor anything besides Dr. Walsh, even though he told me to call him John. And I’d never actually be able to bring myself to call Kennedy “Bob”; he’s father Kennedy, and always will be.

    @gotham: nope. I’ve liked that my students called me sensei, and have been meaning to write about it. But I’m confused: I said I’m not comfortable with “Mr. Entrekin”; why would you call me something I’m not comfortable with? Calling someone something they’ve explicitly said makes them uncomfortable seems a bit rude.

  4. Hey, thanks for stopping by my site. I didn’t know Hugh Laurie has books out! Dang!

  5. Well, I was going to do it mildy annoy you, like when my freind pokes me in the side just enough so that I spout a stream of incomprehensible jibberish, but judging by that comment I would say it’s more likly to piss you off. Not really one of my goals in life. Now I am sad because I can’t pester you mildy anymore.

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