[LEARNING CURVE]In the end, students are the best judges

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[LEARNING CURVE]In the end, students are the best judges

In 1998, I made the transition to a university from a private institute (or hagwon). When my students in my institute classes heard I was leaving, they offered me some advice.
First, they told me to require that my students call me “Professor” rather than by my first name - which was standard at the hagwon where I worked. Second, they told me I should wear a suit everyday or the students would not respect me. Thirdly, they told me not to date my students (something that the average North American teacher would usually avoid, but common here, according to many of my older students).
Finally, they told me to “just be myself” and I’d be fine. I am happy to say that I followed none of these bits of advice, except the last one, of course, and after six wonderful years I see no reason to change the way I do things.
I remember when I was a student at university in Canada ― especially during my master’s, but also in my undergraduate degrees ― my best professors often let us call them by their first names. Of course, the fact that most students and many native speakers can’t even pronounce “Thorkelson” could be part of the reason why I have never required my students to call me by my last name. Frankly, I have no problem with being called “Teacher”, “Sir”, “Professor” or even “Tory,” but “Hey you!” is a definite no-no.
Once again, I can’t recall that most of my professors at all three universities that I attended in Canada wore suits. Ties, maybe, and I do remember one professor who wore the same sports jacket every day for a whole term over whatever he was wearing, but no suits.
So I wear ties everyday, sports jackets when it’s colder, and suits on special occasions (usually when I have a presentation or meeting on the same day). On the other hand, I do have a large collection of ties for ALL occasions and even get consistent compliments on certain ones (like the one that has old hangul characters on it or my Canadian flag tie).
As for dating my students, I was fortunate enough to be engaged to my Korean wife when I came to this university. We did meet at my former school, but she was never my student and her very existence does help me fend off the advances of amorous students. It is always nice to know that younger people find you “cute” and “cool,” but the idea of dating girls who are now half my age is both scary and something my old-fashioned mindset would have trouble with.
Finally, just being me seems to work just fine. Although my freshmen classes are not my favorite after 12 terms of the same topics over and over again, I am constantly changing materials and having to turn students away from courses like “Tourism English” (which I have taught for four years). “Introduction to Acting,” which I co-teach with a Korean professor, went up 25 percent in enrollment over last fall.
One of my former bosses told me that my students informed her that I was “strict but nice,” and I am always happy to run into former students around campus who smile and thank me for my teaching. If I am making mistakes, it would appear that I am making more of the right ones than the wrong ones and that’s good enough for me.


by Tory Thorkelson

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