Professors Aren’t Your High School Teachers

You’ve already noticed that most professors at Olin go by their first names, while your teachers in high school went by their last. You might not know that you shouldn’t call them “Mr. or Mrs. Lastname”. Professor is always a safe option if you need to address someone with a title, but most Olin professors prefer you refer to them by just their first name in class and in emails.

Just like these are different ways you treat your professors with respect, they have different ways to show you respect than what you might be used to. You don’t have to ask to use the bathroom, or to leave the room at all. As a principle, you’re an adult and they treat you as such; you’re allowed to go where you want when you want, and you’re responsible for your education. If you’re doing independent work and don’t want to be in your seat, go sit somewhere else, like the hallway. Just know when to be back or make sure someone knows how to find you.

You suddenly have a lot of autonomy. Sometimes it feels like too much. I don’t always know what I’m supposed to be doing. You don’t have to go through a class completely on your own though. The professors and CAs are there to support you, and are happy to help when you need it. Asking for help at Olin feels different than asking for help in high school did. I felt like if I didn’t justify my confusion to my high school teachers, they would think I wasn’t trying, or that I was stupid. It feels different at Olin. Asking for help is proof enough that you’re trying. Professors expect you to try on your own, but will give support when you ask. Almost all the wondering if you belong at Olin comes from inside your own brain.

The professors I’ve talked to are careful not to force their point of view onto students. If you disagree with one, it’s probably safer than you think to speak up. They’ll explain their reasoning if you ask and leave room for other opinions. Feel free to ask why you’re doing a specific activity or why they said something.

Similarly, if they give you feedback, you don’t have to accept it without question. Feedback is not always a correction that needs fixing, sometimes it’s just a recommendation. In my English classes in high school, every red mark on the paper needed to be fixed or I would lose points in my next draft. When I got feedback on my writing in college at first, I was frustrated making changes that I disagreed with. Sometimes, I’d even  get conflicting feedback on my next draft. Eventually, I learned I didn’t have to make every change . I can interpret the intent behind feedback and decide how to use it on my own.

In all of these situations, I felt like my high school teachers were trying to catch me doing wrong. I had to fight against them for help, for extensions, or even to use the bathrooms. My professors treat me more like I want to be treated as a student: with respect, and like a capable adult who is sometimes in need of guidance.

It took me a while to realize this and treat them with respect in kind: as a resource, a more experienced adult, an expert, and never an opponent.

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