2011-04-19

Joking Around with Professors

This was something that I meant to write a few weeks ago, but I haven't been able to get around to it until now.
A few weeks ago, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) along with the Undergraduate Women in Physics (UWIP, and it was actually mostly organized by the latter, though of course men were allowed to participate as well) held an event called "5-Minute Lightning Physics Lectures". I actually gave the 5-minute lecture on the slightly more advanced version of the first physics course, as I took that class last semester and did pretty well.

All of the other classes that had prepared presentations were presented by students as well, except for one, and that was the second electricity & magnetism course, and that was presented by the same professor who currently teaches the class. After the whole event was over, I went up to him and jokingly asked him, "All the other classes' lectures were presented by students except for yours. That tells me that students hate your class enough that they don't want to present for it. That means to me that your class is insanely hard, so why should I take it?" (Please do note that I was planning and am still planning to take the class anyway, because it sounds super cool.) He recognized the lightheartedness of my question and took it in good humor, responding, "Well, I'm not really sure why no one stepped up to present a 5-minute lecture for this class, but from what I've heard from past students, they really like this class, and I think you should take it because it's really cool and useful."

My justification for conversing with a professor (who, by the way, is 70 years old) I had never met before in such an informal/irreverent way is that he plays the video game Halo in his spare time, often with other students, and when he does, he stops being the formal professor and turns into just another Halo player. A few months ago, SPS held a Halo party featuring this professor after one of the general body meetings, and apparently the professor lost miserably, which is practically unheard of. The professor later sent a mock angry email demanding a rematch and claiming the match was rigged against him. But all that aside, the point is that I'm glad I could have such light banter with a professor without any repercussions. I told my family and other relatives about this, and they all told me that if I was back in India, they would have thrown me out of the school for such insolence; they didn't mean this to tut-tut me, but more to remind me that I'm lucky that I can do such things here in the US. And I think that it's great that I can; I think it's really sad that teachers my relatives in India have to deal with practically believe themselves to be divine beings who cannot be approached or questioned in any way.

So what do you think? Are your teachers/professors generally OK with such informal banter and do they make efforts to reach out to students, or are they unapproachable and always right (even when they aren't)? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

2 comments:

  1. You're absolutely right about the state of this in India. Let alone school teachers; teachers/lecturers in undergrad were still uptight about having a good chat with students. But then again, not all were. We have attended marriages of lecturers, teased them about it, had pointless chats with some lady teachers(they are more approachable any day). But I still don't think the relationship goes beyond the boundaries of the college. If they met you outside, you would probably be treated as a stranger. Apart from a few, most lecturers don't mix with students outside of class at all.

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  2. @Abhijith: Yeah, that's basically the impression I got having talked to my cousins (both sides of the family) as well. (For privacy, I'm not naming names, but you know who they are.) Thanks for the comment!

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