Instructors can be personable outside of the classroom

By Martha Lueck

Have you ever felt awkward seeing teachers outside of school? In the words of Janis Ian from the movie Mean Girls, “It’s like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.” But by now, we know that professors are not dogs and they should be treated as humans outside of class.

As I was on my way to the Campus Life Building, I was caught off-guard when I saw one of my professors running in a T-shirt and athletic shorts. Even though it took me a second to recognize him as he waved, I waved back.

Jocelyn Allen, freshman physical therapy major, had a similar situation in the Recreation Center. She saw her English professor using the bench press. Because she was used to him being serious and structured, she did not think he seemed like the kind of man who would work out. But when she saw him wave, she waved back and acted normal.

“It was just like, OK, I [see] him. I can keep doing what I’m doing,” Allen said. Since she saw him outside of class, she saw a side of him that she did not know before.

“I see now that he’s not as uptight as he may seem in the classroom,” Allen said.

Katherine Schultz, freshman art education major, learned more about her theater professor when she had breakfast with him in Neptune’s dining hall. Her class wasn’t until 6 p.m., but when she saw the professor, they had an in-depth conversation. Schultz learned about how the professor is dedicated to his job.

“He lives in Connecticut, [so] he has to commute by plane every single weekend,” Schultz said. “He said that theater jobs are hard to come by, and that’s why he commutes that far.” During class, Schultz thought the professor had just a funny personality. But after the conversation they had in Neptune, she realized he was more personable.

“[Outside of class], he was a little more low-key,” Schultz said. “I think he has to be more energetic in the class so that we’re more entertained by him.” The conversation wasn’t even planned. It started from a spontaneous, right time, right place situation.

“It was just a good coincidence I ran into him,” Schultz said.

Conversing in a common area like a dining hall is easy, but starting the conversation with instructors is the difficult part. You’ll find it much easier for the words to come out around personable teachers. Matt Swan, instructor in the department of communication, feels instructors should present themselves professionally, but he also believes in using humor for lectures.

“I think students take the course matter seriously. Hopefully, they don’t take me too seriously,” Swan said. “I want [students] to respect my position. But as far as me as a person, I would just assume that they relate to me on a more casual basis.”

Being a Dekalb resident himself, Swan is not surprised to see students he recognizes outside of the classroom. Off campus, he keeps his conversations relatable.

“I play the lottery, and I have a student who worked at a store where I sometimes bought lottery tickets,” Swan said. “So I would always have discussions about luck and wanting to win. Fortunately, that student played the lottery as well. So we compared numbers sometimes.”

Although professors may seem like formal teachers in the classroom, we should remember that they have lives similar to ours. With this in mind, it is not necessary to feel awkward talking to them outside of class.