To be fair most of my students show me respect. Only one or two have ever really been disrespectful.
Most of my students are from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. They have a very highly developed sense of rank and order. They usually address me as “Professor” or “Dr. Gottschalk”. They may disagree with me, but they are almost always respectful.
Unfortunately, some students feel that they can humble me into agreeing to something, which is inappropriate, by using an exalted sense of respect. Using exaggerated terma of respect is in fact showing disrespect.
I don’t mind if students are familiar with me. Still, I prefer to be “Dr. Gottschalk” because I am Dr. Gottschalk. I worked for many years to earn the right to be addressed as Dr. Gottschalk, and practically it is just good to keep some distance between myself and my students. I love them, and I think they know it. However, I do have to grade them, and there are always times when we disagree about something and there has to be order.
Some students misunderstand the nature of a graduate school and a church. They think that because we are Christians and they live together in a dormitory, we are all equals. That is not true. Yes, we are all equal before Christ as regards salvation, but we are not all equals in the classroom. Giving a poor grade to a student and criticizing a project or paper should never be a question of favoritism or dislike. Students earn their grades by their performance.
Some students seem to think that since they have been pastors or church executives in their home countries they should be treated with special deference. Basically the culture of Tyndale is the same as most evangelical American seminaries: we are friendly and open, but we try to maintain order.
I sat in classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with guys who were medical doctors and had PhDs in physics. Intellectually they were every bit of a match for our professors, who were Cambridge and Harvard PhDs. Yet, I don’t recall any of them being impolite or rude to a professor. In fact just the opposite they were more deferential than others, since they knew what the professors had done to reach this position.
When a student is criticized his character shows immediately. If he or she begins to become defensive or argue, it generally means he or she has a pride problem.
Some students have had very impressive ministries before coming to Tyndale and others have pretty impressive ministries while they are at Tyndale. But whatever they did in terms of evangelism or church planting has no bearing on how they performed on a particular assignment.
Sometimes a student who was a very well respected preacher is offended that their grammar, diction and writing are criticized. “I speak well! I have published books!” That may be true, but very likely, certainly your English (which is your second or third language) is not as good as your professor’s. Humility is accepting criticism in the spirit in which it is given (i.e. with a good intention of improving your performance).
I am always amazed when a student opens up a bit and I see something I didn’t know. I generally see applications for admission, since I am on the admissions committee. Still there is much we do not know about one another.
One student was a model student his entire three years at Tyndale. He was a married student, a pastor. He got up at 0400 every day to deliver newspapers, so that he could send some money home to his wife.
He was from a village in Myanmar. He was always respectful and soft spoken. He always did all of his community duties (e.g. vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, cutting grass…) without complaint. He never objected to a grade he was given. He did very well, but not stellar.
Just before he graduated he told me a story…
“Professor”, he said, “we went to the next village to evangelize. While we were evangelizing the police came. They arrested us. They held us for ten days. They made us build the pagoda (Buddhist temple) in that village. Then they beat us and told us never to come back to that village to preach again… So, we went to the next village instead and started to evangelize.”
Little wonder he was such a godly man. It was a privilege to be his teacher.